The 14 interview questions all accountants must know the answers to
So you’ve landed an interview, now you really want to set yourself apart from the other accountants, auditors or finance specialists applying for the job. Here are the 14 interview questions it’s well worth lining up a killer response to:
Do you have knowledge of accounting standards?
Bill Driscoll, senior district president for technology staffing services at Robert Half International says this question requires a two-part answer:
“First, be sure to share if you have knowledge of accounting standards such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – GAAP – and Sarbanes-Oxley,” he says.
“Then, explain the depth of your knowledge, how it applies to the role and how you stay up-to-date with changes and developments.”
Do you have experience doing/handling X, Y and Z?
Even if you haven’t any, try to avoid saying no, says Andy Hsu, director of corporate finance and accounting practice at Michael Page. “Instead, tell them you’re enthused to have the opportunity to learn X, Y and Z. When interviewers ask you to walk them through your resumé, pick out the accomplishments that tie into the job description.The message here should be that there is nothing that you can't do.”
Hsu suggests it can help to have notes handy about any relevant strengths you have for the position. “And wiser to say your experience is limited in XYZ, but you do know ABC. Don’t give them a reason not to hire you,” he adds.
If you’re truly interested in a role, your enthusiasm can make up for a few skill-gaps. Say you don’t hit 10 out of the 10 prerequisite skills or types of experience, but maybe you hit eight. Hsu suggests that on the other two, you find a way to highlight elements of your background that relate tangentially, to overcome the missing bullet points.
What methods have you used for estimating bad debt?
This question can open a conversation about the ways you’ve approached this routine process with previous employers.
“Your answer can reveal the level of your understanding of the methods most commonly used. It could also open a dialogue about how the company you are interviewing with handles this,” suggests Driscoll.
What is your role within the month-end close process?
“Being able to articulate your functionality, responsibility and specifics related to how you go about the end-of-the-month close, either at your current or most recent firm, is a very important piece,” Hsu says. “That said, you should be able to sum up every bullet-point on your resumé, mentioning highlights and focusing on accomplishments.”
Which enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have you used?
Most accountants, especially those with experience working for medium-to-large organizations, should have an answer for this, says Driscoll. “You must be a master of Excel but your response might also include any of the following: Hyperion, Microsoft Dynamics GP or Oracle Enterprise Manager.”
“For entry-level candidates, this is a great opportunity to discuss scope for finance certifications and future training possibilities,” he adds.
Can you describe a time when you took the lead on implementation or were proactive in another context?
Recruiters want to hire accountants and auditors who have the foresight to address any potential issues, before a situation blows up and becomes reactionary.
“Talk about any recommendations you’ve made to higher-ups, and processes or procedures that you have implemented,” Hsu recommends. “Think about how you’ve done your job in a proactive, rather than reactive, sense. Controllers and CFO-level candidates especially must be prepared to talk employers through processes and procedures they have implemented,” says Hsu.
Can you describe a time when you helped reduce costs?
The answer to this question will tell your interviewer whether you are the kind of hire who sticks rigidly to your duties, or the type who goes above and beyond. Driscoll’s tip here is that you talk about any solutions you have identified for the greater good of the company.
What type of audits have you done?
You should respond to this in relation to the job description and whether the position requires experience with financial audits, operational audits or something else, says Hsu.
How do you minimize the risk of errors in your work?
As an accountant, you already know you need to maintain high standards and your margin for error is tiny; small mistakes can lead to large financial issues.
“Respond to this question by describing when you’ve caught errors before submitting work,” advises Driscoll. “Emphasize how important checking work is to you and why establishing checks and balances within a team is a total must.”
How hands-on were you?
Your response here will likely depend on whether you’ve been working for a bigger or smaller firm.
“At a bigger organization, your responsibility may be more siloed, whereas at a smaller company you probably have to wear many hats, and there are not as many checks and balances,” says Hsu.
“Regardless of size, it doesn’t take away from the detail-oriented nature of a good accountant or auditor,” he adds. “Highlight your skills, rather than just saying you have experience in accounts payable."
What is your experience with developing business metrics?
Keep your response brief but outline any important experience you’ve had in this area, Driscoll says. “By keeping your response brief, it can open up the conversation to be more like a dialogue about the employer’s business metrics rather than a Q&A.”.
In terms of culture, what environment do you see yourself succeeding in?
Some hiring managers are looking for a candidate who works well in a team, others for someone who works well independently, but all the better if you can demonstrate that you can do both.
“You have to understand the particular role to highlight how you would perform, because hiring managers want a candidate to be the right fit. A lot of what they are looking for is about the value you can add to the business beyond technical skills."
Tell us about a time you had a difficult conversation with a manager or colleague in another department.
As an auditor or accountant, you might spot reporting issues that may require difficult conversations with colleagues.
“With this question, the hiring manager is trying to understand how you would handle these types of situations,” advises Driscoll.
Why is there a gap in your employment record?
If your gap is the result of a layoff, reorganization or toxic situation, try not to speak disparagingly about a boss, colleague or company for which you worked. Just be straightforward about the situation.
Dan Butcher also contributed to this article
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