Every business owner I’ve talked to who needs to hire a bookkeeper starts by asking me what, in fact, they should be asking potential candidates. What are the best bookkeeper interview questions?
I love this question. If you ask the right things, you’ll be able to make the right hiring decision for your business.
So, let’s assume we can move right past the obvious stuff—like “What is your experience?”—and take a look at the 5 best bookkeeper interview questions.
The question I would start with is “Why do you want to be a bookkeeper?” You should get some interesting responses. There is no right or wrong answer, of course, but you should get a good sense of where their passion lies.
When I was in college and I interviewed for Ernst & Young, the interviewer asked me why I wanted to be an accountant. My answer was simple: I like to organize things. The answer should inspire you and leave you with a feeling that the bookkeeper is passionate about what they’re doing, meaning they will be passionate about what they’ll be doing for you.
This brings us to the next question. Ask your bookkeeper what they love about your industry. Bookkeeping can be very different from one industry to the next. Again you’re looking for the passion, not just about bookkeeping itself, but bookkeeping for your industry.
Ask the bookkeeper what is the first thing they would do on the first day of the job. Elaborate and give them the scenario.
“It is day 1 of the new job. Assume we’ve finished the admin paperwork and now you’re sitting in front of our accounting system for the first time. What is the first thing you do?”
The answer I would be looking for is to review the balance sheet line by line and then go through the profit and loss. This is exactly what I do as a consultant. If your bookkeeper gives you this answer, then that should tell you that they understand very well what the ultimate output of their job will be. Furthermore, it means they understand how to review and check their own work.
In fact, the very first order of business should be to check that the bank accounts are reconciled both currently and properly. That’s why the bank accounts appear first on the balance sheet. They are the biggest weakness in your internal controls.
Ask your prospective bookkeeper what they do if the bank reconciliation is off by just a small amount. The answer you’re looking for here is zero tolerance. If there is a difference, it can be found. Period.
This is how I approach bank reconciliations, and here’s why.
But first, a quick story. I was working on a client’s books some years ago. The bank rec was off by $100. The client, seeing me hunt around for this discrepancy, asked me to “just plug it.” I pushed back and offered that if I couldn’t find the difference in the next 30 minutes, I would plug it and not charge for the time.
Sure enough I found the issue. And that’s the first part of why it’s so important to have a zero tolerance policy on reconciling differences. The fact is that $100 difference, while it may seem small, can actually represent more than one missing transaction. And that is exactly what happened here. There was a deposit missing for $10,000 and a check missing for $9,900. The net difference was only $100, but the absolute value of the misstatements on their books was almost $20,000. We were missing $10,000 in income and $9,900 in a completely unrelated expense.
Assuming the beginning balance is correct, then the difference has to be in the current month. Moreover, these days it is so easy to find. You download the CSV file and sort the transactions by amount. Then in your bank rec screen, you do the same. Sort by amount. In less than 30 minutes, you will be able find any difference, even when there are a lot of transactions.
There is one final reason why getting this answer from your bookkeeper is so important. When I know that there is absolutely no question of any missing transactions on your books, this gives me a powerful place to operate from.
Knowing the above means that when you tell me that an invoice was paid, even though it’s sitting in your accounts receivable aging report, it has to be there. There is no chance that the payment wasn’t recorded. This means that the payment is somewhere. It was just miscoded. Now all we have to do is find it and recode it as a payment on that customer’s invoice.
If your bookkeeper prospect answers this question by explaining that they always find the difference, no matter how small, they are probably a keeper.
Don’t rule them out if they don’t. They might talk about materiality. It’s fine. If you hire them, establish the materiality in your company—let them know the level is 0. And let the auditors deal in materiality.
The last question should have nothing to do with bookkeeping. In reality, by the time someone makes it to the interview, they probably have the qualifications and any blanks can easily be filled in along the way. Skills can be learned, but how do you know if the person will fit in with your existing team?
Ask them to describe the last thing in their personal life that they were really passionate about.
I’ve noticed certain companies are consistently good about hiring really good people. As I began to wonder what the common denominator was, it eventually became clear when I looked at the various people I’d gotten to know at these companies.
First of all, there were various people, not just one or two. I got to know them because they were interesting. They were interesting, because they were interested. Not only that, but in each of their cases, I could tell you what their “thing” was outside of the workplace.
One person was an actor. Another loved the outdoors. She and her husband are constantly out hiking and enjoying the mountains where they live. Another is really into bodybuilding. She and her husband are gym rats. These aren’t common people. They’re personalities.
What this also means is that they are balanced. You don’t want workaholics in your company. They tend to burn out, and they tend to be unhappy. Then they feel underappreciated, and it all goes downhill from there.
There are a million questions you can ask, so I invite you to post your suggested ones below. Meanwhile, I think the most important takeaway from this is the last part. Make sure the person is a good fit with your team and ask questions aimed at finding that out. Skills can be taught. Personalities cannot.