4 Questions to Ask When Interviewing for a Bookkeeper
|February 4, 2013||Posted by Steve Webster under Accountants and Bookkeepers, Accounting Software, Small Business Fraud|
There are hundreds of interview questions you could ask in a job interview. I have made a list of 4 questions to ask that are specific to hiring a bookkeeper. In addition to your regular interview questions, these questions will give you a glimpse into the personality and character of the bookkeeping candidate. For most small businesses, a bookkeeper is in a position of trust and you want to make sure they are not only competent but also honest and dependable.
QUESTION: A general ledger account is out of balance by $.24. Describe the process you would take to discover the error.
MY ANSWER: “First, I would want to make sure the error is not due to a larger computer software glitch. I have worked with systems that were corrupted by updates or programming errors. I make sure my accounting systems are backed up regularly just in case the data gets corrupted. Also, I reconcile all balance sheet accounts during the month and as a part of my month end close process so I would be able tell if the problem is isolated to one general ledger account or if I have a larger problem. If I discover an error in the accounting system due to an update, I would recover the most recent backup prior to the update. If the problem is only in one account and the balance is only $.24, I would write off the difference to an Miscellaneous Expense account. In my opinion, looking for a $.13 error is not the best use of my time or your resources.”
REASONING: The bookkeeper is responsible for the accounting system and the accuracy of the books. You want a bookkeeper to take ownership of their work and make sure the information is correct and protected. They may need the help of IT support or the software vendor support to correct the problem, but the bookkeeper should be proactive and responsible for the correction.
One of my personal pet peeves is when someone spends hours trying to reconcile an account down to the penny. Professional bookkeepers are well paid and sometimes it is a waste of time and money for them to look and correct minor errors. Obviously you want bookkeeping mistakes to be rare and small but when it comes to allocating bookkeeping time to fixing small errors I use the Cost versus Benefit rule. Is the Cost of finding the error worth the Benefit of fixing it? If the Cost is too great or Benefit too small I would correct the problem with a journal entry and move on.
QUESTION: What have you done at your previous employers to increase revenues, reduce costs, or save time?
MY ANSWER: “I make it a practice to review every vendor invoice to make sure the amount is correct before I enter it. At X company, I discovered we were being charged sales tax for an item that I knew was tax exempt. I sent our sales tax exemption certificate to the vendor and they stopped charging the sales tax. I was able to save the company approximately $2,000 a year.
REASONING: The bookkeeping position is overhead and their department is a cost center. An experienced bookkeeper understands this and is constantly on the look out for cost and time savings that are within their control.
QUESTION: Which bookkeeping systems have you used and tell me which one you liked best and why?
MY ANSWER: “I liked X system because it had a robust and easy to use report writer. I could quickly create ad-hoc reports for the President of the company or department supervisors and get them the information they needed. Sometimes in a matter of seconds. With the X system I had the option to save the report as a .PDF document or an Excel spreadsheet and I could email the report to them.”
REASONING: This answer will vary greatly depending on the systems they have used but what I look for is some enthusiasm and some detail descriptions. Your bookkeeper candidate should be an expert in the accounting systems they have used and should know every trick and every quirk.
QUESTION: Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma.
MY ANSWER: “When I was working at X company, a vendor did not send me an invoice for material I was 100% certain we had received. I accrued the expense in the books and waited for the invoice to arrive. After a month had passed, I contacted the vendor for a copy of the invoice. In researching the shipment, the vendor’s accountant discovered that the paperwork was lost and was never turned in to the accounting department for billing. Even though my call to the vendor ended up costing my company some money, I still feel it was the right thing to do. It was a legitimate expense that we owed to the vendor and I would not have felt right about cheating the vendor.”
REASONING: If someone is willing to cheat a vendor, customer or the government, they are just as likely to cheat you too. There might be some shades of grey in life but in the interview you don’t want to hear a hint of dishonesty from your potential bookkeeper. Even if the error would be in your favor. I am amazed at stories I have read like this one about a bookkeeper who was caught stealing from several different businesses over several years. In my opinion, honesty is the most important quality in a bookkeeper. If you find exaggerations in their resume or their answers to your interview questions don’t sound genuine and honest, I would move on to the next candidate.
These questions will help you hire a great bookkeeper, but I would also recommend doing a background check on any prospective bookkeeping new hires. I would also recommend contacting not only their references but also former employers. The bookkeeper will be responsible for your money and you want to make sure you find one you can trust.
I don’t like simple knowledge based questions in a face to face interview. For example, “What is the difference between an Income Statement and a Balance Sheet?” I find them to be demeaning to ask that question to a bookkeeper with 20 years of experience. I would recommend a written test or computer test so you can compare the results of all of your candidates to one another.
I would be interested in hearing your response to my interview questions and answers. Please comment below.