How to Interview Bookkeepers for Your Business

Businesswomen with Paperwork Talking Face to Face
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If you run a small business, it can be difficult to find a good bookkeeper when you have an open position. Many other small business owners find themselves in the same predicament as you. One of the ways that you can help yourself find the right bookkeeper to help with your basic accounting and clerical tasks is to go into the interview process with a game plan. This plan will help ensure that you screen your candidates fairly and ask the right questions, so you have the highest chances of determining what bookkeeping candidates will most likely succeed and stay with your organization. 

Organize the interviews so they are spaced out and you're not pressed for time for each one; your interviewees will feel more comfortable in the interview process, and you will get a better understanding of their past experiences, technical knowledge, and expertise with your accounting software. 

Questions to "Break The Ice"

Regardless of whether you are interviewing an entry-level candidate or an experienced professional, the interviewing process can be intimidating for your interviewees and stressful for you. Many small business owners who are conducting the interviews have said that they feel "awkward and uncomfortable" during the interview process. To settle everyone's nerves, you can start the interview with soft, icebreaker questions. You can ask general, open-ended questions such as the following: 

  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “Why did you apply for this bookkeeping position?” 
  • Why did you choose this career?
  • “Why are you interested in leaving your current job?”
  • "What goals do you have in your career? How do you plan to achieve them?"
  • What do you see yourself doing five/ten years from now? 

These types of questions will not give you insights into whether or not your candidate is a good choice for the position. But you may learn something important about your candidate through these open-ended questions, and it will give a chance for any nervousness or anxiety to settle down. 

Work Experience

Ask specific questions about a candidate's work experience. For entry-level candidates questions, ask about prior employment or about how they handled projects during their schooling so you can evaluate their commitment and dedication in that area since they likely won't have a lengthy work history. 

  • “What types of financial reports have you prepared and how was the data used by your previous employer?”
  • "Which accounting software programs are you familiar with?” 
  • "How would you describe your work style?"
  • "What did you like most/least about your last job?" 
  • "What were the responsibilities of your last position?" 
  • "What do you think of your previous boss?" 
  • "What are three positive things your last boss would say about you?"
  • "What’s one negative thing your last boss would say about you?" 
  • "Give examples of ideas you've had or implemented." 

After these questions, you should have a good idea of your candidates' work experience and their work-style. You need to be sure they are a good fit for your organization. A highly ambitious and aggressive person may look good on paper, but may not fit your company's culture if you're more laid back. 

Questions to Evaluate Bookkeeping Knowledge and Expertise

Verify that your candidate has the technical skills to be successful in their bookkeeping position. While some candidates may be good at passing exams and racking up bookkeeping certifications or other accounting certifications, they may not necessarily have the mindset needed to apply those skills to real-world tasks. You can ask the following questions: 

  • "How do you customize a report in QuickBooks?" 
  • "Tell me when you would post an adjusting entry."
  • "Does the accounts payable account normally have a debit or credit balance?" 
  • "How would you know if someone accidentally posted an adjusting journal entry to accounts receivable?" 
  • "When do we have to send vendors 1099s?" 
  • "What is depreciation expense?"

These bookkeeping questions will test accounting knowledge as well as applied knowledge that has been learned on the job at other bookkeeping positions.

Evaluating Soft Skills

Don't forget the importance of interpersonal and soft skills. Many people think that accountants and bookkeepers just crunch numbers from 9 to 5. While that may be true in some cases, your bookkeeper will probably have a lot of interaction with employees, contractors, vendors and you. You want someone you can work with easily and trust that he won't damage relationships with your key customers when they forget to pay on time. Some good questions you can ask are: 

  • “How would you handle a situation where an employee makes the same mistake repeatedly?" 
  • “Tell me about a difficult situation you encountered at work and how you handled the situation.”
  • "If a customer called in angry about charges on an invoice, what would you do?"

These types of questions will let you see what type of interpersonal skills your bookkeeping candidate possesses.