Q1. What was the toughest accounting task you faced in your career?
Accounting is a very difficult profession. A candidate who has helped former employers cut costs, reduce monetary waste, and stay out of legal hassles is a huge bonus. Listen closely for evidence of one or all of the above.
Q2. What type of audits have you done?
You should know how to respond to this based on the job description and whether the position requires experience doing financial audits, operational audits or something else, Hsu said.
Q3. How do you minimize errors in your work?
An error in accounting can be costly for any company. Accountants should have a set system for reducing errors, and should display a few key attributes:
- Team players – an openness to asking other team members if faced with an extremely difficult scenario.
- Review-minded – double-check all work.
- Not software dependent – repeat all work with calculator and software to ensure accuracy.
Q4. 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. You must be master of Excel. A response might include any of the following: Hyperion, Microsoft Dynamics GP or Oracle Enterprise Manager, Driscoll said.
“For entry-level candidates, it’s an opportunity to turn this into a discussion of finance certifications and future training possibilities,” he said.
Q5. Have you taken an advisory role as a general accountant for a company?
I view my job not just as preparing documents and filing taxes but as part of the team to improve the company’s operation. In addition to reporting on the company’s financial health, I have also taken a role in advising managers and owners on cost cutting, tax incentives and how much risk they can afford to take. I have often spoken at business meetings and made presentations on the company’s financial progress over past quarters and years and what available funds remain. In the course of the meeting, I am asked questions by managers concerning risk and give a full picture on the ability of the business to handle new hires, openings and promotional activities.
Q6. Name three skills you think all accountants should possess.
The ideal answer to this question would involve skills along the lines of analytical thinking, strong math skills, and attention to detail. That said, these questions provide a great chance to see how the applicant views their own strengths without directly asking them – most interviewees will discuss a list of their own skills when asked this question.
Q7. Describe a time when you’ve helped decrease costs.
Cutting unnecessary costs is part of a great accountant’s regular work. It should be easy for a good candidate to name a few examples of situations when they were able to positively impact their employer’s bottom line.
Q8. How do you minimize the risk for errors in your work?
As an accountant, you are held to a high standard and the margin for error is tiny. Small mistakes can lead to large financial issues.
“Respond to this question by describing any times you’ve caught errors before submitting work,” Driscoll said. “Emphasize the importance of checking your work and establishing checks and balances within a team.”
Q9. What software packages for accounting are you comfortable using and what would you change about them?
There are dozens of software packages for accountants, and they vary in price, quality, and function.
An applicant can give you a good idea of their professional background by answering this question, and a good one will display a nuanced understanding of the tradeoff between price and function. Watch out for candidates who are stuck on one particular type of software – if you don’t use it and they are too attached to their favorite software, the learning curve could be long.
Q10. How do you differentiate your focus when preparing internal and external financial reports?
As with any kind of writing, I think about who is reading it and what they can gain from it. For internal reports, managers, employees and owners will read the report. They want an update on the financial health of the company and also want to see how they can help the company improve. I think of it as a report card or results from a medical exam. The employees, management and owners want to get a clear picture on the full financial health of the company. External reports are for creditors, investors and customers. I aim for absolute accuracy while emphasizing the positive about the company and putting it in a good light.