14 interview questions which all accountants must know the answers to

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Never say, "No, I've never done that."

So you’ve landed an interview, and you really want to nail it and separate yourself from the other accountants, auditors or finance specialists applying for the job. Here are the interview questions you should be prepared to respond to.

Do you have knowledge of accounting standards?

This requires a two-part answer.

“First, answer whether you have knowledge of accounting standards such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – GAAP – and Sarbanes-Oxley,” said Bill Driscoll, the president of the New England district at Robert Half International and a national spokesperson for Accountemps. “Then explain the depth of your knowledge, how it applies to the role and how you stay up-to-date.”

Do you have experience doing/handling X, Y and Z?

Remember to avoid the word "no" – instead, say you’re enthused to have the opportunity to learn X, Y and Z.

“There is nothing that you can't do,” said Andy Hsu, director of the corporate finance and accounting practice at Michael Page. “When asked about walking through your resume, recite accomplishments that tie into the job description.

“Make notes at the top of your page or notebook as to your strengths [that are relevant] for the position,” he said. “You’re better off to say ‘My experience is limited in XYZ but I do know ABC.’ Don’t give them a reason not to hire you.

If you’re truly interested in a role, your enthusiasm can make up for a few skills gaps. Say you don’t hit 10 out of 10 prerequisite skills or types of experience, but maybe you hit eight out of 10, which is often good enough.

“On the other two, find a way to highlight elements of your background that related tangentially to overcome the missing bullet points,” Hsu said.

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 understanding of the methods most commonly used and could open a dialogue about how the company you are interviewing with handles this,” Driscoll said.

What is your role within the month-end close process?

“Being able to articulate your functionality and responsibility and specifics related to how you go about the end-of-the-month close at your current or most recent firm is a very important piece,” Hsu said. “That said, be able to sum up every bullet point on your resume, 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. 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.

Can you describe a time when you took the lead on implementation or were proactive?

Recruiters want accountants and auditors who have the foresight to address any potential issues that may arise before the situation blows up and becomes reactionary.

“When you’re asked accounting questions, focus on any recommendations you’ve made to higher-ups, and processes or procedures that you implemented,” Hsu said. “Think about how you’ve done your job in a proactive sense rather than a reactionary sense.

“Especially controllers and CFO-level candidates must be prepared to answer, ‘Have you implemented any processes or procedures?’ and talk them through that,” he said.

Can you describe a time when you helped reduce costs?

The answer to this question will tell whether you strictly stick to your accounting job duties, or whether you have gone above and beyond by identifying solutions for the greater good of the company, Driscoll said.

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.

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.”

How hands-on were you?

Your response will depend on whether you’ve been working for a bigger or smaller firm.

“At a bigger organization, your responsibility may be a bit more siloed, whereas at a smaller company you probably have to wear many hats, and there are not as many checks and balances compared to a big company," Hsu said.

“Regardless of size, it doesn’t take away from the detail-oriented nature of a good accountant or auditor,” he said. “Highlights your skills, rather than just saying you have experience in accounts payable."

What is your experience with developing business metrics?

Keep your response brief, like you would for “Tell me about yourself,” but outline important experience you’ve had in this area, Driscoll said.

“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,” he said.

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 it is what value can you add to the business beyond technical skills."

Can you tell me 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,” Driscoll said.

Why is there a gap in your employment record?

If your gap is the result of a layoff, reorganization or toxic situation, never speak disparagingly about a boss, colleague or company for which you worked. Just be straightforward about the situation.


Photo credit: Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock

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