Man looking at two computer monitors
Graphic that shows three different types of interview questions you should be asking.

Use these questions to identify a candidate’s technical knowledge and abilities

Use these questions to determine how a candidate handled situations in the past

Use these questions to assess a candidate’s personal traits and cognitive skills

Why this matters:

Tax associate positions are often entry-level, so it’s important to know that your candidate has the basic knowledge and skills required to perform the job, even if they lack prior experience. Completing tax returns is a core responsibility of the role, so candidates should be able to answer this question with ease and hit on the major required fields.

What to listen for:

  • Knowledge of the key data required for preparing tax returns, including income statements, payroll, and receipts
  • Mentions of specific forms required by government agencies, such as W-2s
  • Strong answers may also mention information necessary to claim deductions

Why this matters:

No one wants to pay more taxes than necessary. It’s a tax associate’s job to prevent your organization or clients from overpaying by leveraging lawful deduction strategies. Ideally, the candidate will already know a few simple tactics for lowering tax liability. They should also be comfortable analyzing state and federal policy in case rules about deductions change in the future.

What to listen for:

  • Knowledge of specific strategies for lowering liability, like claiming routine workplace expenses
  • Insight into specific tax codes
  • Recognition that all strategies must meet current state and federal regulations

Why this matters:

Unlike individuals, organizations are frequently audited. While this situation isn’t uncommon, every audit needs to be handled swiftly and properly to avoid further complications. While your new hire might be new to handling audits, they should have an understanding of how the auditing process works and possess the instincts to recognize when records or data in your books don’t seem quite right.

What to listen for:

  • References to gathering any relevant documents
  • A strong candidate may suggest combing through tax records for potential errors, showing that they’re proactive and cautious
  • Recognition that they will have to work under a tight deadline

Why this matters:

Tax associates often have to juggle various documents, forms, and spreadsheets at once, especially if they oversee multiple clients. Having strong organizational skills can help ensure that they won’t miss deadlines, forget tasks, or lose important documents, all of which can have negative consequences when it comes to tax information.

What to listen for:

  • Signs that the candidate is organized and diligent in all aspects of their work
  • References to specific project management tools or methods for staying organized, showing that the candidate is committed to staying on top of tasks

Why this matters:

Entry-level candidates are unlikely to be familiar with every obscure tax policy yet. Learning about challenges they’ve faced in the past can tell you a lot about how they’ll react if they encounter unfamiliar situations or information on the job. A candidate who is persistent in the face of a challenge and willing to ask for help when required may prove a great asset to your organization.

What to listen for:

  • Humility coupled with perseverance and a determination to overcome obstacles
  • If the candidate was not able to solve the problem on their own, they will ideally indicate that they sought help from an expert

Why this matters:

Time constraints are common in the accounting world, and a situation will likely arise where your new hire will need to solve a problem while racing a deadline. You want to know that your candidate is capable of working under pressure because, when it comes to taxes, missing a deadline can result in costly fees and penalties.

What to listen for:

  • Signs that the candidate exercised good time management skills during the situation
  • A strong answer may mention that they notified a supervisor or colleague about the issue 
instead of trying to solve it alone

Why this matters:

Not everyone in your organization will have the same in-depth financial knowledge as your new tax associate. A regular part of the new hire’s job will be explaining these concepts to coworkers and external stakeholders. This question can help you assess your candidate’s communication skills and ability to break down complicated ideas in a way that promotes clarity.

What to listen for:

  • Strong verbal communication skills, including an ability to simplify complex ideas and make them more approachable
  • Signs that the candidate enjoys sharing their expertise and teaching others new things

Why this matters:

Tax policy is constantly changing at both federal and state levels. Since these changes impact the way businesses and individuals file their tax returns and claim deductions, it’s important that your tax associate stays abreast of them. Knowledge of current affairs shows dedication to their chosen career path and a commitment to ongoing education.

What to listen for:

  • References to pertinent news in the world of tax policy, such as anticipated changes with a new administration, recent legislation, or developments from a major company
  • Financial fluency and an ability to discuss complicated topics with ease

Why this matters:

In an industry that’s always evolving in response to new policy developments and technology, you want to know that your new is adaptable and welcomes new approaches. They should be comfortable not only diving into new software but also seeking out resources independently to gain a deeper understanding of the unfamiliar technology.

What to listen for:

  • An open-minded outlook and a willingness to adapt
  • Ideal candidates will demonstrate resourcefulness and may suggest watching online tutorials or shadowing a colleague who’s already comfortable navigating the software