No matter which side of the table you sit on in an accounting interview, you should be prepared to ask and answer certain questions. Answering honestly means both the interviewer and interviewee can understand how a candidate’s qualifications fit with the company.

Preparing before the interview means you have a better chance of getting the job offer and becoming an asset to your new company. If you’re a hiring manager, knowing which questions to ask will help you narrow your list of applicants and hire the best fit for your accounting business.

Use these commonly asked questions for accounting interviews to help you get comfortable with the process before you start.

1. What are the general requirements of GAAP?

There are 10 generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) that accountants should know. You don’t need to recite them all verbatim during your interview. However, you should know what they mean and why they exist.

GAAP exists so that accountants keep accurate, consistent records. It sets a standard for honesty, fairness, and factual financial information. A candidate who knows this answer at least has a foundational knowledge of public accounting practices.

If you want to impress the hiring manager, reference these generally accepted principles:

  1. Principle of Regularity
  2. Principle of Consistency
  3. Principle of Sincerity
  4. Principle of Permanence of Methods
  5. Principle of Non-Compensation
  6. Principle of Prudence
  7. Principle of Continuity
  8. Principle of Periodicity
  9. Principle of Materiality
  10. Principle of Utmost Good Faith

2. Are private companies required to follow GAAP?

Only publicly traded companies must follow GAAP. That doesn’t mean private companies and small businesses can’t or shouldn’t adhere to these rules — they just don’t have to.

GAAP can provide a clear and consistent standard for private companies. Even if they do not need to follow it, it can still benefit them. Some of the more specific rules don’t apply. Nevertheless, lenders often look at private companies that use GAAP more favorably.

A candidate who can answer this question knows the difference between public and private companies. It shows accounting knowledge beyond the numbers and attention to regulations.

3. What is working capital?

In simple terms, working capital is a company’s calculated assets with current liabilities subtracted. It represents a business’s operating liquidity and is considered part of operating capital.

In other words, working capital is the amount of money a business has available to use at a given time. A good accountant should keep track of this amount and show companies how much money they have in assets at their disposal.

4. What accounting processes, software, or other tools have you worked with most?

Learning a candidate’s comfort level with accounting software can tell you how much time a company will need to invest in training for those tools. It doesn’t mean an employer will immediately discount you if you don’t know how to use specific software. However, it can help them understand your experience.

You may want to note some common applications and software you’ve used, such as:

If you don’t have experience with these types of software, look for any relevant experience you do have. Researching the role before the interview will help you determine which topics to cover.

Process knowledge goes beyond accounting software. You can also highlight responsibilities from your previous or current job. Talk about the types of accounts you manage, like accounts receivable, accounts payable, or specific parts of the process that you focus on. For example, do you usually handle the cash flow statement, income statement, or other parts of the process?

Your answer to this question will depend on your individual experience. You will bring different skills and understanding to the table than other candidates. Show how that experience is relevant to the job description.

5. What is the biggest challenge for the accounting profession right now?

You don’t need a long-winded report to answer this question, but you should know that it will vary. Different states and countries have different regulations and make new changes each year.

In 2020, the accounting profession has encountered significant challenges that include:

When you describe each challenge, it can help to offer brief solutions. By doing so, you prove that you’re a problem-solver who doesn’t let a challenge discourage you.

For example, to meet the challenges associated with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, accountants can update their software and understand how businesses can use the new regulations to their advantage. Automation allows companies to automate repeated processes and help accountants become more efficient rather than worrying about a machine replacing their job.

If you interview a year from now, the challenges will likely have evolved. Keep in mind what issues you have faced in your work that you can bring to the table and talk about overcoming.

6. What enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have you used?

Any accountant should know Excel as a basic ERP, but if you use others, mention them. Microsoft Dynamics GP, Hyperion, and Oracle Enterprise Manager all come up regularly in the accounting industry.

If you’ve previously worked for a large corporation, be prepared to describe your work with ERPs. If you haven’t, share your knowledge of any similar software you have used.

Knowing this information helps employers evaluate candidates at all levels to gauge their experience. Sharing this experience for an entry-level position can even show potential for expanding your job scope and moving up within the company.

7. Do you stay current on regulation changes and accounting trends?

Any accountant should keep up with changing regulations. Tell your employer how you prefer to keep up with accounting news.

Do you listen to podcasts? Do you subscribe to any accounting publications? Have you attended any accounting conferences?

No matter how you do it, your answer should demonstrate a passion for or interest in this information. You need it in the workplace, and knowing you keep up with industry knowledge on your own can build trust with your employer.

8. How do you stay accurate and reduce human error with your accounting?

Describe the tools and software you use in your accounting process. Show that you understand the importance of accuracy in accounting.

You can talk about how you have previously caught or prevented errors in your work (or someone else’s). If you manage an accounting team, maybe you check to ensure that no one gets overwhelmed. You might delegate appropriately to minimize rushing and the errors that come with it.

Perhaps you’ve implemented an automated process to reduce the risk of employee mistakes. When employees have time to focus on other aspects of their job, these automated processes create both efficiency and accuracy.

You might review employees’ work, conduct regular training, or offer certifications in the workplace. These measures can prevent common problems like:

Showing your attention to errors tells your potential employer that you work to fix problems when they arise. It also shows how you respond to mistakes in the workplace.

9. What is the difference between accounts payable and accounts receivable?

The difference between these two departments lies in assets and liabilities. Accounts payable comes down to what you owe. You bought goods on credit — for example, with a company credit card — so you must pay it back to the vendor.

Accounts receivable simply flips those two positions. You collect money from someone who bought something from your company. This department ensures that the buyer pays what they owe.

10. How have you helped a previous employer save money?

Consider a time when you have offered an idea to management or in a company meeting that resulted in:

If you can, talk about data here. You want to explain in-depth how much money you saved, where you saved it, which departments benefitted, and how it changed the company’s accounting processes for the better. Your answer will depend on your experience, but try to think of something that improved your company’s financial standing.

11. How do you organize your usual workday? What about one where you have a tight deadline?

Time management is essential for accountants. An employer will want to know how you handle busy seasons and day-to-day operations.

Showing how you prioritize says that you have skills beyond working with numbers. You can talk about how you set up your day, prepare your work, stay organized, and work under the pressure of deadlines. Companies benefit from accountants who know how to manage their time, so showcasing this skill can make you stand out.

12. What is most important to you when searching for accounting tools and software?

Interviewers often ask which aspect of an accounting tool matters most. For example, they might ask you to tell them whether price or complex accounting features are more important when choosing accounting software.

Consider the value of both, as one doesn’t determine the other. Talk about specific accounting functions and how advancement ensures that you can get the right features without breaking the bank.

You can also mention your ability to research here. Let the interviewer know that you can find software that suits the company’s needs. Mention if you’ve done that for your current or past employer. 

13. What other skills do you bring to the table with your accounting knowledge? 

Employers value soft skills as much as technical knowledge. These skills can get you far, even if you don’t have all of the qualifications listed in the job description.

Describe your personal skills, including:

Each of these skills can work to your — and the hiring company’s — advantage. You can even describe how those skills have positively affected your work in the past. To find out more about how these qualities can improve your chances of getting hired, check out this course on developing your soft skills.

14. How would you explain an accounting problem or process to someone without accounting knowledge?

Explaining complex accounting information takes skill beyond knowing the numbers. Using an example if you’ve done this before helps. Talk about how you would present the information to someone else.

Describe the tools and language you might use and how you would help them understand something they’ve never seen before. Would you use visual content? A PowerPoint presentation? Or do you use empathy and close listening to explain the concept in a way the other person can comprehend on their terms?

15. Do you have your CPA? Any other certifications?

Having your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license will give you an edge over the competition. It shows that you have worked hard and are committed to the accounting profession. If you don’t have your CPA yet, let your employer know if you’re working toward it.

There are other ways to stand out. Highlight any additional certifications you have that might be relevant to the job description, like GAAP or IFRS certifications. You can also talk about accounting courses you’ve taken that have helped you further your knowledge and ability as an accountant.

16. What do you consider the most important qualities in an accountant? 

This answer has some room for variation, but there are a few things every accountant needs, including:

  1. An affinity for numbers, even if they’re not a mathematical genius
  2. Analytical ability
  3. Good communication

Accounting roles need more than technical ability. You can talk about how the following characteristics and skills make an accountant the best they can be:

17. How can you tell if a company is in trouble even if they have positive cash flows?

A company’s financial statements will show you whether the positive cash flow leads to positive net income or if the company is in trouble. Negative net income means that the company’s liquid assets have not increased, regardless of their cash flow.

A company can have a negative net income if they borrow money rather than gaining revenue from the products or services they provide. An accountant should recognize when this problem occurs rather than taking each journal entry at face value.

Our financial statements courses can help you understand how to interpret a company’s financial standing and improve it.

18. Do you have experience with developing business metrics?

Experience with managing and assessing business processes is essential to some accounting roles as you move up the company ladder. Understanding business metrics shows how deep your knowledge goes, especially if you’re applying as a financial analyst.

If a candidate has these qualifications, it can help interviewers assess whether they can expand your role beyond accounting fundamentals. It also makes you stand out as more than another entry-level candidate.

19. What is PP&E, and why is it important?

Property, plant, and equipment (PP&E) shows a company’s physical long-term assets. It can include office equipment, buildings, machinery, and other tangible items.

Companies must list PP&E on their financial statements. It counts as a primary capital asset that generates revenue, profitability, and cash flow. These assets can also impact a company’s financial position.

Investors want to know how a company invests its capital, and PP&E tells them. How a company spends its money tells an investor whether the company is likely to become — or remain — successful. When a company makes poor spending choices regarding PP&E, it can cause problems in the form of financial standing.

20. Can you give an example of a challenge you have faced in the workplace or with a team member and how you resolved it?

This is an excellent opportunity to show your interviewer your problem-solving and leadership capabilities. Your answer tells them how you work under pressure and fix mistakes — yours or someone else’s.

Even if your greatest challenge has nothing to do with accounting, you can use other valuable examples here. Show interpersonal aptitude and other soft skills alongside your technical knowledge. Your answer demonstrates how you work with others and whether you take responsibility in the workplace.

21. What is the difference between public and private accounting?

You’ll find many differences between private and public accounting. While you don’t need to go in-depth, you can offer some examples.

Public accountants abide by GAAP regulations. Following those rules may give them a better understanding of financial statements and standards. They also often have a CPA. That’s not to say private accountants never do, but you’ll find this certification more often in public practices.

Private accountants usually operate with a more focused lens. A private accountant might stick to a single industry, while a public accountant has broader experience.

When it comes down to it, public and private accountants’ differences come down to standards and specific knowledge. You may also find that their desired career paths diverge from one another.

If you want to ace every accounting interview question that comes your way, try our accounting courses. We have resources you can use if you wish to brush up on the basics or take your skills to the next level.

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