Accountant Interview Questions: What You Should Ask
When you hire an accountant, you want to get your money’s worth, but you also need to look beyond the numbers. You want to hire a candidate with excellent technical skills and expertise, integrity and client skills, and the ability to work both independently and as a reliable team member.
As you compile interview questions, you’ll want to make sure that you’re covering a range of topics that reveal all relevant aspects of your candidates. If you’ve reached the interview phase of your search, it’s likely that you’ve already written a compelling job description that has helped to narrow the field of candidates.
Whether you’re looking for an accountant at your small startup, or to head up a large accounting department, your hiring strategy needs to clarify the minimum requirements and aspirational qualities you are looking for in the role. For example, by the time you get to the interview stage, you should already know whether your top candidates are certified public accountants (CPAs), have an MBA, or an MS degree in accounting.
The best accountant interview questions build rapport, explore candidates’ experience, test their knowledge, and gauge their hard and soft skills. If the role you are looking to fill includes managing accounting assistants or other accountants, then you’ll want to determine if they have leadership potential. The following questions should help you select the best possible candidate for your organization.
Questions that Build Rapport
Nearly everyone is nervous when they interview for a new job. Ice-breaker questions help to ease tensions, allowing candidate to feel less self-conscious and more open to sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge. Employing a few questions that allow your candidates to talk about the elements of work they most enjoy will give you a better sense of who they are.
Accountant interview questions that build rapport might include:
- What do you most enjoy about accounting?
- As technology evolves, what accounting principles do you believe remain constant?
- Why are you interested in working with us?
Questions that Explore Experience
During the next phase of the interview, encourage your candidate to talk about their past experiences and how they might be applied to the role in question. Again, at this relatively early stage of the interview, focusing on a candidate’s past employment experience allows them to talk about something they are familiar with. The best candidates will likely be excited to tell you about some of their past career highlights, from the problems they solved to the efficiencies they helped to implement.
Accountant interview questions that explore experience might be phrased as follows:
- Tell me about a time when you discovered an accounting discrepancy. What did you do to resolve the problem?
- What role have you had in measuring business metrics in your past positions?
- Tell me about a time when you were faced with a challenge. How did you approach it?
Questions that Test Knowledge
Now that your candidate is at ease, it’s time to test their knowledge of the field to see if they will meet your needs. If you discover that they might need more training, this portion of the interview will reveal to you how extensive-and expensive-that training might be.
You might phrase interview questions that test knowledge in the following manner:
- What recent legislative rules regarding accounting do you think might have the most impact on your work in this role?
- Which accounting processes have you used most in your past roles?
- Can you describe an accounting system that you either developed, improved, or were responsible for implementing?
Questions that Focus on Technical Skills
Experienced accountants have likely worked on multiple platforms, but that doesn’t mean that all are equally adept at adapting to technology or implementing it to its full advantage. You may need someone who can quickly get up to speed, in which case knowledge of your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system would be an asset, unless you’re able to train them. Either way, ascertaining a candidate’s comfort level with technology can be useful in determining how well they will fit into your organization.
Accountant interview questions that focus on technical skills might include:
- What business platforms have you used? Which do you prefer and why?
- Tell me about a time during your career when you had to adapt to new technology. How did you transition to new technology while still meeting deadlines?
- Have you used an ERP system? If so, which one did you use? If not, what systems have you used to manage business enterprises?
Questions that Focus on Soft Skills
Though accounting is often seen as a technical field, it requires a number of soft skills, including integrity, interpersonal skills, management skills, and more. If clients feel they can’t trust their current accountant with their money, they will quickly take their business elsewhere.
Because an accountant’s workflow is so closely tied to annual and quarterly tax schedules, it is a profession that is closely tied to deadlines and subject to cyclical periods of intensity. As a consequence, you’ll want to know how applicants handle time management and deadline pressure.
Here are a few accountant interview questions that can help gauge soft skills:
- How do you make it clear to your clients that they can trust you?
- How do you prioritize between competing deadlines?
- How do you handle difficult discussions with clients and/or coworkers?
Questions that Gauge Management Style
Accountants are often called upon to lead, whether they’re heading up a small unit of assistants, a large department of CPAs for a large corporation, or fill an executive role (CFO, for example).
The following questions can help determine whether a candidate’s management style will enhance or disrupt your workplace:
- What is your approach as a manager? Can you give me an example of a time you served as a mentor to an accounting assistant or a colleague new to the field?
- If you’ve never served in a management role before, tell me about a time when you took the lead on a project, or about a former boss whose management style you admired.
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