Situational Interview Questions for Accountants

Posted by: Jannike Post Date: 23rd June 2016

Recruiting for accountants involves searching for a complex combination of skills, from technical ability to a keen awareness of ethics.

When it comes to measuring these skills at interview, you’re much more likely to get accurate, useful responses if you use situational questions. These allow you to pinpoint skills that are directly related to the role, and help prevent generic answers.

So, let’s take a look at how to assess both soft and hard skills that are essential in any accounting role.

Situational interview questions for accountants

Interview questions for soft skills

In order to excel in a role, accountants need to be able to approach their work in the right ways, and this requires a number of key attributes.

Ethical awareness

Ethical behaviour is central to ensuring data is accurate and objective, so it’s a good idea to ask questions that explore applicants’ awareness of ethics in an accounting context. Questions you could ask include:

‘You are leaving your current organisation to join ours; do you bring clients with you?’ This obliges candidates to choose between an answer they think will please you, and their sense of ethical responsibility.

‘A manager or client is putting pressure on you to alter figures. How do you respond?’ Again, candidates must decide between pleasing people and achieving accuracy and objectivity. This also assesses how likely someone is to be intimidated and give in to something they know is wrong, rather than diplomatically explaining why it can’t be done like this. Accountants need to be able to stay objective in the face of pressure.

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Organisation

As accounting is largely about ensuring things are processed accurately and on time, it’s advisable to make sure anyone joining your finance department has excellent organisational and time-keeping skills. You could assess these skills with the following questions:

‘You have been asked to complete three tasks by the end of the day: retrieving petty cash from the bank, sending out sales invoices, and filing purchase invoices. What approach do you take to make sure everything is completed on time?’ This question allows you to assess interviewees’ ability to prioritise tasks. An ideal candidate would consider the potential contexts of each task, prioritising based on these. Of course, you can replace these tasks with those more relevant to role you’re recruiting for.

‘How would you go about setting up a filing system from scratch?’ Here, you’re looking for a well-reasoned response that shows an awareness of keeping records in a logical order. Applicants might talk about filing alphabetically or by date, and keeping file types such as accounts payable and accounts receivable separate.

Interview questions for hard skills

While possessing key attributes is important, it’s essential to evaluate the technical knowledge and abilities that underlie effective performance.

Up-to-date knowledge

Accountants must keep abreast of changing rules and regulations relevant to their work. The following questions assess both regulatory knowledge and numerical ability, which is covered in the next section.

‘You are processing an invoice for a computer costing £599 including VAT. What is the VAT amount?’ The VAT rate at the time of writing is 20 per cent.

‘As a Limited Company, you have made a profit of £350,000. What corporation tax rate is applicable?’ The corporation tax rate at the time of writing in 20 per cent.

‘You are calculating the profit for a Limited Company. Give examples of an allowable and a disallowable expense’. For example, standard business expenses that have been incurred exclusively for the purposes of business are allowable, while depreciation is disallowable.

Numerical ability

While accounting is about far more than proficiency with numbers, basic mathematical abilities should be tested at interview. You could ask questions that test different areas of numerical competence. Here are some examples, which you could incorporate into situations relevant to the role you’re advertising:

‘What is 13 per cent of 84?’

‘What is 162 divided by 9?’

Double entry

For bookkeeping roles, and those that involve using software to process double entry, you should check that candidates are able to recognise mistakes that can occur.

To test this ability, you could show the candidate a sales invoice that has been wrongly entered as a credit note, and ask ‘How would you correct this manually?’ To fix the mistake, the sales account will need to be credited twice, and the sales ledger control account will need to be debited twice.

As you grow your finance team, it’s important to ensure they receive thorough training and relevant qualifications. To find out what kinds of training and qualifications are best suited to your staff, speak to one of our course advisors by getting in touch below.

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