10 Essential Accounting Interview Questions and Answers

Dana Guterman
Updated: July 24, 2020

If you want to round up your career prospects, accounting could be the career for you. For those with a knack for numbers, there are roles at the Big Four, small firms, and everywhere in between. Once you’ve landed an interview in this growing field, prepare for the big event by reviewing the interview basics. Then, hold yourself accountable by reading our essential accounting interview questions and answers below.

1. Why are you pursuing a career in accounting?

While there’s always a need for accountants, accounting isn’t known as the most glamorous field. Employers want to know why you got into this industry, and at the same time, they want to know that you’ll stick around. There’s no right answer to this question, so be honest and enthusiastic. You might reply with:

“I’ve always enjoyed math and numbers, so accounting seemed like a natural choice for a career. As a bit of a perfectionist, I particularly like the way accounting requires that the numbers line up. And when they don’t line up, I enjoy troubleshooting to uncover the discrepancy.”


2. How do you manage your time throughout the workday?

Almost all accounting offices have to juggle competing priorities on a daily basis, so the topic of time management is bound to pop up in your interview. Your interviewer wants to know that you’re flexible and organized, so assure them that you’ll stay on top of any workload. This is also a good opportunity to highlight your communication skills:

“At the beginning of every day, I take 15 minutes to review my agenda and the work that needs to get done. I rank everything according to priority, based on deadlines and previous discussions. If there are any questions as to the importance of a task, I have a quick alignment conversation with my manager. Then, I block out my time accordingly. If new priorities arise, or if something urgent threatens my initial plan, I’ll have another quick conversation with my manager to ensure we’re on the same page.”


3. Tell me about a time when you had to be flexible in the workplace.

Offices are busy places, and employers want to know that you’ll be able to change course when a coworker calls in sick or a deadline gets moved. Adaptability also indicates that you’re a team player, willing and able to jump in at a moment’s notice to help out. Use the STAR method to show off your flexibility, ending on an upbeat note:

“At my last job, I was heads-down in data entry for a client, when a peer asked for my help to complete a critical project. It was the end of the month, so I couldn’t abandon my data entry work. But I knew that my teammate wouldn’t have asked for my help if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I re-prioritized the rest of my day and made plans to stay a couple of extra hours to ensure both tasks got completed. I don’t mind putting in extra time when it helps the company with their best clients, and I know my teammate really appreciated it.”


4. What would you do if a client asked you to create an expense record for which there was no supporting documentation?

Honesty and integrity are two essential qualities when working in an accounting firm. You must have both to be successful, and a hiring manager will try to uncover how you would handle a potentially difficult situation. Keep your answer brief, but leave no doubt as to how you would handle this type of situation:

“I would politely decline to comply and share my reasoning. Expense records feed into tax records, and those records are legal documents that have to be supported by a paper trail.”


5. Tell me about a time when you worked with peers to achieve a fantastic result. What was your role?

Being results-oriented is another desirable trait in an accountant. Your interviewer wants to know that they can rely on you to get your assigned work done—and done well. In your response, don’t be afraid to brag a little. And while your response doesn’t need to be related to accounting, you’ll get bonus points for quantifying your impact.

“Two years ago, I organized a charity food drive with my peers in the College Student Association. My best friend and I had the idea because we wanted to do something meaningful for the community. We co-owned the entire project, marketing it to every local outlet we could think of, and when the drive was complete, we’d collected more than $10,000 worth of food for our local food bank. We were ecstatic!”


6. How do you prefer to communicate with those around you?

In this day and age, there are multiple ways to communicate in the workplace. Knowing when to use different forms of communication indicates that you’re a strong communicator. In your response, demonstrate your flexibility and focus. Here’s an example:

“It depends! If it’s a quick question, I tend to use instant messaging. But if it’s going to take longer than a minute to respond, I’ll send an email. If it’s a sensitive conversation, or one that could be misunderstood, I’ll set up a face-to-face meeting or make a phone call.”


7. Tell me about a time that you provided exceptional customer service to a client.

This is another common accounting interview question. Customer service skills are invaluable in an accounting role. You’ll spend a lot of time with numbers, but ultimately, they are connected to people who need to be coached and educated on how to best manage their books. For this behavioral interview question, try an answer like this:

“This example is from my previous role as an assistant at a senior living facility. A resident was waiting in the lobby for a family member who was going to take her to a doctor’s appointment. The family member called to say he was having car trouble and wouldn’t be able to make it in time for the appointment. I knew that the resident was waiting anxiously for test results from her doctor, so I offered to take her myself so that she wouldn’t have to reschedule the appointment. The resident was extremely grateful when I was able to drop her off in time to make her scheduled appointment.”


8. When performing routine data entry, how do you guard against making mistakes?

When working with numbers, it’s important to pay attention to every detail. Human error happens, so it’s crucial that you have safeguards in place. In addition to listing the skill on your resume, this is your chance to demonstrate your ability to produce error-free work:

“I try to minimize distractions in the workplace, but I also have simple data validation checkpoints built into my workflow. The validations ensure that if I make an error somewhere, I don’t get too far into the work before I am able to catch it and correct it.”


9. What accounting skills/certifications do you have?

Depending on your experience, and the specific job you’re applying for, this may or may not be relevant. Regardless, you should answer truthfully, but indicate your eagerness to fill in any gaps:

“This will be my first full-time accounting role, so while I’ve taken several accounting courses, I haven’t yet pursued any certifications. One thing I’m really excited for with this company are the many professional development opportunities. What do you recommend I pursue first?”


10. What do you do when you don’t immediately know the solution to a problem?

Today, many employers want resourceful employees, who can work independently and solve their own issues. Busy managers often value employees who are willing to take a first pass at solving a tough problem. Show them that you can handle unfamiliar situations with an answer like this:

“I research the answer! I love to figure out solutions to problems using a variety of different methods. These could include online searches, peer-to-peer coaching, or simply refreshing my memory using old textbooks.”

 

If you’re ready with your own answers to all 10 accounting interview questions, then it’s time to practice, practice, and practice some more. Preparation is the key to nailing your interview. Then, you can count on a successful career in accounting.