The Accountant Interview

As of May 2017, there were just over 1.3 million accountants employed in the United States. Every business in the nation has an accountant on staff, contracts with an accountant, or relies on an accounting firm to help them manage their financial affairs. Accountants are indispensable. Notwithstanding, there is fierce competition for the best accounting jobs and positions. Landing a good job requires more than a knowledge of accounting, it requires good interview skills.

Accounting interview questions can be challenging. That's why it's so important to prepare before you interview for any accounting position. You may be the best accountant in the world, but if you can't communicate that you're best, in a meaningful way, you'll be passed over for less qualified candidates. Our goal is to introduce you to the questions that most interviewers use and help you learn interview strategies that will help you rise above the competition.

What type of questions can you expect in an accounting interview?
Most good companies, that have a human resources department, employ interviews that consist of practical exercises and questions designed to test your accounting ability and knowledge. You can expect to perform some simple and some challenging accountancy tasks. These days, it's also common for hiring managers and employers to test your familiarity with, and ability to use, accounting software. Testing your ability to use popular accounting programs helps the interviewer determine if you can really do you're job, or if you just a lot of talk.

In additional to practical accounting exercises, interviewers will also ask you behavioral questions designed to test your ability to deal with various situations and resolve problems. You may be asked to demonstrated, based on past experience, how you've been able to solve a conflict, address a disagreement between subordinates, or deal with change. In order to ace your accounting interview, you'll need to be prepared to tackle practical accountancy exercises, demonstrate your ability to cope with pressure, and answer a healthy mixture of traditional interview questions, such as "Why did you choose this career path?", "Why did you want to work for our company?", "Why should we hire you instead of one of the other candidates?", etc.

Common Accounting Interview Questions and Answers
The following are some of the most common interview questions ask in accountant job interviews.

Why do you want to become an accountant?

Why do you want to become an accountant, why did you choose this career path or why accountancy are common questions an interviewer will use to start off an interview. They're pretty straightforward questions that require straightward answers, but don't underestimate their importance.

Interviewers want to know your motive for pursuing a career in accounting, and more importantly why you're interested in the position. Being an accountant can be routine, monotonous, and sometimes even boring--you need to communicate that you chose this career path because you love accounting.

When answering this question, don't talk about your past. "I became an accountant because it's the only thing I could do with a degree in accounting", is a bad answer. "I became an accountant because I thought it would be stable career path", while honest, isn't going set you apart from other job candidates. In stead, focus your answer on the future. Talk about your career goals, your motivation, and your skills.

Sample answer:
I love working with numbers--always have. To help a corporation identify cost cutting measures they hadn't previously discovered, developing tax strategies, or performing sensitivity analysis to support revenue projects and forcasts is thrilling to me.

What's the most challenging accounting task you've have to solve?

This question is designed to (1) test your level of experience and (2) find out how you tackle and solve problems.

If you answer this question by sharing a challenging accounting task you were given in school, it's a good indicator to the interviewer that you're experience is limited to the academic--and that you may not have faced any really tough real-world accounting problems. When answering this question, try to find an example based on your professional experience, even if it's limited to an internship.

Once you've described to the interviewer the most challenging accounting task you've had to solve, it's pretty certain that the interviewer will then ask how you were able to solve it. When answering this question, make sure you choose a task that you were able to solve. Presenting a task you were unable to solve--albeit challenging--would not instill in the interviewer a sense that you are a good problem solver. When describing how you solved the task, be methodical and descriptive. Show the interviewer that you not only could solve that problem, but that you know how to solve any problem.

So how do you answer this question if you're right out college without any real world experience? Be honest, but show the interviewer that you're knowledge, competent, and capable. The following is a good answer for those who've just graduate and don't have a lot of professional accounting experience.

Sample answer:
Having just graduated from college, I haven't faced a lot of tough accounting tasks in the real world. However, I'm graduating at the top of my class from the University of Texas School of Accounting, which is ranked one of the top schools in the nation. And I'm confident I can solve any accounting problem as well, if not better, than any of my fellow students--and probably as well as most first or second year associates. This last summer I worked as an intern with Ernst & Young on their tax consulting team based in San Francisco. Over 200 students applied for the internership. Myself and one other student were selected to participate. While working with Ernst & Young I was assigned several challenging accounting tasks including one where I was required to make recommendations for restructing the debt of a multi-national corporation...

Why do you want to work for our company?

This is a pretty common question that any job-seeker should expect during an initial interview. It's also a very important question that deserves a well thoughtout answer. The answer you give could make or break your chances of landing the job. Many job-seeker submit their resume to every company that has an open accounting position. They send out hundreds of resumes a week hoping to land an interview--and employers know this. What employers want to know is that you're geniunely interested in their company, as well as the best candidate for the position.

Business owners typically think their company is unique--even the best. Why shouldn't they? They've invested sweat, heart ache, years of late nights, time investment, and often their entire savings to see it grow and blossom. Even if their company isn't the best, if you really wan the job, you need to treat it as if it is. Your answer to this question needs to demonstrate that you recognize they're unique, even special, and that you're not just another run-of-the-mill candidate looking for any available job.

Sample answer:
I've been following you're company for a long time. I've always been impressed with your philosophy of honesty and integrity over everything else. When John (company contact) told me a position for an experienced tax accountant had opened up I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I believe I can help you solve many of tax issues you're currently facing and would look forward to joining your team.

How do you make sure you don't make any mistakes in your work?

Before you even try to answer this question, you need to realize all people make mistakes--and the interviewer knows this. Telling the interviewer you never makes mistakes will be unbelievable, even dishonest. However, accounting mistakes can prove very costly for employers so you do need to convince your prospective employer that you rarely make mistakes and that you take very precaution to ensure mistakes aren't made.

In your response, tell the interviewer the steps you take to ensure mistakes are rarely made. These should/could include the following:

  • Perform important accounting tasks on both paper and the computer, and then compare results.
  • Double-check everything, and triple-check the most important reports and records.
  • Never guess. If you aren't 100% sure check with someone that knows.
  • Have another accountant peform the same task and compare results.
  • Look into the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and International Accounting Standards (IAS) for confirmation for your results.

Sample answer:
I don't pretend to be perfect, but I don't make many mistakes--at least not when it comes to financial reporting. I recognize that such mistakes are costly, and never acceptable. If I'm not 110% sure about a calculation, assumption, or financial record, I consult with a colleague or other experienced accountant. I seek confirmation of alls results through IAS and IFRS. I always double check my work, and if it's really important, I'll have someone else check it too.

Are you familiar with current accounting standards?

Again, this isn't a "yes" or "no" type of question. The correct answer to this question is "yes", followed up with a brief explanation of your knowledge on accounting standards. And be prepared to answer a follow up question such as "Can you list the latest changes to the IAS?.

In reality, it's impossible to have all the accounting standards memorized. Not only are there a lot of them, but they change all the time--and most employers know this. Through your answer you need to demonstrated that you are familiar the different accounting standards, especially those that are relevant to your expertise and position. You also need to show that you know how to check IAS (or IFRS) and quickly find up-to-date standards and information.

While interviewers aren't going to expect you to have memorizied all the accounting standards, any information you can present at an interview will earn you brownie points. If you have the time, research the most recent changes to the standards and familiarzie yourself with the most important standards for the position. Applicants that show they watch trends and are constantly learning impress interviewers.

Sample answer:
I am familiar with both IAS and IFRS standards. I studied both accounting standards in college and relied heavily on on IAS during my last job to make sure all financial reporting was correct. I have access to both IAS and IFRS online and stay abreast of the most recent updates and changes in accounting standards.

How do you feel about creative accounting?

There are two types of accountants. Those that follow their job description to the word, and nothing more, and those who go the extra mile to apply their knowledge of financial accounting, tax laws, legal loop holes, and financial reporting to find creative solutions for cutting costs, reducing expenses, lowering taxes, and finding inexpensive financing. Hands down, employers prefer the second type.

Employers want creative accountants--accountants that will go above and beyond the "traditional" role of record keeping and financial reporting, and bring added value to the company. Employers want creative accountants, accountants who use creative accounting to save money and find new opportunities for the company.

In answering this question, your goal is two fold. First, you want to demonstrate that you are a creative accountant. Second, you want to demonstrate that although you're a creative accountant, you'd never do anything illegal, dishonest or that would compromize the reputation of the company.

Sample answer:
In my book, a good accountant is a creative accountant. You could hire any number of professionals to take care of bookkeeping and generate financial reports. However, a good accountant is able to find ways to reduce expenses, restructure debt, find legal loop holes in the system, and improve efficiency. A good accountant knows how to play the game without compromising their integrity or the reputation of the company they work for. That's the type of accountant I am.

Which accounting software are you familiar with?

Most job candidates would answer this question by listing all the accounting applications they can work with. While this answer would be adequate, it isn't the best answer.

Before going into a job interview, we recommend trying to find out what type of accounting software the company uses. This will give you the opportunity to see if its an application you're already familiar with, and if it's not, give you time to learn more about it so you can respond knowledgeably and intelligibly.

Going into the interview, more than likely you won't have any idea which accounting software the company uses. Additionally, there are many different accounting packages out there. Instead of simply mentioning the programs you're familiar with, demonstrate to the interviewer that you're very computer savvy and able to learn to work with just about any accounting software application quickly.

The sample answer below demonstrates to the interviewer that the candidate is adept at using accounting software, is a quickly learner, and can hit the ground running, even though they may be unfamiliar with the software the employer uses.

Sample answer:
I have experience working with several accounting software programs. I'm most comfortable with Netsuite, abila and Zoho, although I've recently started using Intacct as well since it offers a few forecasting and performance management features other applications don't have. I found Intacct the most difficult to learn, but it's still pretty straight forward and easy to understand once you're familiar with their interface. Which accounting software do you use?

Tell me about time when you reduced costs for a previous employer?

Accountants working for companies have several duties. They track expenditures, keep records, prepare taxes, and generate financial reports. However, they also have another responsibility--reduce costs whenever and wherever they can. In fact, some corporations hiring "cost accountants" whose entire professional existence is dedicated to analyzing, tracking and reducing costs--as well as maximizing savings.

Even if you're not hired as a cost accountant per se, all good accountants are expected to reduce costs and minimize expenses for their employers. We recommend that anyone interviewing for an accounting position have at least one example of where they've been able to use their skill or expertise to reduce costs. If you're recent college grad, find a situation as an intern, part-time employee, or member of an academic case study where you were able to help reduce costs.

The following is a sample answer to this question from a recent accounting graduate.

Sample answer:
I haven't had much experience reducing cost for corporations, but I have worked on several high profile case studies where cost reduction was a key element of the financial strategy. In a recent case study that dealt with a struggling KFC franchise I was able to identify several cost reducing strategies that helped minimize expenses, reduce equipment financing costs, and decrease the overall burden of the companies debt through restructuring.



Accounting Interview Questions
Above we reviewed some of the most common interview questions job-seekers will face when applying for accounting positions. We also discussed how to answer each question and provided a sample answer. Below are other accounting questions that you're likely to see depending on the accountant position you're applying for. We recommend developing your own answer to each of the questions below. Answering these questions will provide you additional preparation for your next accountant job interview.

  • Describe a time when you had to handle a complex financial project with tight deadlines that required precision.
  • How do you keep track of things that require your attention?
  • What goals have you set for this year and what steps have to taken to ensure you'll achieve them?
  • How have you monitored the regulations and changes in accounting standards that affect your accounting position?
  • Take me through the most recent budget you prepared
  • What is the most significan accounting decision you've made this year?
  • Give me an example of when you had to explain a complex accounting or financial process to staff member
  • What criteria do you use for evaluating the reliability of the financial data you receive
  • Share with me a time when you were required to present financial data to non-financial staff members

Other Things That Are Important
Knowing the correct answers to accounting interview questions is important, but don't forget that what you communicate visually is almost as important as what you communicate verbally. Interviewers will be paying close attention to non-verbal cues to see if you're confident and have good interpersonal communication skills. They'll also be paying attention to how you answer each question to see if you have others skills and abilities including:

  • Computing skills. Having the ability to work well with computers, even program, is a big asset for accountants and the firms they work with. At minimum, employers are going to be interested in finding out if you're computer savvy and have the ability to work with their accounting software, but they'll also want to know if you have any other computer skills.
  • Mathematical skills
  • Detail oriented personality
  • Patient and deliberate
  • Responsible. Can you handle mission critical assignments and financial reports?

The knowledge requirements for answering accountant job interview questions will vary by position. To prepare for the practical exercises you'll be presented during the job interview process you'll want to make sure you're familiar with all the accounting concepts relevant to your position. Below are the most common accounting concepts.

  • accounting principles and practices
  • analysis and reporting of financial data
  • auditing principles and practices
  • management accounts
  • budgets
  • cost accounting
  • accounting software applications
  • application of relevant laws, codes and regulations
  • accounting standards

When answering any accounting interview question, present yourself as a responsible, loyal and detail oriented professional. Stay calm, be patient, and approach every case study or question the interviewer presents methodically and responsibly. Do this and the interviewer is likely going to be convinced that you have the perfect skill set and personality for the job.



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