Of all the accountant jobs out there, bookkeeper may be the one most critical to your firm's success. Savvy business owners know they must find a financial professional with the right skills — someone they can trust to maintain their accounts.
But how do you go about choosing the right bookkeeper? If you hire the wrong person, you could end up with a big mess on your hands, to say the least. Bad bookkeepers make financial records impossible to decipher and might even try to brush mistakes under the carpet, leaving you to handle the consequences.
Use this five-point guide to help you identify the candidates you ought to pursue.
1. Essential skills and competencies
At minimum, your bookkeeper will need the skills and knowledge to carry out all essential tasks of bookkeeping, such as:
- Reconciling bank statements
- Processing payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable
- Posting and updating journal entries
But strong soft skills are also critical, such as:
- Organizational skills
- Business acumen
- Problem-solving skills (to resolve discrepancies)
- Good communication skills (to produce easy-to-absorb reports and work well with other team members)
- People skills, if your bookkeeper liaises with your vendors, suppliers and customers
2. A track record in accountant jobs relevant to your line of work
Bookkeeping practices vary between industries. A bookkeeper who has worked only with fashion retailers may not have the knowledge and experience it takes to do an equally good job for an air-conditioning company. In other words, the relevance of a candidate's experience is often more important than the duration of experience. You also want to be sure that your bookkeeper has experience with the financial software applications your organization uses, or you'll need to provide training.
To assess whether a bookkeeper will be able to work effectively in your industry, ask these questions during the interview:
- Tell me about your previous bookkeeping experience.
- What were your primary responsibilities?
- What kinds of financial reports did you prepare?
- What types of accounting systems did you use?
3. Professional certification
Bookkeepers in the United States are not legally required to obtain a license, but they can participate in several voluntary certification programs. When a candidate is certified or licensed by the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) or the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB), it generally means his or her knowledge and skills are up-to-date. Ask your candidates if they carry any certifications.
4. Professional memberships
Bookkeepers have to pass the membership criteria of a professional organization before they're allowed to join, so you can take professional memberships as an indicator of your candidate's professional status and commitment to his or her career.
An active membership in a professional group also helps a bookkeeper stay current with news, trends and best practices in the industry. In addition, members sometimes carry professional indemnity insurance through these groups — added peace of mind for you.
5. Transparency and accountability
A good bookkeeper keeps your books clean and makes it easy for you to review and query the entries. A bad bookkeeper leaves your books in shambles and runs away at the first sign of an independent audit. So it's no use hiring a bookkeeper you can't trust. Do your due diligence and ask for references from accountants who have worked with your bookkeeping candidates.
For added assurance, you might want to try values-focused interview questions to get a sense of which candidates are the most honest and reliable, such as:
- Can you tell me about a time when someone claimed credit for work that you did? What did you do about it?
- Has your trustworthiness ever been challenged? What was your response to the situation?
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. What did you learn from it?
These questions should give some insight into how the candidate thinks and processes challenging scenarios in a professional environment.