You know from my first blog that I am the resident “bean counter” at ExactHire – but I honestly feel that the accountant of each organization is important! ExactHire found this out first hand recently when their longtime office manager and accountant decided to switch careers. Have you ever wondered why you need someone in this type of position? If you only have two weeks to find a replacement, do you know how to get a hold of the right accountant? What questions do you ask to make sure you choose the correct applicant? I will answer these questions from the accountant’s point of view, and offer some tips on how to fine-tune your hiring process and better customize your applicant tracking system to automatically highlight the “best of the bean counter” applicants!
Why does your company need an accountant?
An accounting professional does more than just taxes, and we do work beyond just the weeks leading up to April 15th. Of course handling taxes is part of the job, but that is not enough to keep us accountants busy all year round. Other duties, especially at smaller companies, include:
- Financial planning and management (i.e. budgets!)
- Having the ability to analyze past information, look to the future, work with others and problem solve is key
- Month end financial preparations
- Having the ability to meet deadlines, be accurate and have confidence in your analysis of the numbers so that you may explain the financial statements clearly to upper level management
- And, if you are in manufacturing, you cannot forget the dreaded inventory process
- Having the ability to get more involved with the operations of the business, engage in teamwork and consistently be accurate are essential requirements
Staying up on tax code can be difficult, so having the properly trained accountant with the right technical knowledge is imperative. All candidates should undergo pre-employment testing by taking employee assessments that focus on job skills – in areas such as accounting and finance knowledge and/or accounting software proficiency. Knowing what specific competencies are required for your individual business will help you narrow down your search as you consider assessment tools.
Also, have an idea of what type of individual will fit in best with your company culture. Accountants are renowned to be dull and dreary but take my word for it, some of us are actually fun to be around – make sure you know who you want in your organization in terms of behavioral traits.
How do you find the right accountant?
Surprise! There are actually lots of different specialties in accounting. Therefore, one will be a better fit for your business than the others. The most well-known type is a CPA or certified public accountant. Another is a corporate accountant (or controller), and is the person who handles all the bookkeeping and financial decisions of the company.
Essential Job Requirements
Ask yourself, what are the needs of my company with this position? If a lot of tax work is required, it might be important to require the applicants to have their CPA designation. If it’s a manufacturing job, they need to know about inventory, work in process and lead times. Each industry is going to require a different kind of specialty or past experience. So, do your homework and then structure your web-based employment application, including job-specific screening questions, so that it uncovers whether applicants possess the right experience.
Ask those professionals around you if they can refer anyone in their networks that might be a good fit for your company. Also, there are numerous staffing firms that focus only on candidates with financial experience. They may have an applicant for you, or be able to assist you in figuring out your needs. If your company uses applicant tracking software, it should be easy to integrate with various external job boards, some of which might focus on accounting professional jobs.
Optimize Job Descriptions for Search
When advertising for a position, think about the job description. Is it accurate? Does it convey your organization’s culture properly and also highlight key job requirements?
Plus, take a close look at the keywords you sprinkle in throughout the job description – are they the same phrases that a candidate is likely to use when searching for your position on external job boards? For example, a job posting for an accounting person in a manufacturing distribution center should be advertised with a slightly different title than an accounting person in a law firm. Here are some examples of other keyword-related content to consider including in your job descriptions and/or job titles to ensure that candidates have an accurate expectation of your available positions, and to make it easier for them to find your career opportunities when doing searches on the internet:
- private vs. public company (i.e. Sarbanes-Oxley requirements demonstrate just one difference)
- small vs. large organization
- nonprofit vs. for-profit sector
- tax vs. audit position
- financial analyst vs. internal audit, etc.
Make sure your position is being viewed by the correct audience.
What questions do you ask the applicant?
You certainly want to include both yes/no and multiple choice type-questions in your application process to quickly screen applicants in or out based on their qualifications for your basic essential job requirements. This process can be made especially efficient using automatic scoring and/or disqualification filters with the screening questions in your applicant tracking software.
However, asking a candidate to describe his/her past on-the-job experiences (in a narrative whether on the application or in an interview) is key because the best predictor of future success is often past behavior. You need to get a good feeling for whether the candidate’s previous business environment has equipped him/her to have the potential for success in your own organization’s culture and environment, as well. Here are some potential questions for you:
- What industries have you worked in? What was your favorite and why?
- This helps you find out some of their strengths and if they will be a good fit for your business.
- Did you manage others? And then, pepper in follow-up questions such as…How many others were involved? What is the most difficult part of management? What is the most rewarding?
- Again, it’s great to dig deeper to find out strengths and weaknesses, without directly asking candidates for it.
- Tell me about a time you were able to help improve a work procedure… what led to this change?
- You may need an applicant that takes charge and is an efficient worker. It’s interesting to see how quickly a new employee adjusts to the demands of his/her environment.
- Tell me about a recent time when you worked in a group? What did you find difficult about this? What aspect was easy?
- This is especially important in small businesses.
- Do you handle deadlines well?
- Most accountants are sticklers for organization and timeliness, but it never hurts to find out more about how they respond to stress or office pressure.
Obviously you want to know more about a candidate’s background, and everyone has his/her favorite questions to ask in an interview. You may also do reference calls or background checks on the candidate, depending on the details of the role. You need to feel extremely comfortable about your decision when picking the person that handles your finances. It can also be helpful to have your applicants take a behavioral assessment so you can see how their personality and behavioral traits will fit into your organization and into the role.
Bean Counting at ExactHire
When I came to my first interview at ExactHire, the interviewer (now, my boss) looked straight at me and said “You won’t be the person who gets this job long term. I just need someone in here now.” He was in a pinch and needed an accounting person… he found me from a local staffing firm. I took that challenge and worked hard to prove that statement wrong. I am very outgoing, not the normal “dull accountant,” but I love numbers, it’s easy for me and I loved the challenge of a small company. There are many hats to wear beyond just numbers (I am helping with the company blog after all!).
And here I am today, a full-time employee with ExactHire. My boss knows that it’s a good fit for everyone because of my past experience, what he learned about me from my cognitive and behavioral assessment results, and the work I’ve done so far. Some organizations may prefer to have a quiet accountant who does not worry about any other aspect of the company than the finances. That works great for a larger company, but small companies require “team” players. Your accounting professional is an essential piece to any successful business, regardless of the size. Make them part of the team and keep all departments working well together…. Bean counters have feelings too!