Accountants have important roles in virtually any business, organization, or government agency that handles money. Companies that aren’t large enough to hire in-house accounting staff often hire accountants as outside contractors. Accountants also work for financial advisory firms and banks, or as tax advisers.
Some questions you'll get when you're interviewing as an accountant, therefore, are industry-specific. But others are common in any accounting interview, regardless of industry. See a list of typical accounting interview questions, along with sample answers, and tips on preparing for your interview.
How to Answer 4 Common Accounting Interview Questions
Typical Accounting Interview Questions
Give yourself a leg up on the competition by reviewing these questions that you will likely receive during your interview, along with sample responses.
1. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing the accounting profession today?
What They Want to Know: There is no one right answer to this question, but you should be able to demonstrate knowledge of and commitment to your profession by having a well-thought-out and intelligent answer. The interviewer wants to see that you are familiar with the industry and its challenges, and that you care about your job enough to have an opinion.
Recent changes to the tax code are one big challenge for the industry since we have to scour through all the new rules and guidelines, and adjust accordingly. Of course, responding to new tax laws is familiar to the accounting industry. Another pressing issue for everyone in the field is technology. Readily available online accounting services can make the role of a seasoned professional seem less essential, which means as accountants, we have to offer clients something that a computer cannot.
2. Which accounting applications are you familiar with?
What They Want to Know: There are many applications out there, and no one person could know them all. Interviewers are looking to see that you're aware of more than one application and have knowledge of the tools of the profession. As well as mentioning the ones you prefer (and why), you could also talk about recent developments in relevant software.
I'm most familiar with ABC Company Name's accounting software, since it's what I used day-in and day-out in my last position. I've also used X and Y accounting applications in other roles. And, after a former co-worker recommended it, I recently started an online course in how to use the Z application for businesses.
3. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of different accounting packages you have used in your most recent accountant jobs.
What They Want to Know: Be prepared to share specific examples of the pros and cons of the accounting software you’ve used. Your response will show interviewers your knowledge as well as your critical thinking and assessment skills.
I found the usability—and price—of ABC Accounting appealing. I was, however, I bit frustrated by some of the missing functionality, which comes standard with other popular packages like XYZ and XXX.
4. Describe any accounting process that you’ve developed or sought to improve.
What They Want to Know: If you’re still early in your career, you may not have developed any processes yet, but you should be ready to demonstrate that you can innovate. Think about something you’ve helped change or develop over the past few years.
In my role at ABC Company, I discovered that the process for handling company travel reimbursements for the sales team was so difficult and time-consuming that everyone's expense reports came in late. I assembled a team to evaluate the process and streamline where possible. We were able to use an application that we downloaded on all company-provided phones, and since we transitioned to this new process, reports have been timelier.
5. Describe a time when you helped to reduce costs at a previous accounting job.
What They Want to Know: All accountants should be able to reduce costs. That’s a major part of why employers hire them. Describe a time when you reduced costs unexpectedly through your personal innovation or diligence. Have the financial details of your success available in case your interviewer asks you to elaborate.
Often unused licenses to software programs that charge a per-license fee (regardless of whether the licenses are in use or not) eat up a significant amount of budget. I led an audit of our software, spending time with each department to understand what programs and services were in use. We discovered that several departments had purchased programs that did essentially the same task and that we were paying for more licenses than were being used. I did an analysis to uncover that streamlining our programs could result in a 15% savings in this area of the budget, and presented my findings to the executive board.
6. Describe a time when you had to use numerical data or a graph to convince a manager.
What They Want to Know: Discuss how data or a chart or graph helped you make your case, and how the outcome worked in the organization’s favor.
For years, my company had been turning to the same vendor to stock paper products. Each year—despite increasing moves away from paper, and toward online communication—the overall price we paid went up. My manager was reluctant to dissolve the relationship, because finding new vendors can be hard. I showed a chart of the year-over-year increase, along with researching alternatives and getting bids for services, and showed her that we could be saving 40% on these costs. Seeing the data laid out was tremendously persuasive.
7. Describe a time when you had to work exceptionally hard to provide great service to a customer or client. What did you do and what was the outcome?
What They Want to Know: Interviewers want to see that you're a hard worker, and willing to go the extra mile beyond the job description or the 5 p.m. end of the day. Share information on what you did to provide service and how you accomplished it.
One story really comes to mind here—in my role as an accountant for ABC Company, which served small businesses, we had a new client come through who'd recently started a small business. His business was doing well, but it was clear that bookkeeping was not his favorite. It would have been easy to sell him a package he couldn't use on his own, and lock him into an annual subscription. Instead, I provided four training sessions on the software so he could independently track his sales and expenses. Since then, he's recommended us to other small businesses that signed on to our services because of his praise.
8. Describe a time when you faced a particularly demanding deadline to prepare a financial statement or report. How did you react? What was the result?
What They Want to Know: Time management is an essential skill for accountants, who deal with multiple deadlines throughout the year. Share an example that shows how you smoothly handled the situation. Avoid exaggerating, which could be seen as less than honest by your interviewer.
The most difficult deadline I can remember was preparing the year-end FY report at ABC Industries because there is so much prep work involved, and there are many dependencies on other team members’ providing data from their departments. The good news is that everyone knows how important it is to create and present the findings in this report. My co-workers were really good at sticking to the deadlines I established for turning in information (and I built in a few extra days of wiggle room just in case, too).
9. How do you ensure that you don’t forget details and ensure accuracy when you prepare monthly journal entries, record transactions, etc.?
What They Want to Know: Almost everybody forgets small details sometimes—except accountants, who can’t afford to. Share your strategy for making sure you do not forget or unintentionally alter records. You can say that you're not prone to mistakes in your response, or that you're good with details, but try to go a bit deeper than that.
Next to my computer monitor, I have a sticky note that reads "Check—then double check." It's a reminder to me to track all the smallest details and to always confirm that my work is accurate. I do a few things to ensure I do not forget details: first, I automate tasks as much as possible. Also, I use calendar reminders and a good old-fashioned list to make sure that I remind myself to do tasks so that nothing is lost in my inbox.
10. Describe a time when you had to explain a complex accounting issue to someone without an accounting background. How did you help your audience understand the situation?
What They Want to Know: Your ability to communicate with non-accountants may be very important, especially if you will be in an advisory role with direct contact with clients or with team members from other departments. When responding, emphasize your communication skills and storytelling talent, as well as your ability to work as part of a team.
I've noticed that many people get overwhelmed when you throw a lot of facts and figures at them. So, at my last meeting with a small business owner to share strategic advice, I not only had a PowerPoint presentation, but I also provided a written summary. After my presentation, I gave the customer 15 minutes to review the summary, and then we were able to have a conversation based on a mutual understanding of the financial matters.
How to Answer Accounting Interview Questions
As you can see, accounting interview questions are generally a mix of questions about accounting issues and your own accounting skills, plus behavioral questions regarding soft skills, character, and work habits.
You should never try to present a false front during a job interview because, among other issues, your interviewer might notice and decide that your lack of candor is a red flag for deeper problems.
However, you can increase your chances of interviewing well and getting hired by practicing some typical job interview questions, as well as the common questions for accountants listed above.
For the most success, use examples from your career in your responses and keep your answers well organized. You want to tell a story that's compelling and fact-based, but don’t delve too deeply into nitty-gritty details.
Tips for an Accounting Interview
How can you ace an accounting interview, and show you're a strong candidate for the position? Follow these strategies:
Be prepared for questions: That means practicing your responses in advance. As well, review the job description again before the interview so that you'll know which of your qualifications and skills to emphasize. Come prepared with a few examples/stories that will demonstrate those skills and show your value as an employee.
Do research: The more you know about the company, the more you can personalize your responses. As well as looking for news stories about the company and browsing their website and social media, you can also look up your interviewer on LinkedIn.
Look organized: This is a skill that's important for many roles, but in particular demand for accountants. So, bring multiple copies of your resume in a neat portfolio. Make sure your interview outfit is particularly neat as well.
Have Questions Ready to Ask the Interviewer
Make sure to prepare a list of questions to ask your interviewer — it shows you’re truly interested in the company and the new job. Here are some options:
- Can you tell me about the person in the role before me? Why did he or she leave?
- What's a typical day like in this role, and are there any particularly busy times of the year?
- What do you like most about working at this company?
- What are some of the big challenges your team faces currently?
- What's the next step in this interview process?
Remember: You do not need to ask a ton of questions, but do ask at least one. Prioritize questions that will help you know more about the company and its culture, and ultimately get a sense of whether the job is a good fit for you.
How to Make the Best Impression
Follow these strategies to make a good impression during your job interview:
- Show up on time, and professionally dressed—these two factors will help you make a good first impression.
- Give a good greeting—that means shaking hands (no sweaty palms, please!) and smiling when you meet your interviewer. During your conversation, make eye contact, have good posture, and keep up a professional, enthusiastic demeanor.
- Give strong, relevant answers to questions—that's where all your practice of common interview questions comes in handy.
- Write a thank you note after the interview—sending a thank you is polite, and also serves as a way to remind the interviewer of your qualifications.
Find out more about how to make a good impression during your job interview.