What are some of the best questions to ask when you are interviewing potential accountants? Thanks!
Ask them to walk you through the flow of a sale of product (or service) through collection and an expense through payment.
Ask they how they would reconcile a bank account. Specifically, what is their process, where do they collect the data, when do they know they are finished.
Ask them about their monthly flow of duties, if applicable, and how they organize those and ensure they are not missing any data/steps/operations.
Sheldon, here are some other great discussions about accounting job interview questions.
Also, you might want to ask "what have you learned from being an accountant?" Here are a few ideas you might enjoy:
Adding to Bryan,
I like to ask "about you" questions. They can be the hardest to answer concisely, and they also tell a lot about the cultural fit. "about yourself", "about a time that you needed help", "about a difficult boss".
The tech they've touched can be interesting, but mostly how they worked with it. There's a big difference between "inputting data into quickbooks" and "setting up the chart of accounts".
Finally, a few technical accounting questions. I really don't care if they know the answer; but if they said they know it, it would be good to hear it. I'm more looking for thought process, and potentially communication process. A great answer is "I don't know the GAAP treatment of that," or "it depends on a few factors, but I'd have to review them and your contracts to figure it out," or "don't quote me but I believe X."
I don't really care about the "about you" at all, especially if we are talking about accounting and IT together. I want to know the technical things and the vision they have. I can put them in a corner or have them telecommute.
Mr. Simcic, really? You don't ask interview questions to learn more about non-technical/personal insight when hiring?
Ergo, honesty, ability to communicate, work with others, attention to detail, cheerful productivity, work ethic, curiosity... none of that matters? The only thing that matters is technical proficiency?
Kind of like being a high tech/accounting version of a factory worker soldering transistors onto a circuit board?
You want to ask them questions that inform you of their technical abilities and also about their ability to resolve conflict. Do you need a leader or a blender?
If you don't have time to supervise them then you will want to consider someone who has managed or supervised in the past because they will understand how to reach out to the various areas to acquire the information they need without being instructed to do so.
When you ask about "potential accountants" I have to laugh, are you talking about interviewing potential employees? Or CPA firms because you are moving your work between firms?
If you are talking about moving your work between firms, you will want to get an idea of whether the firm is responsive enough to meet your needs and deadlines. Do you want hand holding or do you want a proactive team?
The questions you ask are dependent on what your expectations are.
Their specific role matters a lot. Are they going to be an Accountant I or III? Assuming they're working for you at the staff level, interview questions need to be primarily tailored to that, with secondary questions on fit, leadership capabilities, etc. No matter what, I feel Accountants need to have tremendous technical capabilities. What good does it do you if they’re the most likeable person (great fit) yet can’t even code a JE for Petty Cash…or know an Expense from a Liability?
Regarding validating technical skills, I’m a big fan of testing them (computer based or written is fine). Much of the content should be very similar to the entries they’ll be seeing on the job, with additional questions around breadth and depth of Accounting knowledge. You may even throw in some personality related questions tied to stress management, technical initiative, creativity, etc. like:
• Have you ever worked with/for a manager who was unfair or just hard to work with? Please describe how you handled those interactions?
• How has your tolerance for accepting mistakes from co-workers changed over the years?
• If you were on a magazine cover, which one would it be and what would the headline say?
• What magazine have you read recently? Book?
• How important is this salary to you? Why do you rate it that way?
• How can we best reward you as a team member/employee?
The list can go on and on. Simply put, you’re right that interview questions need to be well thought out in advance. Best of luck with your hiring!
I like to ask questions that give me a feel for whether or not there is a desire to learn the "business." This is different than pure book accounting knowledge. I want someone that knows more than journal entries.
I like to ask two somewhat comical questions, which actually tell you a lot about the person, their overall knowledge of the field and just how green they may or may not be. "Green" doesn't need to be the home of the new accountant, it can also be the seasoned.
1, How much is 1 + 1.
2. When doing an audit of the warehouse, would you and all your audit colleagues go to lunch at the same time?
In addition to the excellent things others have recommended.....
How he handles a technical accounting issue that he is unsure of (or does not know). Has he encountered such a problem; how he handled it; what tools does he currently have and use to resolve the issue. This also gives me an idea of the extent of extra guidance I have to put in if and when I choose him/her. There is NOTHING worse than a confidently wrong staff! The amount of work to clean up is far far greater than if they just researched the issue.
Background: I do NOT expect my staff to "know it all" although they should have the basics down pat (depending on their individual education/work experience). More importantly, I value resourcefulness, initiative and problem solving on their own. In fact, I even like to be proven wrong from time to time or learn WITH them. As part of my type of "mentorship", I have guided accountants to research technical issues and where (and how) they can find the answers. Even to those issues I myself am unsure of.
"Teach a man how to fish, ...." in this case, you only have to guide them WHERE to fish!
I also second Mark Matheny about the propensity/inclination on learning about the business.
I saw a link several years ago, which I checked out again today, that has some crazy, off the wall questions that can offer insights to how someone thinks. These are sort of like Wayne's two questions above.
“You are a head chef at a restaurant and your team has been selected to be on Iron Chef. How do you prepare your team for the competition and how do you leverage the competition for your restaurant?”
“How would you direct someone else on how to cook an omelet?”
“Given a 7 digit phone number, find out all the words that can be formed using this number based on the T9 keypad.”
These questions don't pertain to a staff level employee, necessarily. However, the first two can be used to judge how a leader develops others.
And if you want to know how old they are, ask them what telephone exchange they were part of as a youngster?
Mine was Esplanade..
Wayne, I can tell by your answer that you're older than 32 because I've never heard of Esplanade.
Where do you want them to start and where do you need them in the future? That drives my questions.
Also, way too many accountants are sooooo detailed focused that they can't see the big picture and understand how what they do impacts the company. If they can't tell me about how they recommended a change/improvement, etc. then I don't want them working for me.
Of course, I want to know about their comfort with technology. There was a good discussion about this elsewhere on this site.
Oh and one last thing: how do they deal with change? As they say the only constant is change and accountants as a group are not very flexible ;)
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