Accounting Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

By Kristin Kizer - Jul. 1, 2021
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Accountants are key players in your company and even your personal life. They have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, and you’re placing a lot of trust in their loyalty and honesty.

Unless you’re part of an accounting firm that is always in the business of hiring accountants, this can be a tricky job interview. The business is full of jargon and acronyms, and it’s difficult for a traditional hiring manager or layperson to understand accounting basics. Let alone everything you need to know to hire an accountant.

The following questions should be included in your interview and help you gauge your candidate’s professional and accounting knowledge level.

As a bonus, if you’re interviewing for an accounting position yourself, you can expect to be asked these questions or ones similar to them. That means that you are getting a little sneak preview of your interview here. This gives you ample time to think about your answers and prepare in advance.

How to Prepare for an Accountant Interview

There are two sides to this, just as there are two sides to the interview – the interviewer and the interviewee. Let’s look at both – not just to be thorough, but to see all sides of this interview process.

  • Accountant interviewer. If this is new territory for you, brushing up on basic accounting terms is a great way to prepare. It gets you in the right mindset, and it helps you understand what you’re asking and what’s being answered. But there is more you can do.

    • Learn accounting terms

    • Know what software your company prefers

    • Understand the company’s financial position

    • Know the company’s future financial goals

    • Be up to date on industry trends and current economic realities

    • Get specifics regarding the interviewee’s past accounting experience (look for companies that align with yours in the interviewee’s employment background)

    • Familiarize yourself with the candidate’s resume and cover letter – do any questions come to you immediately?

    • Create an outline for yourself, so you don’t miss anything

  • Accountant interviewee. It’s time to get that accounting job offer. You’re at the last hurdle, the interview. Now you need to make that great first impression in person and wow them with your skills, honesty, integrity, and willingness to learn.

    • Reread the job description

    • Research the company and learn all you can about their financial situation

    • Be confident in your abilities and even more reassuring about ones you don’t yet have but are willing to learn

    • Reflect on past experiences and have some anecdotes ready

    • You know they’re going to ask about your strengths and weaknesses, so don’t be surprised by this – be prepared

    • Come with a list of your accreditations and the software you’ve worked with

    • Prepare a 30-60-90 day plan for your onboarding and share it with the hiring manager

    • Stay up to date on accounting trends in the industry you’re applying to work in

Typical Interview Questions for Accountants and Everyone

You didn’t think it was all going to be accounting questions, did you? Nope, even during a very math-heavy and industry-specific interview, there will be questions about you and your personality.

These are some common interview questions you’ll run across in an accountant interview or any job interview. Most of them will be open-ended questions or behavioral interview questions.

This means they’re designed to let you speak at length, so you reveal more about your character than the answer itself.

  • Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest here; it can impress upon them your innate integrity. Try to avoid flipping a strength into a backward weakness or vice versa.

    For strengths, focus on reiterating the key requirements from the job description. You don’t want your greatest asset to be something that the interviewer doesn’t value very much. And for weaknesses, always end on a high note of steps you’ve taken to improve your less-than-stellar areas.

  • Tell me about a time you failed. It can feel like they’re picking out your low points but from adversity comes the greatest knowledge. Like all behavioral interview questions, you can answer this by using the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.

    By quickly setting up a story where you lay out what was happening and describe what steps you took, you’re giving the hiring manager or recruiter plenty of context. Just like the weakness question, make sure your answer finishes on a positive note by describing what you learned from the failure or what changes you’ve made to ensure it never happens again.

  • How do you handle stress and pressure? One thing people outside of the industry don’t seem to understand; accounting can be a very high-pressure job. There are a lot of deadlines and your accuracy is crucial. It’s obvious why this question matters.

    Again, telling a story is your best tactic here. Of course, you can also mention techniques to cope with stress, but if you can contextualize those methods with a successful story about overcoming a stressful professional situation, it’ll make your answer that much richer.

  • What sets you apart from other candidates? Interviewees are often stuck wondering how to answer this question when they don’t even know who the other candidates are. But the point of this question is to consider your competition in general terms.

    Which qualifications do they likely share with you (a CPA, advanced knowledge of Quickbooks, etc.) and which make you unique?

    When considering what makes you stand out, think about things that aren’t required but are nevertheless valuable for the job. Or you can think about the additional experience you have with some required software that proves your expertise outstrips the competition.

  • What’s your dream job? Tread carefully with this question. Is the job you’re applying for it, or can you prepare for an even better future at this job by being clever and forward-thinking?

    It’s fine if the job you’re applying for isn’t your dream job. A hiring manager probably wouldn’t believe you even if you said so. The important thing is that the position you’re applying for makes sense given your long-term career goals.

    For example, responding that work in hospitality and travel is your dream job would raise a red flag that you wouldn’t be happy working as an accountant. But if you say that working as a director of finance is your dream job, then you’re probably on the right track.

  • Tell me about work conflicts you’ve had and how you managed them. This interview question is trending now, and you should already have an anecdote in mind. Remember, good accountants need tact and honesty. The interviewer will never want to hear that you learned to live with the problem or ignored it.

    Accountants are counted upon to bring up discrepancies and issues long before something becomes a major problem. With that in mind, it’s essential that the example you give shows that you’re not afraid to communicate uncomfortable information.

  • Do you have any questions for me? Our best advice –- have a question or several. Even if you’re more than ready to walk out that door, hang up the phone, or disconnect your virtual interview.

    This gives you a chance to show you listened and you’ve researched the company. Best of all, you can mentally put yourself in the job role and ask specific questions that have them picturing you doing the job.

How to Answer Accounting Interview Questions

Confidence is the one trait that will serve you well in an interview for an accounting role. The interviewee is the one answering the questions and they need to know their industry.

Not only that, they need to be able to communicate their knowledge, skill, and experience in a confident manner that would make someone okay with letting them handle money. When you think about it, there’s a huge amount of trust in your role, and you need to earn it.

In addition to sounding and being confident in an accountant interview, you need to be prepared. It’s important that you listen carefully to each question – don’t anticipate the answer, and then answer directly.

If you don’t know something, it’s best not to fudge but admit that that’s an area you’re not familiar with. Or maybe it’s a piece of accounting software you haven’t used. Honesty means a lot in this position.

One thing to remember when you’re being interviewed to work in finance, or any industry, is that you’re trainable. If you haven’t had experience in one area but you’ve done similar things or you understand the concept, let them know. It never hurts to tell people that, while you haven’t done that specific thing, you’re certain you can learn how. Again, honesty is important.

Top 10 Accounting Interview Questions

Let’s finally get into the nitty-gritty aspects of accounting. These are number, ledger, math, etc. specific interview questions you may want to ask as a recruiter for an accounting position. They’re also the questions you should have answers to as an accountant looking for a job offer.

  1. What is the difference between accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR)? This question is something every accountant should know, and your bookkeepers should also have a firm grasp of these terms. This might be a situation where how you answer is more important than what you say since it’s common financial knowledge.

    By the way, AP is a liability and it’s the money a company owes for something they purchased. AR is an asset and it’s the money a company will collect for something they sold.

  2. Explain the difference between deferred revenue and accounts receivable? This is another basic knowledge question. Accounts receivable is money you’re expecting to receive from customers for goods/services that have been provided. Deferred revenue is money you’ve received from customers, but you haven’t yet provided the goods/services.

  3. Which accounting platforms or software have you worked with? Answer honestly, even if you have no experience with the platform and/or software this company uses. Make sure you let them know that you’re trainable and that all the software is basically the same.

  4. Which statement do you think best reflects the overall financial health of the company? The cash flow statement is your answer here, but they want more than that. Explain how it’s important, but that the true answer is found by looking at all of the financial statements. Expect to go into detail on your answer.

  5. How do you minimize the risk of error? Spell out how you perform your work, then how you review and crosscheck. This should be explained in layman’s terms, so the interviewer knows you understand completely.

  6. Have you ever encountered an error? And how have you dealt with it? This will be answered based on your own experiences. It’s unlikely that you’ve never come across an error and that’s okay. They know this. It’s a good idea to have a prepared answer in mind before you come to the interview.

  7. What are some common accounting errors? The standard answer is: errors of omission, commission, principle, and compensating error. But don’t expect that to be enough – you may have to explain each one.

  8. Is negative working capital a good or a bad thing? This is probably as close as you’ll come to a trick question. Some industries generally have negative working capital, and it’s a sign of efficiency. In other businesses, this is a terrible thing and can mean the company is in trouble. It’s your job to know which situation that particular company is in.

  9. What recent financial changes do you think will impact our industry or accounting in general the most? Is there a right answer here? It all depends on what changes have happened, but the interviewer wants to know if you’re staying on top of current taxation trends, accounting principles, etc.

  10. What do you know about our company’s financial position? Aha! This is where they discover if you did your research or not. Of course, you don’t have access to their accounts and their specific financial position. But maybe they’re a commonly traded company, and you can research their financial reports to shareholders.

    If that’s not possible, you should have at least looked into the industry to see where trends are, and maybe you can find some differences between that particular company and others.

Final Thoughts

An interview for an accounting position will involve a lot of technical questions to verify your qualifications. But to really stand out, you’ll need to display enthusiasm for the role and company and answer questions in a way that shows your comfort with the subject.

Do your homework before the interview, be ready to answer some of the most common interview questions, and give recruiters a good answer to the question “why should we hire you?” Finish up by delivering those questions to ask the interviewer you prepared and you’ll show that you have what it takes to do the job from day one.

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Author

Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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