Qualified Accountants are hard-core professionals. They spend many years studying whilst working to become a Chartered Accountant (CA), Certified Practicing Accountant (CPA) or even Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualified professional.
Once qualified they know all there is about accounting, finance, tax laws, and will be up-to-speed with all of the latest accounting and audit standards.
So, if all qualified accountants are great at crunching the numbers and deciphering the latest tax legislation, should a professional accounting firm or commercial business hire every accountant that responds to their job advertisement on the basis that their qualifications will suffice?
The answer is of course, NO.
All professional employees are not created equally and every firm or business must appoint Accounting professionals based on its workload requirements, office culture, clients needs, team structure and overall goals and vision. So how do you go about seeing beyond the qualifications to ensure you hire the best candidates in the market? Here are some pointers that will help any interviewer get the most out of that tricky interview process.
1) Core Competency and Technical Knowledge
Your firm will have many departments such as Accounting, Audit, Taxation, Business Services and Corporate Finance; your vacancy will be specific to a particular team or service. You must prepare detailed behavioural or competency questions based which challenge the candidates experience and skills. Make these questions relevant to the vacancy and grill the candidate with questions that reconcile with his experience levels, challenge them to provide you with real life situations, achievements and outcomes. You will easily be able to separate knowledgeable and smart candidates with targeted questions.
2) The Weakness Check
No professional is perfect. You never stop learning in any profession. The same rules hold true for the accountancy profession. Ask your candidate about his weaknesses. Denying weaknesses is a sign of trouble to come, while admitting them is a positive sign.
3) Risk Profile
An Accountancy firm or Accounting team within a business is required to provide precise and legally accurate reporting to the business, its clients and the authorities. Test a candidates position on risk by preparing some tricky, risk-related questions that will expose the candidates mindset. If he comes across as an accountant who is likely to throw caution to the wind, do not hire him. But if he comes across as a professional employee who can creatively and technically understand the law without breaking it, you may have found your man.
4) Communication Skills and Preferences
The employee will often have to interact with different clients and stakeholders from board of directors of large companies to small businessmen to individual taxpayers. Some clients will be easy to deal with and some will be more challenging. Therefore, it is important for accountants to communicate well, be neutral in their approach, and not make judgment calls. They also must not have strong likes or dislikes about any particular business or sector and he/she must not communicate using accounting jargon, which may alienate or confuse clients. They must be pleasant and professional while conversing with everyone, keep a close eye on his communication style from the moment he/she arrives at your reception to the moment they leave.
5) The “I Am The Greatest” Syndrome
If the candidate thinks he is the best, way better than the rest, you should drop him like a hot potato. Egoistic candidates are like rotten apples. They may be good in their work, but they will not function well as team players. Remember, you are seeking a loyal and cordial team worker who is ready to help his team whenever required. The right candidate should be confident of their ability and demonstrate they have sound skills while remaining humble and modest.
6) Reference, Reference, Reference
The power of effective referencing cannot be underestimated, I have been amazed over the years how many times I have seen clients hire without checking references thoroughly. This is a part of the service a good recruiter will provide you prior to any decisions being made but you should always personally validate these references. Ask to contact the referees yourself once you have read the recruiters reference report. References should dig deeply in to behaviours and capability along with team interactions and cultural fit. If there were any questions or flags that came up in the interview process, this is your opportunity to clear these up. How many references are necessary? Well as many as you want but at least two as a minimum, and ideally from the line manager of the most recent employment periods, save the current one which may compromise the candidate if they are still in the employment of that referee. It is amazing what good referencing will uncover, and can save you a world of pain in the long run.
7) Psychometric Testing and Behavioural Assessment
A good candidate will have no problem being challenged, both academically and interpersonally. There are many ways to formally test a candidates ability to process information, be it alpha and numeric reasoning, through to in depth psychological assessment. These tests can be constructed in many ways and there are a whole host of experts in the market who are trained psychologists who will provide these services and ultimately help you to make a definitive decision over hiring the right person.
While it is true that all professionally qualified accountants possess tremendous knowledge, it is also true that all are not equal. Grilling your candidate with behaviour-related and competency-based questions should help you shortlist the best candidates.
In advance of any interview, prepare a strong, relevant and yet tricky interview questionnaire based on the tips given above and encourage the candidate to sprinkle his answers with real life examples. Also, give the candidate adequate time to respond to your questions, the sign of a good interview is when the interviewee does most of the talking during the interview. Be sure to reference check thoroughly and invest a few dollars in some technical/non technical testing for your preferred candidate.
Following this process will enable you to gain a deep understanding of the candidates technical abilities, experience, achievements and interpersonal skills, only then having established this critical information are you then able to contemplate making your hiring decision.