Ten Questions to Ask When Hiring an Accountant

“Ask and ye shall receive.” Here are ten questions that you need to ask before hiring an accountant to ensure you “receive” the best talent.

There are countless articles online and elsewhere that counsel jobseekers on how to cope with the pressures of a job interview. But interviews aren’t just stressful for the candidates – they can be just as traumatic for the folks on the other side of the desk.

There’s plenty that interviewers can do to ensure that they perform as capably during interviews as their candidates. It helps, however, if you know what to ask your potential hires. While Columbo was able to bumble along and make things up as he went, always finding a way to raise just the right query at the most pivotal moments, most of us lack that kind of panache. To help you out for the next time you have to conduct an interview, we’ve compiled the following list of ten questions you should ask before hiring an accountant.

1. “How does working as a (insert job title) make sense for you at this point in your career?”
This question will speak volumes about the candidate’s self-perception. Their answer will reveal how the candidate currently sees themselves, as well as where they plan on heading, professionally speaking. Asking this question will help you determine if the candidate is a good cultural fit with your company, and even more importantly, if they will be able to grow in their role. Remember: you want someone who will be the right hire not only today, but tomorrow – next year and the year after that.

2. “How have you helped to improve your current/previous employer’s business in the time you’ve been there?”
When you’re hiring an accountant, it’s critically important for you to determine the processes that they have managed or been a part of. You want to know, after all, that they have the ability to innovate, and are willing to take ownership over their work and responsibilities. Leadership skills are increasingly vital in accounting and finance hires.

But interviews aren’t just stressful for the candidates – they can be just as traumatic for the folks on the other side of the desk.

3. “What would you do, if someone in your organization wanted you to misrepresent some financial information about the business?”
Ethics and integrity are always desirable traits in hires, but they are to be especially prized among accountants. An accounting professional must have very high standards of personal honesty. Evaluating their response to a potential conflict of this nature will help you assess the ethical character of a potential hire, and determine if their core values are consistent with those of your organization.

4. “Give me an example of a time you took the initiative at your current/previous organization. What results were you able to produce?”
Every employer wants to hire a team player, but it’s also important that your new employee be capable of individual success. As with the second question, you’re looking for signs that a potential hire is willing and eager to assume personal responsibility, as well as evidence that they have been able to drive value and move their companies forward.

5. “Explain the last role you were hired for, and how it forced you to grow, both technically and personally.”
Hiring an accountant involves determining if an individual can understand and master a process or system, as well as develop and improve upon it. The best accounting candidates will go above and beyond the call of their duties; they will work proactively to find efficiencies.

6.How much money did you save your last employer? How were you able to deliver these results?”

This question is particularly instructive in the case of accountants for an intermediate or senior role. It will help you to evaluate the extent to which a candidate can identify inefficiencies, streamline processes, and communicate findings in a way that makes sense to all of the relevant stakeholders.

An accounting professional must have very high standards of personal honesty.

7.Explain an approach you use to build consensus within your team.”

For accountants at all levels, this question will help you assess a potential hire’s communication skills, self-confidence, and technical knowledge. Their response will also clue you into their management and leadership capabilities, which are determining considerations for hiring accountants at more senior levels.

8. “Describe a time when you noticed a potential loss for a company, or were able to identify an undetected financial error before anyone else, while you were reconciling balance sheet accounts to subsystems. What course of action did you take upon this discovery?”

Designed for junior to intermediate level accountants, this question allows you to probe into a candidate’s potential technical knowledge, as well as their ethics and integrity. It may also tip their hand as to their creative problem-solving abilities and time management skills.

9.Give me an example of how you have used data to improve your team’s productivity within the last two years?”

Use this question to assess a candidate’s understanding of the importance of team dynamics and their ability to encourage success in others. How a potential hire answers this question can be an indication of how well they will mesh with the natural working style of your organization.

10. “How do you ensure accuracy when you’re operating under a tight timeline?”

Being “detail-oriented” is not just an overused cliché that accountants include on their resumes. For accountants, attention to the particulars is a job requirement, even and especially when time is not on their side. You want to hire a professional who can still deliver quality results even when they’re faced with a fast approaching deadline. A question like this will tip you off as to a candidate’s ability to design efficient processes that give nothing away in terms of accuracy.

While this is by no means a comprehensive list, these ten questions can help you ferret out the things you most need to know about an accounting candidate in order to hire the best person available. As means for evaluating a potential hire’s technical, cultural, and communication skills, they will help you avoid making a disastrous hiring mistake and recruit only the top talent.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!