For many people working in accounting, sitting for a job interview is more nerve-wracking than an IRS audit. You may be a numbers whiz and can run the books like no one else, but struggle to communicate and contextualize your skills and experiences when probed with non-finance questions. That’s okay. Because with a bit of prep and practice you too can ace all the popular accounting interview questions!
What Questions are Asked in an Accounting Interview?
Overall, most interviewers will ask questions based on your level of experience and related to an accounting role you are applying for — e.g. auditor, tax preparator, credit controller, etc. In most cases, you can expect the following accounting questions and answers for interviews to come up:
- Entry-level accounting questions if you have less than a few years of experience
- General accounting questions that are more suitable for experienced accounting pros
- Cultural fit questions, intended to get to know your personality and work style
This guide focuses mostly on interview questions that are related to your core competencies.
Specifically, we help you answer accounting interview questions that reveal your skillset and experience.
Entry-level Accounting Interview Questions and Answers
When hiring managers assess entry-level accountants, they want to discern that the candidate possesses basic knowledge of accounting principles and practices. Most also want to see that you are coachable, adaptable and that you can fit in well with their organization.
Below is a shortlist of common entry-level accounting interview questions and answers:
1. What are the three golden rules of accounting?
This is a question that explores your basic knowledge. As a job candidate who is looking for an entry-level job, your answer to this question will show that you have at least had the basic level of training in accounting, whether that is on the job or through school. No need to spend much time on this. Keep your answer simple and to the point.
The three essential rules of accounting are:
- Debit the receiver and credit the giver.
- Debit what comes in and credit what goes out.
- Debit all expenses and losses, and credit all income and gains.
2. What qualities make a good accountant?
Hiring managers ask this question to get to know your work style and ethic. Be honest when you answer, but tailor your response so that it shows you would be a good fit for the company. For example, if you are going to be a tax accountant working directly with customers, highlight your people skills and customer-centricity.
“I believe that a good accountant is precise and pays close attention to details. They always double-check their work to ensure that records are accurate, with no allowance for errors. At the same time, they are providing a service for people in other departments, and they should be approachable”.
3. Walk me through the three main financial statements.
This is another question that tests your basic accounting acumen. Again, just be accurate and straightforward. Then, follow up with a question to see if the interviewer wants more details.
“The balance sheet shows the company worth at a fixed point in time. It shows assets liabilities and shareholder equity. The income statement provides data on income and operating expenses. The cash flow statement shows the company’s liquidity by detailing cash transactions. Would you like me to share some examples of how I used each of these in the accounting internship I completed last summer?”
4. What is your motivation for joining our firm?
This is a common interview question you’d get asked for any role. Essentially, the interviewer wants to determine if exactly what you are looking for and if this role would be a “fit” for you. After all, every employer is interested in minimizing turnover. And people who grow quickly disengaged or demoralized with the pace and demands of the job will often leave.
So do some company research beforehand to understand what type of people succeed within the firm. Then articulate your motivation from the perspective of personal interest (e.g. working in a bigger company) and the value you can deliver (e.g. serving the local community).
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to become involved in forensic accounting. That’s been an interest of mine since I took a criminology elective when I was a sophomore. Subsequently, I’ve applied forensic skills during audits at Acme Inc. Additionally, I appreciate the dedication Ace Accounting has to the local community. I worked with some of your team members volunteering at the local food pantry and enjoyed the fun, relaxed interaction that I witnessed.”
Need more tips? Check our post to answering “why do you want to work here?” interview question.
General Accounting Interview Questions and Answers
If you are a bit more experienced, chances are the interviewer will probe you with more career- and accomplishments-related interview questions. However, you should expect at least one or two “getting to know” your questions too.
As always, be precise, but don’t provide long-winded answers akin to a monologue. Make pauses and give the interviewer an option to ask follow-up questions. Doing so not just makes the conversation more dynamic, but also helps you understand why interviewers ask certain questions and what they want to learn.
1. What financial outcomes have you provided for your clients?
The interviewer is likely looking for competency as well as relevant experience. They want to know of your professional capabilities, as well as concrete examples of how you apply these in practice. Similar to an accounting cover letter try to come up with a contextualized example and tout concrete numbers.
“I recently did a full five-year audit for a corporate client and uncovered more than $250K in tax overpayments. Another client was able to save more than $35K in tax penalties when I uncovered several errors that the state revenue service had missed in their annual tax assessment. In both cases, I helped the clients save capital and avoid compliance penalties.”
2. What ERP programs and accounting software are you familiar with?
Gone are the days when accounting was a “pen and paper” job. Today, most employers expect accountants to have a relatively high rate of digital literacy. Show that you are familiar with different accounting tools and apps. Bonus point if you also have a general understanding of new technologies (cloud computing, big data analytics, RPA, AI, etc).
“I know that your company uses MaxERP, and I haven’t had the opportunity to learn it yet. However, I have used AccountERP for more than five years. My understanding is that the interface is very similar. I’m also an advanced Microsoft Power BI user and feel comfortable working with self-service business analytics tools for producing customer reports and data visualizations”.
P.S. Be honest. If you don’t have experience in a specific program or software, don’t say you do.
3. What are the top three qualities of a great accountant?
One of the best ways to see how you will execute your duties as an accountant is to learn exactly what you think a good accountant looks like. Focus your answer on positive personal attributes as well as professional merit.
“I believe an accountant prioritizes the law and ethics first and foremost. That they are committed to achieving 100% accuracy in their work and record keeping. Finally, that they can communicate information effectively, even to those who aren’t familiar with accounting processes or terminology”.
4. Can you tell me about a recent accounting project that you are proud of?
People tend to be proudest of the work they do best. This clues the interviewer into the kind of projects that are likely to keep you engaged. So the best strategy here is to talk more about one of the accomplishments from your resume.
“I recently took over tax accounting and other financial services for a local business. The company was started two years ago by a single mother who was regularly working 18 hour days to keep up with her business. I really admired her work ethic and wanted to make her business more successful. She was delighted that I could not just take accounting off of her plate, but also help her optimize her cash flow and subsequently receive a bigger loan ($500K over the initially proposed $200K) from a local bank.”
Questions to Ask in an Accounting Interview
A job interview is also an opportunity for you to learn more about the job and the employer. So always prepare a set of questions to ask after an interview. Doing so shows that you are truly engaged and did your “homework” too.
Here is a quick list of questions to ask after an accounting interview:
- What type of clients does your firm work with?
- What are the next steps of in your interviewing process?
- Are there any major projects coming up?
- How do you onboard new hires?
- What will I be doing in my first six months on the job?
- Do you think the changes to financial disclosures regulations will impact daily operations?
Need more ideas? Check our post with more sample questions to ask after an interview!
The best approach to nailing your accounting interview is to be prepared, confident, and positive. Hiring managers ask questions to learn more about you and to ensure that the position they are offering will be a good match for your skills and personality. So treat the entire conversation as a “discovery” experience — such where you progressively get to know about each other’s background, work style, and values.
FAQs about Accounting Jobs and Interviews
Below are answers to common questions about getting hired and working as an accountant.
How should I prepare for an accountant interview?
The best way to prepare for an accountant interview is to do background company research. Find out as much as you can about the company, its needs, and the requirements of the position. Try to understand what are the firm’s client portfolio, corporate goals, and key values. Then infuse this information into your answers.
What jobs can you get for accounting?
There are several jobs available for people with accounting skills. These include corporate accountant, tax accountant, internal or external auditor, forensic accountant, bookkeeper, payroll administrator, accounts payable clerk, adjustor, billing clerk, and bursar. There are also management and executive positions such as comptroller, accounting executive, chief accounting officer, and chief financial officer.
What is the easiest accounting job?
All accounting jobs are challenging since they require preliminary training and certifications. However, many people find that entry-level bookkeeping jobs are fairly easy such as organizing financial records for small local businesses or entrepreneurs. So are tax preparation jobs as they are often seasonal, and the work is automated thanks to software.
Does accounting pay well?
Yes, most accountants earn a comfortable salary. However, their pay can vary widely. For example, an entry-level bookkeeper may make less than $40K annually while an experienced auditor with a Big 8 accounting firm will easily make north of six figures, plus receive performance-based bonuses.
How many years do you have to study to be an accountant?
Accountants must have a college degree. To earn a CPA or work in corporate accounting, you must have a least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. Bookkeepers, tax preparers, billing clerks, etc. can work after receiving an associate’s degree or completing a certification program. At the very minimum, you’ll need about a year to obtain basic accounting competency and credentials.