Why do you want to work as a Compliance Officer?
This job title attracts people from all fields of business–former lawyers, consultants, managers, or even accountants, as well as fresh graduates with a degree in accounting, finance, or management. And what is your story?
Try to be honest, and tell them what attracted you to the job. It is always good to say that you understand the importance of law and regulations, and are aware that a serious and repetitive breach of them can ruin the reputation of the entire company. Show them that you see a purpose in this job, and do not apply only because they offer an excellent salary and benefits to the successful candidate.
You can also narrate how your past experience (not only with witnessing employees breaking the regulations, but also with discovering flaws in the rules while doing your former job), motivated you to pursue this career.
First and foremost, I understand the crucial role compliance officer plays in each business, the responsibility they carry on their shoulders, the impact their work can have on the reputation of the business. I want to make a difference with my job, and I see the meaningful purpose in this one. Secondly, I believe that my education and experience makes me a good candidate for the position in your company, that I can make things better here.
How do you imagine a typical day in work?
Easy question for many other jobs, but definitely a tough one for a compliance officer. What will you do in work, all day long?
The key is to show a proactive approach to your duties. Obviously you should be accessible for the employees, ranging from manual laborers to top executives, so they can consult you on any issues related to law and regulations, and report any possible breach. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t tell the hiring managers that you plan to sit in your office, waiting for people to knock on your door.
Tell them that you plan to actively walk in the workplace, talk to people (in a friendly manner), and keep an eye on the rules and how people adhere to them. You can also say that you will devote a part of your time to evaluating existing policies and internal company regulations, as well as devising new ways of auditing the compliance to the rules. Do not forget to read the job description carefully—sometime you can find your answer there.
I honestly believe that a typical day doesn’t exist in this job. Surely, I like to be organized, having daily goals and schedule, while trying to maintain the best possible level of ethics and compliance in the company. But some days I may work with new employees, other days I may solve complaints, another time help the PR managers, or discuss a sensitive issue at length with the general counsel. Quiet days belong to this job as well, however, and on such days we should work on evaluating existing policies and auditing mechanisms, or devising new ones, following the latest trends in the industry and changes in the company. What a fascinating job this is! I can’t wait for my chance to do it.
What do you want to accomplish in this job?
Show them that you do not think only about your prestige and salary. Show them that you see the bigger picture.
For example, you can say that you hope to improve the overall satisfaction of the employees, and reputation of the company in the eyes of public, by ensuring full compliance with all national and international laws and regulations that pertain to the particular industry, as well as professional standards and accepted business practices.
I’d love to become an ethical conscience of this company. To help promote the culture of compliance and ethics throughout all levels of organization. If we manage to minimize the number of instances when employees break the rules, and spot each problem early enough in order to prevent negative publicity or harm to our reputation, I will feel that I accomplished something great in my work.
Why do you think you can be a good compliance officer (manager)?
Right answer depends a lot on your previous experience. When you had this job before, in another company, you can refer to your successful experience with them (if it was a successful one), narrating what you did, and how you managed the challenges of the job.
When you did not have this job before, you should refer more to your skills, abilities, and possibly the knowledge of laws and regulations, simply to things that make from you a good candidate for the job. One way or another, try to show some confidence in your answer. Unless you believe to be a good candidate for the job, they won’t believe it either…
I believe to have the right skills for this type of work, and education. On the top of that, I’ve been in the field for few years now, and learned a lot of important lessons along the way. Last but not least, I am motivated to work hard, and to make sure that this organization becomes a role mode in compliance, and a place both employees and business partners can trust, in both good and bad times.
Imagine that you discovered an executive violating the company’s code of conduct. What would you do?
Though a delicate situation, you should report this behavior. But remember that some people sitting in the interviewing panel may actually belong to the board… I’d suggest saying that if the violation wasn’t serious, or it wasn’t a repeated incident, you’d talk only to the particular executive. You’d explain the situation, and ask them to remedy their actions.
Obviously you’d not report the person who helped you to discover the violation. If it didn’t help, however, you’d take the necessary action, reporting them directly to the CEO.
Another alternative is seeking help from a general counsel, who may have some insider information and help you to address this delicate situation in the most appropriate way. You should also say that you would try your best to verify the allegations before doing anything else—if it is possible to verify them, if it’s not a word against word situation.
First and foremost I’d try to verify the allegations, using all possible means of doing so, in a discrete way. Then everything depends on the individual situation—how serious violation we talk about, whether it was their first violation or a repeated one, the impact it has on the business, and so on. However, I am not qualified to consider all these factors on my own, and therefor I will likely report it to the CEO, explaining my view of the situation, and letting them to decide about the next steps.
Describe the most difficult compliance or ethics issue you’ve faced. How did you resolve it?
Speak about a situation which you eventually managed to resolve. One that had a happy ending. You can talk about corruption, bullying, nepotism, falsifying data to pass environmental and other checks and quotas, or about anything else.
Once again, this questions in a test of your attitude. The key is to convince the hiring managers that you take your job with full responsibility, and do not prioritize any employee of the company–including the people in the board.
Probably the most difficult issue I faced was to protect a whistle blower. An employee from mid-level management reported a serious corruption in the upper echelons of the company. But it was clear to the two executives in question who reported their practices—they knew it was the manager. Since the company didn’t have adequate policies in place, nor did they focus on whistle blowing protection in training, we struggled to protect the position of the manager in the company. It was a really delicate issue, since we did not want to reveal the details to the public, and at the same time we had to dismiss the executives. They had powerful influence in the company, which impacted the position of a whistle blower. Eventually we arranged a deal with all parties in question, relocated the whistle blower to even a better position, in another branch of the company, and the two executives left the company in peace.
Though we retained our good image in public, and the issue didn’t leak outside, it definitely affected the entire board and trust in various executives and managers in the company. We had to do a lot of auditing afterwards to uncover other issues. It was a lot of work, and surely this situation didn’t leave the company unaffected. But we tried our best, we couldn’t do more.
How do you feel about dismissing (firing) someone, or about suggesting such a step to the management?
Dismissing an employee shouldn’t be your first step, unless we speak about serious violation of rules. Stealing, drinking in work, starting fight with other employee are just some of the serious situations that typically cannot be pardoned or tolerated.
In every other case, you should suggest a personal meeting with the employee (or with their superior), explaining the issue, and trying to solve it under the radar. Nevertheless, the first warning won’t always help. In such a case, you may suggest dismissing someone, or even doing it yourself.
Ensure the hiring managers that you won’t let your emotions interfere with your job. But you can also show some empathy, saying that you do not like to dismiss someone, understanding the consequences for both their life and the company. At the same time, however, you won’t hesitate to do it when a first and second warning didn’t help, or when they committed a serious violation of the rules.
I think there is no place for emotions in effective management. We should always do the best thing for the company. If firing someone is the best course of action, we should do it. I’d not hesitate doing it, or suggesting such a move to my superiors. Having said that, we should at least try to send the employee away in a human and friendly way—regardless of the things they did. We do not want former employees to spread a bad word about the company, though of course we cannot entirely prevent it from happening.
How would you protect people who confide in you, reporting a serious issue?
There are laws that protect whistle blowers, but we know how fragile these laws can be in practice…
Tell the hiring managers that you won’t disclose the identity of the person who notified you about the problem, unless it was completely necessary. And it doesn’t matter if we talk about the issue that involved blue collars, white collars, or top executives.
I know the whistle blower act, and I understand how important it is to protect anyone who finds courage to report an issue with higher ranked manager or executive, or even with the entire organization. In such a case you can definitely rely on my integrity. I would try my best to protect the person, at all costs. I would try to advice them what they should do to remain anonymous, and I would not disclose their name to anyone in the company, including the highest ranked executives.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
Compliance officer is a sensitive position. Companies do not like to see these people go, they do not like to hire a new officer every other year. What is more, unless you work for a big corporation, there isn’t any room for promotion on this position. (In a big corporation you can become a compliance coordinator, leading and managing a group of compliance officers.)
Therefore the best answer is that you will be more than happy to have the same job, to still work for them as a compliance officer.
You can elaborate on your answer, saying that it takes time to fully understand the life in the company, and all the nuances of the business process and rules that relate to it, and believe it makes no sense to have this job for only a year or two.
My personal vision is to become a better person, husband, eventually a father, and also a better employee. I know it takes time to learn all the nuances of this profession. In my opinion, it makes no sense to have this job for a year or two. I will be very happy to find myself working here in five years time, hopefully in a culture of compliance and ethics that I’ve helped to build. That is my vision, but of course I have to get this job first, before anything else can happen…
Do you have any questions?
Interview for this job should be a dialogue. As a good candidate, you should ask questions about their compliance programs, their requirements and problems their face, the latest issues and the biggest challenges.
What is more, you can ask about the structure of the compliance department (whether you work alone, with someone, under someone), and the next steps of the hiring process.
Try to avoid questions about salary, and benefits. If they seriously consider hiring you, they will start to talk about these things.
Other questions for your compliance officer (manager) interview
- Define compliance program, and how would you create one for our business (if that was your task).
- What is your opinion on cooperating with external auditors?
- How would you ensure that employees stick to our compliance program?
- Why did you leave your last job (why do you plan to leave your present job)?
- How do you ensure to keep your knowledge of laws and regulations up to date?
- What is your knowledge of Sarbanes-Oxley Act?
- Describe a situation when you faced a particularly demanding problem or challenge in your personal life. How did that affect you in your job?
- Describe a time when you struggled to communicate something to your boss, or colleague. How did you manage to get your message over?
- If someone directly or indirectly asked you to overlook a violation of company policy, how would you react?
- You are evaluating various internal documents in the organization, and find a discrepancy between the code of conduct and the employee handbook. Which action will you take?
Conclusion, answers to all questions
Interview for a job of a compliance officer belongs to difficult job interview. You will typically compete with many other candidates, and the interviews will test you with a mix of personal, behavioral, and technical questions.
If you are not sure how to answer the questions, or feel anxious before your interview, have a look at an eBook I wrote for you, the Compliance Officer Interview Guide. Multiple brilliant answers to 25 most common compliance officer interview questions will help you streamline your interview preparation, and prepare for every question you may possibly face.
Thank you for checking it out, and I wish you good luck in your interview!
* You can also download 20 questions in a simple one-page long PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later (even when offline):
Alternatively you may continue your preparation with one of the following articles:
- Assistant controller interview questions.
- Tell us about a time when you found it hard to comply to a rule or policy you did not agree with.