Hiring an accountant is not much different from hiring other employees—he or she has to be competent, has to have relevant experience, and must be willing to stay for the long term. However, the difference lies in the fact that you will be making nearly all of your business decisions based on the numbers reported by your accountant. In a way, he or she will be an advisor of sorts to you, especially when it comes to cash flow, so don’t simply settle for someone who knows tax preparation.
There are two tricky parts in interviewing an accountant candidate or any employee for that matter. The first is getting honest answers during the interview. Oftentimes, candidates will give answers that the interviewers want to hear, regardless of their truthfulness, and this is not always easy to detect or prevent.
The second challenge is finding a long-term hire. Most candidates will be eager to take the job but few are willing to stay for very long, and the reasons for leaving are endless. There are ways to ask interview questions that will increase the likelihood of you finding the right candidate.
Experience in the industry
Most interviewers will ask questions about experience near the beginning of the interview. While this is a good first gauge of a candidate’s fit, it’s also easy to invent answers. To keep this from happening, listen to their response carefully and probe into their answers. If the accountant candidate says that he or she worked for so-and-so company, do not stop at simply asking about what they did; instead, find out what they achieved in that company, and ask how they did it. When they give you an answer quickly enough, and their answer comes with enough detail like methods, KPIs, and takeaways, it’s a sign of a highly competent candidate.
Finding out if they are willing to go above and beyond
Nearly all accountants are experts in taxes, and if all you need is help with tax preparation then most candidates will pass. But those who have enough experience will be able to help you with other business matters, such as forecasting, growth plans, and risk assessment. Such a candidate will not only be extremely valuable to your business, but also a potential long-term hire, because trusting an employee with such sensitive business matters will make them feel empowered, and doing so will also help get some of the load off your back. Ask them what else they can do for your company, but also make sure that they answer honestly.
These two questions will help separate highly qualified candidates from mediocre ones. However, keep in mind that the point is to bring out their expertise during the interview and not to scare them off, so take care to not come off as too intimidating, especially with the first question.