One of the typical entry level jobs for accounting graduates, budget analyst is a great start for your professional career. You will see the numbers, understand the expenses, and you will easily learn the basics of running a business (or at least a budget).
What is more, this jobs pays better than most entry level jobs in big corporations, and in public sector, and you can get it with bachelor’s degree in accounting (or other relevant field), and no previous working experience. All good so far, so let’s have a look at some questions you will face in your interview for this job.
Why do you want to work as a budget analyst?
You should talk about the value you can bring to the employer, and about your love for financial analysis—because that’s what you will do most of your days in work. They should feel that you apply because you believe to have what it takes to become an excellent budget analyst—required education, IQ, sense for detail and responsibility, and so on.
If you have any relevant experience—which always helps, do not hesitate to mention it (any experience with financial or business analysis, statistics and math). But no worries, this is an entry level job and you can certainly get in with no previous working experience.
I believe to have the right skills for this job, and I enjoy doing what budget analysts typically do. I understand that the most important projects are financed from the public money, and see a purpose in this work, to ensure that the funds are allocated and used in a most efficient manner. Reading the job description carefully and comparing it with my skills, I honestly believe that this is the right choice for me, at least at this stage of my professional career.
Why do you want to work for our company/organization/for the government?
If you apply in a big corporation or public office (which is likely the case, since small private companies do not employ budget analysts), you can refer to their reputation, vision, goals, or basically to the magnitude of the company, and what they do. Hiring managers are typically proud people. Help them to feel good in an interview with you, praising them for their good work…
Whatever you say, they should have the feeling that you honestly want to work for them, and not just for anyone out there…
I have studied your website very carefully, things you do on a daily basis, principal projects and minority groups you work with. This really resonates with my values, since I also feel for indigenous women and children. What is more, your office is just ten minutes away from my apartment, which is also an advantage and one of the reasons why I applied particularly with you.
Special Tip: Applying for a civil service budget analyst job? You should know that you will have to pass Civil Service Budget Analyst Test to be considered for the job.
The test consists of understanding and interpreting written and tabular material test, evaluating conclusions in lights of known facts test, preparing written material test, and more. Definitely not an easy one to pass… You can practice effectively for all the tests with an excellent preparation kit for future civil service budget analysts. It’s a paid product but worth every penny, considering the difficulty of the tests, and the face that you won’t be hired unless you pass them.
* If you do not apply for a civil service job, please continue reading the article, the tests are not relevant for you.
Tell us something about your education (and experience).
Try to keep it relevant, and focus on practical subjects/experience. You can mention all subjects that relate to the job of a budget analyst, such as Statistics, Math, Accounting, Financial Analysis, Time Row Analysis, Project Management, and other. Show some confidence. Tell them that you believe to be ready to start the job (with everything you have learned up to this point), after getting initial training.
I have a degree from accounting. I chose this field because I had been always good in math, and hoped to find some perspective career where I could benefit from my skills. Later on, as I progressed in my studies and had courses in statistics, financial analysis and accounting, I discovered the career I wanted to have. I believe that my education was a great preparation for this job, and can’t wait to learn even more in your excellent training program.
How do you imagine a typical day in work?
Having a cup of coffee in the morning, reading newspaper, sitting in a comfy massage chair, and briefly reviewing one or two small budgets. Is this your idea of a typical day in work? Well, you’ll have to show a different attitude in your interview—at least if you want to get hired.
You will be busy. You will have meetings with project and program managers, you may even travel to check funding allocations. You may spend a lot of time on the phone, and when finally you’ll have some time for yourself, you’ll take care of the core of your job—reviewing managers’ proposals for budgets, or preparing your own proposals for them.
Obviously the day looks slightly differently in each institution. If you work at school, you’ll do different things than you’ll do working for a construction company, or in a big corporation. But the most important thing remains the same—tell them that you expect to be busy, to have a lot of work on your table, and to proactively look for things to do.
I like to be organized in work, and I will definitely try to make a schedule for each day, from morning to evening. The principal part of the day will be devoted to reviewing budget proposals from project and program managers—at least if I understand your job description correctly. Of course one has to take care of the administration, monitoring of expenses, we will surely have some meetings and consultations with the managers, and I guess I may do some inspections directly onsite. Anyway, I understand that you are a great organization, that you try to achieve the most for the local community, and I will have my hands full from morning to evening.
Special tip: Download a full list of questions in a one-page long .PDF document, and practice your interview answers anytime later (even when offline):
What computer programs do you use in your work, and why?
You may be surprised, but many companies (including big players) still use MS Excel as their primary budgeting software. The simple interface, low purchasing costs, universal popularity, and almost unlimited functionality makes it a great software for skilled financial analyst.
There are also other tools, more fancy and also more expensive, such as Quick Books Enterprise, SAP, AccountEdge, BOARD and other. You may have worked with some at school, or in your last job. Ensure the interviewers that you understand a good software can make your job easier, and that you are ready to learn to work with any program they happen to use in their company…
We used BOARD software in my last job. I liked the simple user interface and the charts the software exported, and consider it a good option. At school we worked with SAP and Excel. However, I am pretty strong with computers, and I am sure that I will learn to work with any system you use in your agency.
How do you ensure you make no mistakes in work?
Mistakes prove costly in this job. And while budgeting software helps us to minimize the number of mistakes, human factor is always involved, and not everything can be interpreted in the software (if it was so, job of a budget analyst would not exist, and companies would employ only administrative assistants instead, who’d blindly enter the data to the computer, without giving them a single thought)…
Ensure the interviewers that you are aware of your responsibility. You can say that you will double check everything, carefully consider each expense, count with some unexpected events and expenditure, etc. You can also emphasize that when something looks strange or unrealistic, you’ll verify the data with another source, and consult your results with your colleagues from the financial department. One way or another, they should feel that you want to minimize the number of mistakes, or even eliminate them.
I understand there is no place for mistakes in this job. I will try my best to stay focused, and I will certainly double check each important number. Having said that, financial analysis is a complex subject, and everyone can make a mistake—including the software and its algorithm. Therefore it is important to approach our job with responsibility, and also with humility—if we are not sure about something, we should consult other people in the company. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.
What is the first thing you look at when asked to review a budget?
This is a simple technical question, but the answer isn’t always obvious. The first thing most of us will look at is whether the real expenses match the projected expenses, or whether they exceed them. If they do exceed them, the budget needs to be reviewed (we either have to extend it, or cut some planned expenses that aren’t essential).
However, you can also approach the situation from a different perspective, looking for unexpected events first (labor problems, decrease of sales, unexpected increase of overheads, etc), which all has an impact on the amount of money you can, and need to allocate to certain items on the budget.
Things change very quickly in today’s economy. In my opinion, even the annual budget should be reviewed on a quarterly, or even on a monthly basis. The sooner we spot a discrepancy between projected expenses and real expenses, and projected revenue and real revenue, the sooner we can take measures, or at least give an important recommendation to the executives. Having said that, this will be the first thing I will look at—comparing the projected expenses and revenues with the reality.
How would you monitor the expenses of an organization to ensure it stays within budget?
Regular monitoring of expenditure is essential—not just to verify real expenses against the target, but also to identify changing patterns or circumstances that need to be addressed as soon as possible. You have several ways of monitoring the expenses. If they run a robust information system in the company, and people approach their reporting seriously, you will find all the data which you need in the interface.
But in smaller companies and organizations (and sometimes also in big ones), things work differently. You will need to ask the individual budget holders to regularly submit information on actual expenditures to date, future commitments, balance of annual budget remaining, and other information. Show the interviewers that you understand the importance of regular meetings with program and project managers, as they help you to monitor the expenses.
In my opinion, everything is about a good communication. We should have regular monthly meetings with project and program managers, to ensure that they stay within the budget. We should also have a system in place where any unexpected expenses are reported immediately, from individual budget holders to project managers, and from project managers to budget analysts. Once we have such a system in place, we should be able to monitor the expenses almost in real time, and ensure that we stay within the budget.
Other questions you may face in your budget analyst interview
- Imagine an executive tells you there’s some inconsistency between approved budget and actual expenditure at a department. What will you do?
- What do you want to accomplish on this position?
- Why do you want to leave your present job/Why did you leave your last job?
- When you have to cut the overall expenses, what items on the budget do you check first?
- Describe the biggest failure of your professional career.
- Why should we hire you, and not one of the many other applicants for this job?
Conclusion and next steps
You will typically have to pass a series of interviews while trying to get a job of a budget analyst (or one long interview session). Since it is a good job, and most companies require just a bachelor degree’s (and little experience), you have to count with tough competition.
If you are not sure how to answer the questions, or experience anxiety, have a look at a specialized eBook I wrote for you, the Budget Analyst Interview Guide. You will find some excellent interview answers directly on the eBook page, so it makes sense to check it out even if you do not plan to purchase anything. Thank you, I wish you good luck in your interviews!
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