As your business grows, you may find that you are in need of professional bookkeeping services. 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 bookkeeper interview questions will ensure the success of this process. Here are five questions worth asking.
Question 1: '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 to this bookkeeper interview question that aligns with your needs and your company’s mission, while also staying true to their “why” for working in their profession.
Question 2: 'What do you love about my industry?'
This bookkeeper interview question is an important one to ask, since bookkeeping tasks can vary by industry. 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 nonprofits — 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.
Question 3: '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.
Question 4: 'What do you do if a bank reconciliation is off by a very small amount?'
This is another “technical expertise” bookkeeper interview question, and it can also be one of the trickiest for your 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.
Question 5: '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 resentment.
Assuming your bookkeeping candidate does have personal interests and passions — which is really the more likely scenario — asking this bookkeeper interview question 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.
Finding the right bookkeeper for your business
How do you know if a bookkeeper candidate is the right fit for your small business? The above bookkeeper interview questions should help you determine that, but generally, they’ll need to tick a few boxes:
They have the technical knowledge you need.
They’re experts within your industry—or they’re ready and willing to learn those intricacies.
They’re passionate about the work they do.
They fit within your company’s culture and align with your business’s larger mission.
By addressing all of these concerns during the interview process, you'll make the hiring and orientation period smooth for both you and your new hire.
Bookkeeping and accounting software
GoDaddy Bookkeeping $4.99 per month and up.
Sage 50cloud $47.25 per month and up.
Wave Financial Free (add-ons available).
Xero $11 per month and up.
Zoho Books $0 per month and up.
A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.