10 accounting questions for potential accountant hires

With small and medium businesses (SMBs) a lot rides on your money. It’s crucial to find the right accountant so you don’t have to spend each day tearing your hair out and pass each night re-checking work they have done. If you want a smooth chugging engine, the accountant has to fit. So the task of finding this right-fit-assistant boils down to asking the right questions to ascertain their skills, worth and credibility.

What can a good accountant do for you, you ask? They save your business’ money in the long run. This person will –

  • Find and leverage tax advantages
  • Be up to date with and follow the legalities of the tax code which are forever changing
  • Keep tabs on your transactions and internal accounting processes
  • Keep your financial record-keeping abreast with your finances

Apart from the accounting degree, you can shortlist candidates based on the kind of work they have done before, the different industries they have worked in, their specializations, the experience they have tucked under their belts, and what skill they bring to the table.

Once you have pared the list, you can begin with the questions.

Appraising the applicant’s skill

Before going strong into hard-core accounting questions, use this list of questions to take a look at their soft skills and other core competencies.

  1. Find out how they stay on top of current and changing accounting laws and regulations
    You need someone who is pro-active, aware and diligent. Given the fickle industry the rate of change of laws and regulations requires informed accounts. They should be able to tell you how they stay abreast: are they monitoring development through subscriptions to industry publications, memberships at professional organisations, or by attending conferences and webinars?
  1. 3 skills they think good accounts should have
    Normally they would cite 3 of their skills and talk about how they think those are the best ones to have. But someone who mentions a wholesome mix of hard and soft skills – e.g. knowledge of data concepts on one hand and business acumen or communication skills on the other – could be your guy/girl. Look to see if this person can back those up by including examples of situations where they have used these skills before.
  1. Types of accounting software they’ve used in the past
    The answer to this question will determine whether they already know the system you use or if a training period will be required. If they don’t know the software you use, that isn’t a strike against them. You just need to follow up with questions about how well they have understood other software and how quickly they can learn a new one.
  1. Types of reports generated in the last job
    Knowing if someone can generate income and cash flow statements will give you a peek into the experience they can bring. Moreover, if it is one of the duties of the job being offered, it would be necessary to know if the candidate has prepared the same in the past.

Ascertaining if they slot in with your business

For the second part, you will have to assess their actual accounting skills and whether those will fit with your company requirements. Situational questions are good because they let you know if a candidate has already dealt with a similar scenario (and, consequently, how they dealt with it), or how they can think (on the spot) about dealing with such situations. It also lets you know how well they understand what they are dealing with.

  1. An instance when they made an accounting mistake and how they handled it
    We all know it’s a mendacious claim if they say they have never made one before! You want to see if the person can own to it, if they have understood how it came about, and what they did to make things right.
  1. Experience in presenting financial data to non-financial folks
    This question sheds light on their communication skills and their patience in dealing with co-workers because it’s common for finance professionals to be dealing with or discussing such accounting data with colleagues of a non-financial background.
  1. How they dealt with a particularly tight deadline in the past
    It’s not uncommon for professionals in this role to be pressed for important reports ASAP! It’s good to know how your potential accountant deals with this situation of stress and pressure daily, how well they manage their time, and how well they plan all their other activities, making sure there is time for each task to be dealt with.
  1. The toughest accounting challenge they have solved
    This is a good question to use in any interview! It shows you how the person faces challenges, and their strengths. It also allows you a glimpse into their way of handling things – whether it could be applauded or censured. A good candidate would use it as a springboard to display their creativity, skill and experience.
  1. Their role in a team that was revising an accounting process, and how the job was done
    Team work is so critical to accounting. It’s a process that needs all the cogs to work smoothly to get rolling. Look for signs of a collaborator and leader.
  1. The reason for choosing accountancy and finance
    This tells you why they are seeking a position with your company, what their own goals are, and thereby how they fit in with what your company needs. A passion and curiosity for the subject is more worthwhile to retain than someone who will be stable because of the promise of the good salary this career offers.

Remember, it’s good to either hire an accountant or outsource your accounting. It frees up your time and lets the professionals handle the chore for you while you focus on the core of your business. And this is the person/people who are going to handle your money and books every day. So you want to pick the right person. The questions above form the elementary list you could work it, adapting it to the situation, the candidate and job position being offered.

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