Key questions to ask candidates interviewing for an accounting job

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Learn the key questions to ask accounting candidates during job interviews – and what to look for in their answers – to help you make the best hire.

Finding qualified top accounting talent to interview for an accounting position at your firm is half the battle. It’s no secret that accounting recruiting is a challenge for many firm owners, due to a lack of qualified talent and high competition for the qualified talent that exists.

If you’ve made it to the stage where you’ve secured candidates to interview, congratulations! Now you may be wondering just what to ask them during the interview to really determine whether they would be a good fit, and whether they’ll stick around – because who wants to go through the recruitment process again, right?

In this article, we’ve rounded up a few key interview questions to ask accounting candidates and explain what the answers to those questions can actually tell you.

Why key questions are important in a job interview

On paper, interviewing someone for a job sounds pretty straightforward. You ask them common interview questions about their previous jobs, their skills and experience, and they either match what you’re looking for or they don’t.

In reality, nuances come into play, such as culture fit and how much candidates know about themselves as employees and what they have to offer an employer. A self-aware candidate will know their strengths and weaknesses, and you may be able to determine areas in which they may require more training and where they don’t.

A candidate who ticks all the boxes when it comes to skills and experience may not be the best culture fit: they may only want to work in a casual environment where you may require employees to wear business attire if they’re meeting with candidates, for example.

This is where key questions come into play, to help you dig into and glean more information about candidates’ nuances. The result is a more complete picture of an accounting candidate and what they are like and can contribute to your firm.

So what are those key interview questions to ask accounting candidates, you may ask? We turned to Matthew Davies, talent delivery manager at TOA Global, for help in compiling some of these questions.

Asking a candidate interviewing for an accountant job how they handle tight deadlines can reveal information about how he or she establishes priorities and manages his or her time.

Describe one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your accounting career and how you overcame it.

No doubt you’re looking for strong accounting professionals who can come in and take over a lot of the day-to-day accounting tasks so you can focus on higher-level work. In the day-to-day world of work, however, there are always issues that come up, as Matt points out. One of these issues can be a strong personality who expects accuracy and quality of work.

Why this question is important: The answer to this question will reveal how candidates have handled a tough situation, whether they can exercise tact and diplomacy, and whether they are good at problem-solving.

Give me an example of where you improved an accounting procedure or process to be more efficient.

“Many companies (especially these days) are moving towards cloud accounting,” Matt says. Your firm may have done the same. Or perhaps you’ve embraced other technology, such as data analytics, to help you develop your business. No matter which technology you’ve adopted, you may now be dealing with the need for new skills and knowledge.

Why this question is important: “With small bookkeeping businesses, many have grown so quickly they are looking for someone who is tech savvy who can improve their business and understands all the accounting tools,” says Matt.

A tech-savvy accounting candidate is probably also someone who is adaptable and handles change well. The more knowledgeable they are about a technology, the more quickly they can help a firm become more efficient.

A good accountant or bookkeeper will have a system for checking the accuracy of their work.

Errors can be detrimental to accounting. How do you check your own work for accuracy?

“It is very important for accounting to be accurate,” says Matt. “Many small bookkeeping owners are hiring someone to take charge of the majority of the work so they can just review the work. Business owners are so busy they need someone who can be reliable and generally won’t need much supervision.”

Why this question is important: Errors can cost firms clients. “A good accountant or bookkeeper will have a system for checking their own accuracy,” Matt says. The answer to this question can reveal whether a candidate does have a process in place when it comes to paying attention to detail and thereby ensuring accuracy.

How do you stay on top of current accounting legislation?

An ideal answer to this question will involve a description of the methods the candidate uses to stay as up-to-date as possible on any changes in legislation that would affect the accounting industry. These methods could include anything from registering for Google alerts to receiving information as a result of a membership in a professional organization, to subscribing to industry newsletters.

Why this question is important: Being knowledgeable about current legislation is obviously important so you and your staff adhere to it. In terms of a candidate’s answer to this question, it can reveal their initiative and how proactive he or she is when it comes to addressing factors affecting work – as well as their actual knowledge of current legislation.

Asking accounting candidates how they handled an ethical dilemma can reveal their ability to do the right thing despite the circumstance.

Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma at work, and if so, how did you handle it?

An accountant may face ethical dilemmas more so than lots of other professions. Where to report expenses and potential conflicts of interest are two examples of ethical situations an accountant may encounter.

Accountants also deal with a lot of confidential information and must know how to use it appropriately, as well as how to protect it.

Why this question is important: It can reveal how a candidate analyzes and addresses a challenging situation, whether they exercise good judgment and their ability to do the right thing.

What trends will have the biggest impact on accounting in the future?

Answers to this question should obviously reference current trends in the accounting industry, such as the struggle to find qualified talent, cloud accounting, data analytics, or the increased use of flexible staffing.

Why this question is important: It can reveal just how interested and/or engaged the client is with the industry, and their commitment to it. A bonus is if they suggest ways your firm can leverage these trends.

Is it better to be late and perfect OR good and on time?

This came from a client who really liked this question and said many people didn’t answer it correctly,” says Matt.

It’s a thought-provoking question, and the answer can tell you about a candidate’s work style, work ethic, personality and how they think on their feet. A good answer will talk about time management, organizational skills, the ability to prioritize, and handling the situation.

Why this question is important: Missed deadlines can also cost firms clients. Meeting deadlines helps your firm maintain its reputation as reliable and professional.

Skills, experience, culture fit: all factors to consider when assessing candidates for accounting roles.

Conclusion

Interview questions to ask accounting candidates that go beyond exploring their skills and experience will help you determine whether they would be good cultural fit for your firm, give you more insight into their personality, ethics, judgment, initiative and commitment to the industry, and whether you and your team will like working with this person.

When interviewing to fill accounting roles, a hiring manager can also gauge a candidate’s soft skills and communication skills, as well as assess how much they know how to use accounting software and can follow and improve accounting processes, and if they really do know their way around financial statements.

With this information, a firm owner increases his or her chances of successfully adding a good accounting professional to his or her team.

If you’re struggling to find top accounting talent to interview, then outsourced accounting might be the solution for you. Sign up to receive a free accounting outsourcing strategy and plan to learn more.

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