10 Effective Interview Questions for Accounting and Finance Professionals

People holding up question marks

Are you looking for effective interview questions to ask accounting and finance job applicants? We've covered the interview process for hiring managers, such as how to ask the right questions to address a resume gap, how to assess an applicant’s soft skills and how to evaluate financial analyst expertise. We've also given interview tips to help you get the most out of your time with candidates.

It’s also important to have a strategy for hiring accounting and finance employees, and Robert Half offers many free resources, from the Salary Guide to Benchmarking the Accounting and Finance Function to guide you through the interviewing.

Before you know it, you'll have a stack of resumes for top accounting and finance talent you want to pursue, and it will be time to assess the candidates' knowledge with interview questions that can be tailored to the varying skill levels and job types.

 

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Here are 10 interview questions to ask — and 10 more bonus questions, below:

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

This is one of many elementary 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. "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.

4. "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 interview question will show the skill level in identifying mistakes or omissions.

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

This 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. 

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 finance 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 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 questions 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.

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Here is a slideshow with the 10 questions above and a bonus of 10 more effective interview questions:

 

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Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2014 and updated recently to reflect current information.

 

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