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Thanks to the high-functioning, intuitive business accounting software on the market today, many small business owners opt to save their resources and do their own bookkeeping, especially in the earliest stages of their businesses. But as your business grows, your numbers might become too unwieldy to wrangle on your own—and your attentions might be better served elsewhere. That’s when you should consider outsourcing to an outside bookkeeping service.
When you outsource your bookkeeping, you can focus your energies on the work you need to do to continue your business’s growth, without worrying about the compliance requirements of bookkeeping—and that’s a huge burden lifted off your shoulders. This makes the decision to move from doing your own bookkeeping to outsourcing a pretty easy one to make.
But if you’re not a professional bookkeeper yourself, you might not know quite how to vet one. Start your interviews by asking any potential bookkeepers that come through your door the following five questions.
As your business grows, you may find that you also outgrow the bookkeeping solution you started out with. Maybe you now need someone onsite to handle customer billing or accounts payable. Or maybe you need weekly, or even daily, financial reports in order to make sound financial decisions for your growing business.
Whatever the reason, when the time comes to hire a bookkeeper for your business, you must choose carefully. The interview process is critical to making the right hiring decision for your business—and the right interview questions will ensure the success of this process.
Beyond asking about education and experience, many small business owners are stumped about what questions they should ask their potential new bookkeeper in an interview. Ultimately, you want assurance that you’re not only hiring the most qualified person for the job, but also that you’re hiring the best fit for the culture of your your company.
Consult the following five bookkeeper interview questions. These questions will help you avoid hiring missteps, and assist you in choosing a qualified bookkeeper who’ll work smoothly with the rest of your team.
“Why do you want to be a bookkeeper? / Why did you become a bookkeeper?”
This may seem like a strange question to ask right off the bat, and chances are it will throw some of your interview candidates off-guard.
This is a good thing.
Although there is no right or wrong answer to this question, the candidate’s reaction and answer will tell you a lot about their passion for their work—or their lack thereof. The answer the candidate for your bookkeeping position gives you should inspire you, and leave you with the assurance that this bookkeeper is absolutely dedicated to the service they’ll provide you.
For example, maybe the candidate will tell you they have a passion for small business success. Maybe they even had a family member whose business didn’t survive due to serious bookkeeping errors or unchecked cash flow issues, and so they’re committed to making sure this doesn’t happen to other small businesses.
However they reply, the right bookkeeper for your business will give you an answer that aligns with your needs, and your company’s mission, while also staying true to their “why” for working in their profession.
“What do you love about my industry?”
Bookkeeping can be a very different task from one industry to the next. Some small business owners might be able to get away with hiring a qualified bookkeeper with general knowledge, but others—like construction companies, law firms, and non-profits—need a bookkeeper with industry-specific knowledge.
Don’t let your bookkeeping candidate’s lack of experience in your industry deter you from making an offer of employment, though. If they are otherwise a fit for your business, and have a love for or interest in your industry, they might still be the best person for the position.
Again, this comes down to the bookkeeper’s passion for what they do. A bookkeeper with a love for your industry will put in the extra effort to learn what they need to know to do an outstanding job for your particular business.
“What is the first thing you would do on your first day on the job?”
Where the first two bookkeeper interview questions focus on identifying the candidate’s passion, the third focuses more on technical expertise.
Present your candidate with the following scenario:
“It’s Day One on the job. You’ve finished all the paperwork for human resources, and now you’re sitting in front of our accounting system for the first time. What is the first thing you would do?”
There are many possible answers to this question, but the best one would be twofold. First, the bookkeeping candidate should say they would review the business bank accounts and make sure they’ve been properly reconciled. Bank accounts are the biggest weakness in a small business’s internal controls, and you want a bookkeeper who understands that.
Next, the bookkeeping candidate should say they would review the balance sheet line by line, and then they would go through the profit and loss statement. If your bookkeeping candidate gives you this answer, then they understand very well how the financial statements work together and how to review and check their own work.
Bonus points if they take this a step further and say they would compare the balance sheet to the last completed tax return or external auditor’s report. This demonstrates their understanding of how all the pieces of your financial puzzle are supposed to fit together, which means you’ll get a truly immaculate work product from them.
“What do you do if a bank reconciliation is off by a very small amount?”
This is another “technical expertise” question, and it can also be one of the trickiest for your bookkeeping candidates to answer.
Here’s why: Often, bookkeepers are instructed to simply “plug” discrepancies into a miscellaneous expense account. The thinking behind this is you don’t want to waste time looking for immaterial amounts. If your bookkeeping candidate answers this way, dig a little deeper by reassuring them that you’re not overly concerned with the time they would spend working on a bank reconciliation—bottom line, you just want them to catch any errors.
This should lead your bookkeeping candidate to give an answer that demonstrates zero tolerance for discrepancies in the bank reconciliation. If there is a discrepancy, it can be found. Period.
A seemingly small discrepancy can actually represent more than one missing transaction. For example, a $100 discrepancy could represent a clerical error in entering a deposit amount… or it could be caused by a missing deposit for $10,000 and a missing check for $9,900. The net difference would still only be $100, but the absolute value of the misstatements on the books would be nearly $20,000.
Taking this a step further, these misstatements could result in collection activity against a customer who has actually paid, or double-paying a bill. The first could result in the loss of the customer, and the second could have a significant negative impact on your business’s cash flow.
If your bookkeeping candidate answers this question by explaining that they always find the difference, no matter how small, they’re probably a keeper.
“What are your personal interests? / What are you passionate about in your personal life?”
This last question gauges the candidate’s fit with your existing company culture.
Although you want your bookkeeper—along with the rest of your team—to be committed to your company and the work they do for you, you don’t want to hire someone without any personal interests at all. Employees with a healthy work-life balance are happier, healthier, and more mindful than workaholics. In turn, that results in higher-quality work when they are focused on the job.
A lack of personal interests can indicate that your candidate has a tendency toward being a workaholic. Or, it’s possible that the candidate is just telling you what they think you want to hear. Either way, dig deeper, and ask follow-up questions. If you get the impression that the candidate truly has no outside interests, though, you might be interviewing someone who will work themselves to the point of burnout and resentfulness.
Assuming your bookkeeping candidate does have personal interests and passions—which is really the more likely scenario—uncovering what those interests are during the interview process can help you in several ways:
1. During their orientation period, you can pair your new bookkeeper with an existing employee with similar interests.
The orientation period has a significant impact on how a new hire views their new job, their place within the company, and their integration into the company’s culture. Pairing your new bookkeeper with an existing team member with shared interests will help your new hire feel more at ease in the office, which in turn will help them get up to speed and functioning productively much faster.
2. You’ll better know how to reward your employee.
While financial bonuses are nice and always appreciated, employees often respond as well—or even better—to thoughtful, creative rewards that align with their personal interests.
3. You can start planning for when your employee might ask for time off work.
Most employment candidates won’t tell you during the interview process if they want or need time off to pursue their personal interests. At the same time, you want to support them in their personal pursuits to keep them happy and engaged on the job. Knowing what your bookkeeping candidate’s interests are in advance will let you start planning right away for anticipated off-time, so it’s not a shock to you when they ask.
How do you know if a bookkeeper candidate is the right fit for your small business? For starters, they’ll need to tick a few boxes:
These five bookkeeper interview questions will help you assess all of these concerns during the interview process, making the hiring and orientation period smooth for both you and your new hire.