Two women and a man sitting at a table, working on a laptop.
What types of accounting software and ERP systems have you used in previous jobs? What would you change about the software?

Quickly discovering which enterprise resource planning (ERP) software the candidate is familiar with will help you determine how easily they’ll integrate into your team. Hyperion, Microsoft Dynamics GP, and Oracle Enterprise Manager are a few to listen for. It’s okay if they haven’t used your company’s preferred software before, so long as they’re willing to learn. Also, probing for what they would change about these programs can help give you clarity around their familiarity with the tools and their process.

 

Tell me about the business reports you generated in your last position—how were they used? 

This question should provide insight into a candidate’s experience level, which will help you determine how much training they would need to excel in the role. If you’re looking for someone to generate income and cash flow statements, for example, you may want to hear that they can handle this duty without guidance. Your ideal candidate may also be familiar with more advanced reporting—and, crucially, know how to explain the reports clearly to business leaders in other departments.

How do you stay current with accounting laws and regulations?

Interviewees who are committed to staying on top of the constantly changing laws and regulations of the financial industry—and who are committed to their own continuing education through training and certification—will have no trouble answering this question. Listen out for references to industry publications that they subscribe to, professional organizations they are members of, and conferences and webinars that they attend. To test their independent thinking, you could also approach this question slightly differently by asking: “​What do you think of the most recent updates in the accounting standards?”

What are the top three skills every accountant must possess to excel?

Great applicants will reference a mix of both hard skills (such as technical expertise) and soft skills (like excellent communication and leadership potential). Top candidates will also display a keen understanding of why these skills matter and provide examples of how they apply them in their daily work.

What strategies do you employ to monitor fraud and prioritize security in your current role?

Accountants need to be vigilant about fraud detection and behavior, and must therefore be familiar with practices, tools, and software that can help safeguard companies. The candidate should demonstrate an appropriate level of concern and ethical judgment, as they’ll be tasked with enforcing policies that protect your company’s financial assets and value.

How do you maintain accuracy and quality control in your work?

Small accounting errors that go undetected cost companies time, money, and headaches. A strong answer should reveal that the candidate is detail-oriented, motivated to find and fix accounting errors, and possesses a true dedication to accuracy. Do they mention methods of cross-checking and other specific strategies? If not, they may be unwilling or unable to ensure quality when it matters most.

Describe a time when you met a particularly tight deadline or had to juggle multiple projects. How did you overcome that challenge?

Strict deadlines are a common occurrence in the accounting world. To understand how well a candidate can work under pressure, listen for references to time management techniques they found helpful when facing a time crunch. How do they prioritize and delegate tasks? What steps do they take to avoid balls being dropped? From their description, it should be clear that they kept a cool head, rather than getting flustered.

Tell me about a time when you made an accounting error and explain how you handled it.

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, so a candidate who says they’ve never made one might not be the best fit for your culture. Instead, look for an answer that shows they approach problems constructively, taking responsibility for their errors and working to quickly solve them—rather than laying blame.

Tell me about the best outcome you’ve ever achieved in a previous role—or one of the toughest challenges you’ve ever faced.

This question can reveal a few different things. First, it demonstrates whether a candidate is able to communicate well and tell a story, which can be useful when it comes to presenting ideas and rallying a team. But it also gives you an indication of whether they’re solutions-oriented and eager to discuss challenges as well as results. A great answer will tackle both questions in one, describing a situation that started as a problem and turned into one of the greatest triumphs of their career.

Tell me about a time when you saved your company money.

Cutting costs is an important part of the job, so a good accountant should be able to share lots of examples of how their efforts impacted the bottom line. Maybe they spotted a way to reduce unnecessary expenses like paring back the travel budget. Or maybe their savvy tax knowledge helped the company develop a more tax-efficient plan. Listen for answers that show they went beyond simple bookkeeping and actively sought to save the company money.

Describe an example of how you have presented financial data to non-financial staff.

Since one of the functions an accountant fulfills at a company is regularly discussing and preslenting financial data to employees outside their department, this question helps you screen for communication skills. Does the candidate feel comfortable translating financial concepts to both business leaders and aymen? Do they become frustrated when people don’t understand? Ideally, they will be skilled at putting things in simple terms that help educate those around them.

Tell me about a time when you worked within a team to revise or improve an accounting process. What role did you play, and how did the team come together to get the job done?

You need someone who will fit in well with the team culture—and bring unique skills to make it better. Top candidates are team players who apply their problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills to achieve common goals. How do they resolve issues that crop up during group projects? Do they take charge when needed, while still respecting everyone’s ideas and contributions?  

Why did you choose accounting and finance as your career path?

This question can reveal a lot about a person’s intentions for pursuing accounting. If they are ambitious and passionate about their work, their answer will demonstrate a genuine interest in math and the finance industry—not just the stability and paycheck that come with this sort of career. It will also help showcase if their values align with your organization’s.