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What Are Some Good Controller Interview Questions?

Asmaa Awad's Profile

controller interview questionsWhat are some good interview questions to ask when interviewing candidates for an accounting controller position? And what answers do you look for?

Answers

Jerry jorgensen
Title: Director, Finance and Accounting
Company: Jo-Kell
(Director, Finance and Accounting, Jo-Kell) |

Tell me about a situation where you had to deal with:
An upset vendor or customer. Candidate should tell you the details and how the situation was resolved
A dispute with the owner on how a transaction should be recorded
A dispute with an employee on how a transaction should be handled
A situation where you were asked to do some thing that you felt was unethical and how you handled it

What you are trying to determine is how the employee handles difficult situations.

Deanna Miller
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Professional Plumbing Group
(Chief Financial Officer, Professional Plumbing Group) |

I do like the STARs questions where you ask for how the responded in specific situations where the candidate has to come up with the issue. It gives you great insight into what the candidate's priorities are and how they think. Jerry gave some good ones. Others to consider include:
A conflict over deadlines - month end close, audit, board meeting, etc - how the controller prioritized the different requirements
Supporting an estimate in the records when the owners don't want to spend money on a valuation or other expert advice and the individual does not have experience making such estimates.

In addition to situations handling technical issues, since a controller is often a manager, my favorite manager question is "if you could, which of your current team members would you bring with you to this Company and why?" Like a situational STARs question, this one gives you insight into what the manager values in an employee and what type of team the manager has built in the past.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

Asmaa, Proformative has a free white paper on this topic, interesting from the standpoint of current or future Controller, titled

"The 5 Questions To Ask Your Controller"
https://www.proformative.com/whitepapers/5-questions-ask-your-controller
.

I think it would help lead to some productive Controller conversations.

Best... Sarah

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

Where do you see yourself in five years? (Provides insight into their career goals and if they will be happy with the direction of your company).
What is your dream job? (I only ask this if I don't get a clear answer from the 1st one).
If they have direct reports now, ask them if they have their dream team? (If they say no, probe further to find out if they have a problem holding people accountable).
How do you handle a bank rec (or account reconciliation, whatever fits your business) that you just can not get to reconcile? (I want to see their thought process).

I always try to ask open ended questions to get them talking. If you can make them feel comfortable they will be more open and honest. Always watch eye contact and body language.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

For the Controller position, I usually ask about how he deals (or his views on) with (1) deadlines, (2) process improvement (3) technology and (4) technical accounting issues.

Leslie Karnauskas
Title: CFO
Company: BMGI
(CFO, BMGI) |

One question I always like to ask is "What did they like most about their previous job?" but then also "What did they like least?" It's the least question that sometimes could be very revealing as you can find out if there is something they don't like that is important to the position your are hiring to fill.

Anonymous
(Manager) |

Planning, monitoring, controlling and adapting to the changing needs of the business are very critical coupled with understanding of business and existing financial environment. Person should also be technically sound. One question could be "how you deals with the delay in compliance?". Expected answer is "how can there be a delay when I am a controller".

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

I've been hired and will start as Controller for a property management and construction company on July 1. The company is actually a division of the company I work for now. The overall company has grown so much that divisions are being segregated and have a designated accounting team and Controller.

When I asked why I was considered I was told it was because I already had the cultural DNA (I just celebrated 5 years with the company), I know the line of business already, they trust me and my experience with different leadership opportunities I've had at work and abroad to bring unity to the team I'll be with.

Taking the reasons I was considered for my new position into account, I think some questions could be:

"What is it about our company culture do you find intriguing? How will you best fit in the culture?"

"What experience do you have with the current industry that will allow you to bring value to the company? What value will that be?"

"In what other capacities have you led outside of a work environment?"

Of course, the others that people have presented above are great too.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Chris - congratulations are in order! From reading your posts over the years all I can say is "I am not surprised".

Ross Anderson, CPA, MBA
Title: Controller
Company: TFS Capital
(Controller, TFS Capital) |

Congratulations on the new jobs! Yes, fit is so key. It got me hired at my current role.

Travis Wilson
Title: VP of Finance
Company: WeShare LLC
(VP of Finance, WeShare LLC) |

1) What kind of work environment to you prefer? Task oriented vs goal oriented?

2) How much oversight do you prefer (I generally prefer a controller who feels comfortable operating without substantial oversight)?

3) Would you feel comfortable telling me if you felt I had an area in which I needed improvement?

4) What have been your most rewarding work experiences?

5) What kind of activities do you enjoy outside of work?

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I've read the answers to date and I tend to like Emerson's answer. Similarly Anonymous (Manager) and Deanna's prioritization (although every company is politically different).

I hate the open ended feel good questions such as "where do you think you'll be"... In today's day and age, if this were a CFO job, the answer would be working at another company. A controller might be looking for my next assignment.

What I liked and What I didn't like... depends on why I'm not at my other company... could be challenge, could be pay (which would lead to how much did/do you make which is an immaterial question), could be they are being acquired, merged etc and they are beating the rush to the door....

I think better questions are what they do outside the company and what they feel is important to them.

Remember, a smart candidate is also gauging you. I recently spoke to a friend who interviewed for a CFO job. The owner of the $70M company emphasised work started at 8AM. That he knew all the inventory and pricing (as in walking computer). What would your take away from that conversation be?

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

My takeaway would be that the owner is an overly involved micro-manager of the company's resources. He doesn't seem to be focused on growing the company, in my opinion. If the company is at $70M now, how much more could the company have in revenue if the owner wasn't so concerned with what time the CFO gets to work.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Agree with Chris *or* it could mean the owner had a recent bad experience with his former CFO.

I worked for CFO once that sauntered in after lunch time every day. Worked till 10 pm every night. It had observable effects on the staff. Though it may not have impeded his success in the role as measured at a high level, I didn't think it set a good example.

EMERSON GALFO
Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Ken,

"...sauntered after lunch time every day. Worked till 10 pm every night. It had observable effects on the staff." --> that is still a 9-10 hour days. With our ever changing work environment, the usual 9-5 is not "a" standard anymore. Given technology, time and location is no longer an impediment.

Ken Stumder
Title: Finance Director / Controller
Company: Ken Stumder, CPA
(Finance Director / Controller, Ken Stumder, CPA) |

Emerson - of course. Started my career in audit. Working off hours, at clients, at home etc. all the norm for me ever since. Specific circumstances define work hours. Maybe it is why Wayne's friend had this 8am start emphasized.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I was working.for a firm where my staff was in LA and I was in NY. I put in 5 bour before they got to the office. After 6pm I was reachable but it had to be important.

Had zero effects since everyone.got use to my hours.

When I was in LA I worked LA hours (actually more hours).

At the C Level you should be able to set hours that make you and everyone else effective and as Emerson said, not be tied to 9/5.

Topic Expert
Scott MacDonald
Title: President/Owner
Company: AlphaMac Resources, Inc.
(President/Owner, AlphaMac Resources, Inc.) |

Attitude and aptitude. All the other fluff questions that are typically asked are a waste of time.

If I have someone with a good attitude and the ability to learn, with the general background of the job of course, I can teach them to do the job.

Finally, I look for people with a broad range of experience. Having someone who has spent their whole life in one industry is of less value than someone who has seen several industries.

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