How do you deal with budget problems

The budget is the Holy of Holies of management. Any budget questions should be treated like land mines. If you're handling budgets, be prepared for a long session on everything you know.

There are so many subjects and questions we can't go through all the possibilities, but the problem solving issues are important.

Budgets are based on projections. Costs are estimated, money is allocated, and in theory contingency plans are supposed to cope with the issues when the costs increase.

Employers, strangely enough, don't like budget problems of any kind. The accounts department is never left wondering what management thinks when things go wrong.

So anyone looking for a job handling budgets needs to be able to cope with instant pressure. You may, in fact, find yourself doing a stress interview as well as the basic job interview.

The interviewers are looking for:

  • Competencies
  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge levels
  • Experience
  • Practical thinking
  • Communications
  • Stress management
  • Time management

You'll be asked to prove all these skills, in detail. At higher levels, these interviews can go on for days.

Things you need to know about the interview

  • This is going to be tough.
  • The other applicants will have real skills.
  • These jobs attract competition, because they're career makers.

The fact you've got an interview is a very good sign for your career, but from here on it gets rough. Now is the time to start growing a very thick skin.

At the interview

The skills are going to be tested, usually in examples. You may get situation interviews, where you run simulations of situations requiring you to demonstrate them.

We have to go through the list of skills briefly to show the basic requirements for the interview(s):

Competencies

Each position in the budget area has important core competencies. These will be specified in the job ad, but remember to look at the business itself, so you get a look at the relative degrees of difficulty.

Research the employer. You need to know a lot about the business anyway. You also need to get a look at the budget figures.

Working at low level budget jobs is not the same as the really high flying work. You need to check on the competencies and the actual work involved. You may be required to do cost analyses, budget projections, perhaps several budget related tasks, in the job.

Check with the employer about these competencies.

The risk is that you may get a nasty surprise at the interview and get hit with things way over your head.

Problem solving

This comes with the budget. Budgets, by definition, are problems, for every business. Expenditure, revenue, monitoring, shuffling cost centres, the possible problems are anything and everything on the budget.

You'll be given problems which are relevant to the business. Another good reason for researching the business, so you can get some grounding in the real budget performance.

If you have a look at the account notes, you'll see a lot of information regarding the figures provided. These and the company report are your best indicators of the situations the company is really handling.

Creativity

This isn't creativity in the sense of creative accountancy. This is innovation in dealing with the job's real work. It can involve improved efficiency, ways of doing the work, productivity, and actual innovation in new concepts.

This also relates to problem solving.

You can expect your methods of solving problems to be assessed in terms of creativity, as well as the other skill sets.

Knowledge levels

Your knowledge is a measure of your basic qualifications and professional standards. In any job dealing with budgets, you are expected to have fundamental knowledge, defined by the job's requirements.

The interviewers will be more than thorough in checking your knowledge.

They have to confirm your qualifications, experience, and your understanding of the job's role. This is all things in the past, things you've done, but the questions will be working on clarifying anything that isn't clear about your previous work.

Your answers have to completely cover whatever areas are unclear.

This is important, because these are things where your basic knowledge and qualifications, which are your primary claims to the job, have to be proved.

Experience

Experience can be a double edged sword. You can give the wrong examples and make the wrong impression. You can prove your experience, but not in the way the interviewers need to see.

In budget related jobs, they need to see a direct connection between your experience and all the core skills. You may not be able to give examples of your experiences which cover everything. But if the job involves budget projections, the example has to show budget projections.

Again, you need to research the employer and the business.

You have to show that your work in the field provides value to the employer, and that you can deal with the job.

Practical thinking

How you demonstrate your thinking on the job is sometimes an ordeal for interviewees. You have to prove your ideas and the way you work shows good practical applications.

In accountancy, how you work with figures is all practical thinking. You carry around with the job a series of necessities for accuracy, statutory requirements, and everything from report writing to identifying and explaining budget blowouts.

Communications

Your communications skills will definitely get a workout. Communication with management and up and down the office hierarchy is part of the job. You're the one who will have to talk to everybody, at every level, about everything to do with the budget.

Play safe with this skill requirement.

Everything you say will be a measure of your communications skills. Give clear, structured answers at all times. Speak clearly, and don't garble anything. Give yourself time to think before you speak.

Stress management

This is sometimes a part of the job. Your ability to cope with stress is usually considered relevant in jobs where there's a known stress factor. If this is an issue at the interview, or if the employer has decided to do stress interviews, you can assume they're not kidding.

If you have any reservations about the stress element, you might want to reconsider the job. Stress interviews are tough.

Time management

Budgets, reports, and the entire accounting system are all time management based. Financial reporting, and everything associated with it, are based on laws, as well as management requirements. Every day generates time management situations.

At the interview, you'll be asked to deal with situations in time frames. This is all about time management. You'll be asked how you deal with reporting timetables, additional works, competing priorities, etc.

Now, you can get on with the budgeting problem questions.

Budgets contain a range of elements depending on the type of business. Many people specialize in budgeting for certain industries, because they know the industries thoroughly. Employers appreciate the expertise.

You can expect questions covering the employer's budget to be very close to the real requirements of the job.

You may also find these questions to be based on actual situations. This isn't uncommon, because the candidate's answer can be compared to the actual solution.

The problem solving questions are going to be about:

  • Costs
  • Overruns
  • Projections
  • Anomalies
  • Reporting requirements
  • Statutory requirements
  • Situations
  • Management issues

In each case, you must give strong, decisive, competitive, answers. You have to prove you're in control of the questions, and not out of your depth with the subjects.

Controlling the questions isn't about looking good. It's about proving you can handle the subjects well. Umming and ahhing about the answers is not going to look good to the interviewers.

The big deal about budgets is they're the fundamental financial management tool of the business. All figures used by the business relate to the budget.

In corporate budgets, if there are problems, they're likely to be big problems for management. Management is responsible for the budget, and there can be very serious ramifications for any situations where the budget is seen to be being mismanaged.

As you can see, a book can be written on the possible questions. The basic structure of the questions, however, is fairly simple:

  • You're put in a situation of responsibility for the budget or aspects of the budget.
  • You're given a situation to manage.
  • You may or may not be given a result to achieve. In some cases you're expected to produce a result from the facts you're given.

This is where structured answers pay for themselves.

Your answer will give:

  • A story line, with clear logic
  • A series of steps outlining how you deal with each case
  • You show your skills in each case
  • You produce a result in line with the expectations of the job

The skills issues are extremely important in your answers.

Each essential skill required in the job has to show clearly in your answers.

You demonstrate your competencies throughout the answers.

Problem solving, creativity, knowledge levels, and experience are shown through your methods in your answers.

Practical thinking and communications are shown by your logic and your structured answers.

Time management is an inevitable part of the answers, because it's built in to the questions. As long as your answer is clear on the subject, you'll have that element covered.

Stress management may not be directly covered by the interview, but you may have a chance to show how you deal with pressure situations.

The questions can be anything, but on the subject of budgets, you have to do everything right. This is a professional interview, even for lower level jobs

Remember also that the other applicants also have to survive this process.

Do your research, give your best examples, use your skills, express your answers properly, and you'll get the job.