Why You Need to Ask These 10 Accounting Interview Questions

By Robert Half April 18, 2017 at 4:00pm

Are you looking for effective accounting interview questions to ask job applicants?

You probably know about the challenges in the hiring process for today’s managers looking for skilled finance and accounting talent in a candidate-driven market.

If you’ve crafted job descriptions that have enticed accounting applicants to send you cover letters and resumes — and you see candidates you want to pursue — it's time to start the interview process. We've covered the importance of assessing soft skills and fit with your company culture, with interview tips to help you get the most out of your time with candidates.

We should also emphasize how critical it is to have a cache of accounting interview questions that will allow you to evaluate the knowledge and skill levels of potential hires.

Here are 10 interview questions for accounting and finance — and what you should look for in the answers — along with 10 bonus questions:

1. "What is the difference between accounts receivable (AR) and accounts payable (AP)?"

This is one of many elementary accounting interview questions you can use to find out more about the general accounting knowledge of entry-level job candidates for bookkeeping or accounting clerk openings. Their responses, both verbal and non-verbal, will reveal whether they understand accounting fundamentals.

2. "When a company is using double-entry accounting, what elements of a given ledger must be equal?"

This is another fairly basic inquiry. Candidates with some accounting training or experience should have no trouble coming up with an answer. As with question one, the manner in which the applicants reply may show you they are under- or overqualified for a junior-level job at your company.

3. "What are two or three types of special journals?"

While this is still a fairly basic question, you may tailor your follow-up queries according to the specifics of your business or to the candidate’s work history. Or, as a skill test, you could present a few journal samples for the applicant to read and then explain. The way the person responds to this accounting interview question will show the skill level in identifying mistakes or omissions.

4. "If a company has three bank accounts for processing payments, what is the minimum number of ledgers it needs?"

Use this as a starting point in the interview to explore a candidate’s knowledge of ledgers. Observe the interviewee's initial reaction and use it as a leaping off point for further discussion of skills related to the opening you are trying to fill. Expect the response to reveal the extent to which the applicant has thought through how accounts relate to lines of business and generally accepted accounting principles.

Speaking of payments, have you thought about whether the salary you'll offer is competitive? Download the 2018 Robert Half Salary Guide for compensation data on more than 190 accounting and financial positions.

5. "What methods have you used for estimating bad debt?"

This accounting interview question can open a conversation about the ways the applicant has approached this routine process with previous employers. This line of inquiry allows recent grads to apply theoretical knowledge in venturing educated guesses. The answer will reveal the level of understanding of the methods most commonly used and could open a dialogue about how your company handles this.

6. "Why is it easier for someone to perpetrate fraud using a journal entry than with a ledger?"

Accounting professionals, particularly those who have managed ledgers or had jobs as full-charge bookkeepers for more than a couple of years, should be able to speculate on this scenario. A candidate with more formal training specific to auditing or fraud analysis will likely explain this thoroughly and be able to provide examples.

Managers, we can help make the hiring process easier. Browse candidates in your city using our online database, and we can arrange an interview or placement.

7. "Which enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have you used?"

Most professionals, especially those with experience working for medium to large organizations, should have an answer for this. A response might include any of the following: Hyperion, Microsoft Dynamics GP or Oracle Enterprise Manager. For entry-level candidates, you might turn this into a discussion of accounting certifications and future training possibilities. For example, ask which ERP systems they would like to master. Discussion of these tools, how the applicants learned them and put them to work, and what applications your company uses will reveal how much, if any, training might be needed.

8. "What is your experience with developing business metrics?"

Though somewhat general, this finance interview question can elicit answers useful in evaluating entry-level business or financial analyst candidates all the way up to mid-career professionals who aspire to roles that come with budget and staff oversight responsibilities.

9. "If a private company with break-even operations received a $10 million investment, how would you develop a strategy to spend or invest that money?"

This is one of those interview questions for accounting that falls into the category of situational interview techniques, a tactic useful in gauging an applicant’s ability to think through a scenario like one that might be faced in a more senior finance role. The answers will show you if the approach is in alignment with that of your existing team, which will also indicate if this candidate is a good fit for your organization’s culture.

10. "What challenges have you faced in leading a team through an analysis project?"

We’ve left this last question, designed for probing leadership skills, somewhat general. It is another interview question you can modify to better explore the particularities of your opening or the backgrounds of your candidates. As with question nine, the answers will reveal the levels of critical thinking skills and elicit a better picture of the leadership techniques of the people you're interviewing.

More accounting interview questions

Here is a slideshow with the 10 questions above — and a bonus of 10 more accounting interview questions!

Editor's note: This post was updated recently to reflect current information.

More From the Blog...

Wasting the Work Day Away

According to a survey from Accountemps, 32 percent of professionals cited chatting and socializing with coworkers as the greatest time-waster in the...

Read More