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What is your favorite question to ask job applicants in interviews?

Diane Robbins's Profile

accounting interview questions


Philip May
Title: VP, Finance and Corporate Development
Company: England Logistics
(VP, Finance and Corporate Development, England Logistics) |

Before every interview, I sit down and imagine the behaviors of the person that will be successful in that role. I focus on soft skills like attitude, culture fit, resilience, etc... because the recruiters and other interviewers are focused on skills (not that I don't check for those also.)

I then ask hanging questions that get after those qualities.
- "what is the funniest thing you have ever witnessed at work?" (do they have a sense of humor that will fit?)
- "tell me about someone who inspired you at work?" (what does this person value? Who do they aspire to be? This often points out areas where the candidate is still a work in progress)
- "tell me about a co-worker you could not get along with?" (culture fit, ability to get along.)
- "tell me a bout a problem you couldn't solve?" (self awareness, approach to finding solutions, tenacity.)

Don't lead the candidate. Don't tell them what you are looking for prior to the question. Otherwise, you'll get the answer the candidate thinks you are looking for.

Don't ask any questions that won't give you information you need to make a decision. Cut the candidate off if they are wasting too much time in their answers (you'll do that when they work for you--see how they react.)

Challenge them on a point of view. Do they tactfully defend their position? Do they debate with intent to beat down instead of finding the right answer? Are they defensive? So they consider your points of view thoughtfully?

Give them plenty of time ask questions about you and the company. Be very honest about who is successful and why. People rarely fail on lack of skills; they frequently fail because they don't fit, or have flawed personality or poor attitude.

Building your team is the most important input to your own success. Don't settle for B players. Make sure they will fit. Don't ask typical accounting interview questions.

(Self) |

"People rarely fail on lack of skills; they frequently fail because they don't fit, or have flawed personality or poor attitude."

People also fail (more so than not) because management and the company fail to recognize the path to what the firm really needs and what management really wants to do. It is the typical agency problem, self preservation versus the market realities.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

My favorite accounting interview questions deal with critical thinking and initiative. Essentially, how do you approach a problem. Finance and Accounting deal with questioning "why something does not look right" or "how to make something more profitable." I would rather know upfront if the interviewee has these qualities.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

How do you catch a waterfall?

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Valerie - I need some help with the waterfall question. Maybe it is because my mind is too concrete in thinking and problem solving, but what type of answer do you look for when asking a candidate how to catch a waterfall? I am not sure I could contain myself if I were asked such a question.

It makes me think of a time I was asked, "How do you eat an elephant?" I was not sure, so I said I didn't know other than grilling it. Then I was told, "One bite at a time." Is the waterfall question similar to the elephant question? Is an appropriate answer, "One bucket at a time?"

Randy Moore
Title: CFO
Company: SJB Bagel Makers of Boston
(CFO, SJB Bagel Makers of Boston) |

Is this a problem at your business?

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: CEO & COO
Company: Treasury Webinars
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO & COO, Treasury Webinars) |

If I were being interviewed and asked that question, I would simply answer with another strange question, such as "how do you eat an elephant?" Yes, some may not "like that", but that is my personality, and there is no reason to hide that as the right culture fit is key.

Leslie Karnauskas
Title: CFO
Company: BMGI

I agree completely with Phil. But to add one question that I always like to ask... What do you like about the work that you do? And then what don't you like about the work that you do? And why? It's the don't like and the why one that can get at some of the things that may not fit with what you are looking for in a candidate.

Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

I find that I get the most candid responses when the interviewee thinks I am being candid as well. While I'm not trying to trick them into over-sharing, developing a repport helps me identify any hiccups in actual to documented experiences, and if the personality will work on my team.

The questions I tend to ask at all interviews, regardless of position:

"The most difficult person you have worked with, and how you have managed them." Many people correct me by changing the wording to how have they established a positive working relationship with someone with a different perspective.

"What is your proudest accomplishment at any of your prior positions."

"If you had to do it all over again. Tell me about a time that in hindsight, you would have approached a task differently. "

Earl White
Title: CFO
Company: XL Specialized Trailers
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, XL Specialized Trailers) |

I ask about their mentors or heroes. The response should be a leader in a prior position, a professor, or someone that influenced their career goals. Responses include prior leaders and family members that helped shape their lives.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |


You list a leader in a prior position, a professor and then basically anyone.

Since so many are swayed by sports "heroes", I'll use this as an example:

So, given your criteria, if I choose Pete Rose, what value judgement do you make? He may have been a world class player, but his ethics, to many, leave a lot to be desired.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

I ask what is a deal breaker for you when considering the next opportunity?

Topic Expert
Patrick Dunne
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Milk Source
(Chief Financial Officer, Milk Source) |

My question is always "What do you want to do in life?" I would try to get them to talk about this as professional goals. It would give me a sense of what they value in their life and whether they are focused on the right things in their career.

Trish Meyer
Title: VP of Finance
Company: GMI Holdings
(VP of Finance, GMI Holdings) |

- "What are 3 words that describe our company". This always tells me if they have done their homework

- "What are a few creative ways to cut costs or make something (I usually provide an example case) more profitable" This helps me understand if they can think beyond the handbook which is becoming increasingly important in the finance world

Chris Shumate
Title: Accounting Manager
Company: Dominion Development Group, LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Accounting Manager, Dominion Development Group, LLC) |

Perhaps a question to shift our way of thinking would be to ask "Why are you not qualified to take this position?"

Here's why: I am part of the launch team for Liz Wiseman's new book "Rookie Smarts" which talks about how studies have shown a person with little experience at a job may do better at the task than a veteran. In her book "Multipliers", as well as "Rookie Smarts", she discusses her first job at Oracle which was way above her head, and how she was viewed by the executives at Oracle for her contribution.

Perhaps instead of asking what makes a person qualified for the job, it should be asked what makes them not qualified, but still a viable candidate.

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: CEO & COO
Company: Treasury Webinars
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO & COO, Treasury Webinars) |

What is your favorite joke? I need people who have a sense of humor. I also like, what are going to do within the first three months to make your work colleagues more successful if I bring you on to our team?

Randy Moore
Title: CFO
Company: SJB Bagel Makers of Boston
(CFO, SJB Bagel Makers of Boston) |

I once had an applicant state that she was funny. I asked her for a joke and she could not come up with one saying her humor is more spontaneous than canned jokes. Fair enough. I ended up hiring her and in the 6 months or so that she worked for me I did not hear anything close to humorous from her.

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