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Accountant interview questions: How to identify top talent

accountant interview questions
By Drazen Vujovic. Last Updated February 2, 2024

Are you tired of asking the same boring questions that have been used in every accountant interview since the invention of double-entry bookkeeping?

Let’s be honest, most of these questions fail to reveal a candidate's character, knowledge, work ethic, and ability to think on their feet. That’s why we compiled a list of questions that will help you uncover the real potential of your accountant interviewees.

Let’s dive in!

Best accounting interview questions

Accounting practices hire different types of professionals. Some are looking for senior accountants while others only need to fill entry-level positions. Here are some of the finest questions that will help you in all situations.  

Basic accounting interview questions and answers

The first set of questions is for firms looking to hire interns or entry-level accountants. The goal is to analyze their work ethic and core strengths rather than their expert knowledge of the accounting industry. You can do it like this:

Question 1: Can you describe a time when you had to communicate a complex accounting concept to a non-financial stakeholder?

The first question helps you evaluate the candidate's communication skills and the ability to work with non-financial stakeholders. That way, you’ll understand if they are able to simplify and explain complex concepts — a key characteristic for anyone working in an accounting department.

  • What to look for: The candidate should demonstrate strong communication skills. It’s important because clients have different levels of understanding of the accounting industry.

Question 2: How do you stay up-to-date with the latest accounting regulations and industry trends?

This question helps you assess the candidate's readiness to learn and adapt to changes in the industry. It also gives you insight into their level of initiative and motivation to stay current in their field.

  • What to look for: An ideal interviewee demonstrates an ongoing commitment to professional development. It means they are willing to attend industry conferences, follow accounting news, or take education courses. 

Question 3: How do you ensure accuracy and completeness in your work?

The third question evaluates the interviewee's attention to detail and ability to work accurately. It also reveals if they are ready to follow established procedures and seek feedback to improve their work.

  • What to look for: The candidate is supposed to describe their quality control processes — reviewing work for errors, following deadlines, using checklists, and so on. They should also highlight their attention to detail and ability to identify potential inconsistencies.

Question 4: What experience do you have with accounting software? Can you describe a time when you had to troubleshoot a problem using accounting software programs?

The list of interview questions is incomplete if you don’t ask about accounting apps and software. You’re not hiring a programmer, but you do need a tech-savvy person with solid technical skills.

  • What to look for: The perfect candidate has a thorough understanding of accounting programs. If possible, they will tell you when and how they used such tools to complete a specific accounting process. 

Question 5: Can you describe any relevant coursework or extracurricular activities that prepared you for a career in accounting?

This question helps you evaluate the candidate's background and their level of preparation for a career in accounting. It also gives you insight into their interest and commitment to the field, as well as their ability to apply their knowledge to real-world situations.

  • What to look for: Ideally, your candidate will have a CPA qualification. However, they can highlight any relevant coursework in the accounting field. Extracurricular activities that show their interest and commitment to accounting are also welcome.

Technical accounting interview questions

Accounting is a highly technical profession. These questions test the candidate's knowledge and understanding of accounting principles, as well as their ability to apply them in real-world scenarios. Each inquiry comes with a practical example to further clarify its purpose.

Question 1: If a client accidentally records a significant revenue transaction twice in the same accounting period, how would you detect and correct the error?

This question tests problem-solving skills, attention to detail, and understanding of the impact that recording errors can have on financial statements. It also showcases their ability to communicate technical concepts to both colleagues and clients.

  • What to look for in their responses: Look for a thorough, step-by-step approach to identify the error, such as comparing financial statements and tracking down the source of the discrepancy. The candidate should explain how to correct the error and how to prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future.
  • Real-life example: In a scenario where a company reports higher profits due to double recording of revenue, this can lead to higher tax liabilities and incorrect employee bonuses, to name just a couple of issues. This question gauges the interviewee's ability to handle such situations and provide solutions to maintain accurate financial records.

Question 2: How would you account for unusual or infrequent items under GAAP, and how does this affect a company's financial statements?

This question tests the knowledge of accounting rules and ability to make appropriate treatment decisions in exceptional situations. It also evaluates candidates’ understanding of how unusual or infrequent items impact the financial statements and financial analysis.

  • What to look for in their responses: Interviewees should demonstrate familiarity with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for handling unusual or infrequent items like gains or losses from natural disasters or discontinued operations. Expect them to discuss the appropriate placement of these items within the financial statements and their impact on financial ratios.
  • Real-life example: A company that suffered a loss due to a natural disaster has to clarify that information in its financial statements. The answer must show candidates’ accounting skills in such unique situations and their ability to maintain transparency based on GAAP rules.

Question 3: How would you handle situations where the company’s inventory valuation methods might result in misleading financial reports? Provide an example.

This question assesses the candidate's understanding of inventory valuation and its impact on financial reporting. It also sheds light on their approach to ethically handling potential misrepresentations in financial reports.

  • What to look for in their responses: The candidate should be familiar with different inventory valuation methods, such as FIFO, LIFO, and weighted average cost, and their implications on the company’s financial health in general. They should also explain the steps they would take to address potential issues related to misleading inventory valuations.
  • Real-life example: An example could be a company that uses the LIFO method during a period of rising prices, which might result in lower net income and an understated ending inventory value. The candidate should describe how they would investigate the issue, communicate their concerns, and recommend appropriate changes to ensure accurate reporting.

Question 4: In your experience, how have you addressed discrepancies discovered during the reconciliation of intercompany transactions?

This question tests accounting skills in the field of intercompany transactions. It also evaluates their communication and critical thinking skills in solving discrepancies and ensuring accurate financial data.

  • What to look for in their responses: You’ll expect an interviewee to explain their method for identifying and solving discrepancies in intercompany transactions, emphasizing communication with other departments or subsidiaries to gather information.
  • Real-life example: A candidate may discuss a situation where they discovered a significant difference between intercompany accounts payable and accounts receivable during reconciliation. They need to describe the steps they took to investigate the issue, such as analyzing transaction data and communicating with stakeholders.

Question 5: Explain how you would evaluate and recommend changes to a company's depreciation method to better align with its industry or business model.

This question measures the candidate's understanding of depreciation methods and their ability to analyze and suggest improvements to a company's depreciation approach according to its specific context. 

  • What to look for in their responses: This one requires a solid understanding of different depreciation methods, such as straight-line, double-declining balance, and units of production. They need to explain the factors they consider when evaluating the appropriateness of a company's depreciation method and how to recommend changes that support the company's objectives.
  • Real-life example: Suppose a candidate worked with a transportation company that was using a straight-line depreciation method for its fleet of vehicles. However, after analyzing the company's operations and industry trends, they realized that the vehicles' wear and tear significantly increased over time, resulting in a decline in value more quickly in the earlier years of their life. In this situation, the candidate could recommend switching to the double-declining balance depreciation method, which frontloads the depreciation expenses as the vehicle ages. 

Tips for preparing better accounting interview questions

Preparing for an accounting interview demands thorough preparation because you’ll be asking candidates about technical details like accounts receivable, balance sheet, cash flow, or income statement. Here are some practical tips on how to better prepare for the whole process:

1. Review the job description

You need a clear understanding of the job role and the corresponding responsibilities. That way, you can focus on the skills and experience required for this exact position. 

Suppose you are interviewing a candidate for an Accounting Manager role that requires experience in managing a team of accountants. In that case, you can prepare questions about the candidate's experience in team management and financial reporting:

  • Can you tell me about your experience in managing a team of accountants?
  • How have you dealt with tight deadlines when preparing financial reports?

2. Develop open-ended questions

Avoid asking yes or no questions as they don’t give you a lot of information about the candidate. Prepare open-ended questions instead because these require further elaboration. Here’s an example for the Staff Accountant role:

  • Can you walk me through your approach to reconciling accounts?
  • What do you do when you find an error in a financial statement?

3. Ask behavioral questions

Answers to behavioral questions reveal how a candidate reacts to specific situations. For example, this is how you can approach a candidate for a Senior Accountant role:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to resolve a complex accounting issue with a tight deadline.
  • Can you describe a situation where you had to work collaboratively with other departments to complete a project?

4. Avoid discriminatory questions

You have to ask questions that are legal and non-discriminatory. That usually means avoiding questions related to age, race, religion, gender, marital status, and disability. Don’t go beyond job requirements and accounting qualifications. For example, you should never ask:

  • Do you plan to have children?
  • What country are your parents from?

Improve your accounting interview process with the right questions

Finding top accounting talent requires more than just asking generic interview questions. Come up with something unique instead, even if it means asking them to name their favorite accounting jokes. We’ve given you some practical tips and examples, so give them a try — you might just find your next superstar accountant.

Drazen Vujovic

Dražen Vujović is a journalist and content writer. More importantly, he is a father of two and a long-distance runner.

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