10 interview questions to use when hiring in accounting

A good accountant or financial controller is an invaluable right-hand person in your business. A person who understands the numbers and can interpret what is happening so you can make better decisions is worth his or her weight in gold.

If you are considering hiring such a person, the key to an effective interview is to ask two types of questions:

  1. Questions that allow the candidate to show you what sort of assistance they will be able to provide besides number crunching. You might call these strategic questions.
  2. Behavioural questions that will allow the candidate to demonstrate how they have responded in a prior role to situations or crises that may arise.

My top 10 interview questions:

Check references thoroughly to validate the candidate’s ability to do what they say they can do. As a guideline, ask these 10 questions when hiring anyone for accounting work.

1. Based on what you know of our business, what would you consider to be our major challenges?

This will give you an indication as to whether the candidate has checked your website or done any research or thinking about how they might help in a senior role.

2. What do you consider to be the most important things that you would communicate to me to ensure I have all of the information I need to run this business successfully?

See my previous post for guidance on the 5 things an accountant or a CFO needs to communicate to the CEO.

3. If you were to start with us tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would look at to identify how we might be able to increase our revenue or profitability?

4. What financial mistakes have you observed in previous roles, and how have you addressed them?

READ: 5 financial mistakes small businesses make

5. What is your view on cloud accounting and the benefits it provides to business owners?

6. What specifically have you done in a previous role to reduce costs while maintaining good customer service?

7. If we were to work together, what management reporting process would you implement so that we could respond to financial information in as close to real time as possible?

The best practice is to hold a formal board meeting within four days of the month end, at which the accountant presents the numbers, answers questions and provides recommendations.

8. What’s the best way to manage our working relationship with the bankers?

9. Often businesses can have conflicting priorities. For example, marketing wants to spend more money to generate leads, whereas customer service thinks more should be allocated to retain existing customers. How have you dealt with such conflicts in the past?

10. Accountants are often seen as stuffy and boring, yet it’s clear they have a very important role to play in a high performing team. What have you done in prior roles that could strengthen our team?

What if you fail to hire someone?

In the event that you fail to find someone that you would be comfortable having on your payroll in this position, consider hiring an external accountant to fill this role. Many progressive and proactive firms have capitalised on cloud accounting solutions to provide virtual management accounting services.

This means that they have access to your accounting file in real time, and they are able to check in and provide commentary, feedback and advice as needed. Depending on your needs, your external accountant might structure a service that offers some or all of the following:

  • Converting your accounting records to the cloud
  • Creation of a budget for your business
  • Daily, weekly or monthly monitoring of your financials
  • Feedback and advice on what to look for as soon as the they see anything out of the ordinary
  • Formal monthly meetings (either face-to-face or by Skype)
  • Cash flow forecasting
  • Annual planning services

If you are hiring an accountant for your business, do not take it lightly because it’s a very important role. Use the questions above with all candidates and don’t discount a virtual appointment.