15 Questions to Ask Finance Professionals in an Interview

Two male professionals talking during an interview

If you want to hire the best finance talent, you need to start with the best finance interview questions. The ideal finance interview includes a mix of questions to ask finance professionals about their understanding of the field, technical skills, and soft skills that will help them succeed in the role.

Your technical questions should be tailored to the specific position and its level within the company. For example, while it might not be feasible to ask entry-level candidates to explain the ins and outs of deferred tax liability, you should still ask them questions that assess their grasp of basic accounting and finance concepts like budgeting processes and financial statements. The higher up the command chain you go, the more nuanced you can get with your technical finance interview questions.

Use behavioral interview questions to shed light on how a candidate would react to actual scenarios they’d face in the role. While you can train for specific technical skills a great candidate is lacking, there are certain qualities, like critical thinking, that you want them to walk in with the first day on the job. Behavioral questions are a great way to get a feel for these characteristics.

Finally, incorporate more general interview questions that will help you gauge culture fit and soft skills. Leadership or the ability to work on a team, for example, may play an important role in a prospective candidate’s likelihood of success within your organization. You’ll also want to identify whether they have a firm understanding of the company and its position in the market.

Interview Questions to Ask Finance Professionals

1. What do you feel is the single most important document to gauge the financial health of a company?

This question will quickly tell you whether a candidate is comfortable talking through basic financial concepts. Several different answers could be considered correct, but the candidate should be able to clearly justify their reasoning for whichever document they pick.

For example, they might say they prefer the cash flow statement because cash is the lifeblood on which the company operates, the balance sheet because assets are what propel cash flow, or the income statement because it provides the insight needed to make decisions about the company’s future.

2. What’s the biggest financial hurdle for a company like ours in today’s market?

You want a candidate with a solid understanding of your field and its inherent financial challenges. If their prior experience hasn’t provided this knowledge, you want to see that they’ve done their homework to get up to speed on the market and the industry’s current events.

Look for talent to cite things like upcoming regulatory changes in the field, tax issues that affect the company, new technology that challenges the status quo, or the fight to control costs to compete with overseas labor—whatever’s relevant for your organization. The list of potential good answers is extensive, but the best candidates will be able to discuss challenges that are both specific and timely for your company.

3. Define and explain the importance of GAAP?

When you’re hiring for an accounting role in a publicly traded company, a thorough understanding of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP, is a must. These principles govern how public companies record and report financial information. If your accountant sidesteps GAAP, it could lead to big financial problems for the organization down the road.

Your candidate should be able to comfortably explain GAAP principles like consistency, continuity, and periodicity. If you live in a state with additional guidelines for financial reporting in addition to GAAP, it’s worthwhile to ask about their knowledge of those, as well.

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4. What’s the difference between cash and accrual accounting? Which method do you think is most suitable for our business?

When hiring someone in an accounting role, you need to feel confident that they not only have a firm handle on GAAP, but that they can translate their accounting knowledge into recommendations that are beneficial for the business. To assess their abilities in this area, ask them for their input on this basic accounting topic.

Though their answer may not have much bearing on which method you actually use, it should give you an idea of the method they’re most comfortable with and their high-level approach to measuring the organization’s financial health.

For example, they might say that since you’re a medium-sized business, they prefer cash accounting because it keeps things simple and lets you know how much cash you have on hand at a quick glance. Or they might say that since you’re an international organization with offices and payers all over the world, they prefer an accrual method because it gives you a more realistic picture of your actual income and expenses (and, it’s worthwhile to note, this is the required method for US businesses with revenue over $5 million).

5. Let’s say our company was considering a merger with [competitor name]. How would you decide if this was a good idea?

This is a finance interview question geared toward higher-level positions like CFOs, whose job is to steer the larger financial trajectory of the organization. Mergers can be great for achieving growth—but they’re not always in a company’s best interest.

A winning candidate should be able to list the factors they’d consider when making a recommendation on a merger. They should share how they gather and communicate the relevant information to the appropriate stakeholders so the right decision can be made. This is their chance to demonstrate their ability to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis and to communicate with key members of leadership on important organizational issues.

6. Tell me about a financial challenge you faced recently and describe how you overcame it

We’d argue that every interview should include at least one question where a candidate can talk through how they dealt with a problem. Being able to navigate challenging situations successfully is an important part of any professional role, whether in finance or a related field.

There are any number of challenges a candidate might pick to talk about. Still, you should look for their answer to demonstrate critical thinking, solid decision-making skills, and poise under pressure. These qualities indicate an independent worker who will be able to find solutions rather than merely identifying problems. Look for the candidate to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, which will help you get a feel of their thought process when confronted with a challenge.

7. Describe a situation where a company could show positive cash flow but still be in financial trouble

There are plenty of situations where dollar figures on paper don’t tell a company’s whole story. You want finance staffers who can read past what’s on the page to glean a complete and accurate picture of where the organization stands financially.

A qualified candidate should have an answer that demonstrates their understanding of the various ways money flows within an organization. For example, a company that’s selling off large amounts of inventory while delaying payables might show positive cash flow, but the picture behind the scenes is likely problematic.

8. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Today’s professional switches between jobs more frequently than any other generation in modern times, especially in the first ten years of their career. So, depending on the job and seniority level, it may not be feasible to expect them to stay with your organization for the next five years. Still, you want to see a level of commitment that tells you they’re going to bring the utmost value to your organization while they’re employed with you.

We like this question because it not only gives candidates a chance to share their professional ambitions but it will helps you gauge their understanding of what advancement looks like in your field. Do they have a firm idea of what they’ll need to do to achieve success in the role? Do they have realistic expectations about how and when they might advance? Discussing these things in the interview helps ensure you’re on the same page about the progression of raises and promotions, which are always a good thing to set expectations for upfront.

9. How do you minimize errors in your work?

Everyone makes mistakes, but in the finance world, a single misplaced decimal or the failure to file a form in a timely manner could have major negative ramifications for a company. In this industry, you need professionals who are methodical and conscientious about their work with a strong attention to detail. 

A good candidate should feel comfortable talking about how they mitigate risk. They should be able to give you a few concrete strategies, like double-checking their work, asking a peer to review important documents, or taking breaks as needed to keep their focus strong. 

10. What would you do if you discovered a major discrepancy in our accounting?

From sloppy accounting to egregious embezzlement, the problems that can creep up in a finance role are of great consequence. Part of a financial professional’s job is to be watchful for these discrepancies; another part is to take action when they’re discovered. 

This question gives you the chance to assess a candidate’s problem-solving skills in a real-world scenario. It can also shed light on their views of right and wrong and help you decide whether their decision-making is aligned with the company’s. For example, would they alert the company leaders to the problem or try to fix it on their own? Would they get caught up in placing blame for the mistake or focus on finding a solution? 

11. Tell me about a time you simplified a process. 

We like this question because it invites the candidate to talk about a previous job, which can give you insight into their experience. It also gives them a chance to demonstrate their knowledge of accounting principles and show the value they can bring as a team member. 

A solid answer will describe reducing complexity in a process, streamlining workflows, making things easier to understand, or saving the company time/money.

Related: Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

12. What are your favorite pieces of technology to help you do your job?

Tech tools are essential in the modern financial world. This question will help you understand the candidate’s level of proficiency with different software and applications and determine whether they know the systems you currently use. This can help determine the level of training they would require. 

Additionally, their answer will give you a handle on their overall attitude toward technology and their willingness to learn, which is especially important for positions that rely heavily on technology. 

13. How do you keep your skills sharp?

While core accounting principles might not change much from one decade to the next, other things in the financial field, like legislation and software, change rapidly. You want a candidate who’s invested in advancing their knowledge and skills, so it’s a good topic to ask about in the interview. 

Be on the lookout for mentions of specific websites, publications, news sources, learning platforms and events that the candidate uses to stay on the cutting edge of the industry. 

14. How do you feel about [current event in your field]?

Asking about a relevant current event, like Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover or the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates, can be illuminating in terms of a candidate’s knowledge of and interest in your field.

This question can be a tricky one because it requires a candidate to pick a side or at least speak eloquently about an event that may be complex or controversial. Their answer will help you gauge their critical thinking and communication skills, both of which are valuable in financial positions. 

15. What does integrity mean to you?

It’s hard to think of a characteristic that’s more important in a finance job than integrity. It reveals whether a candidate is trustworthy and defines how they’ll behave in a challenging situation where their values are put to the test. 

The right candidate should easily be able to explain their feelings on integrity and give you a glimpse of their morals and character. To probe deeper, consider asking a follow-up question like ‘Has your integrity ever been tested on the job?’ 

Add the Right Finance Professional to Your Team With 4 Corner Resources

Finding top finance and accounting talent is time-consuming. If you’re not in a finance role yourself, it can be a challenge to zero in on the applicants who have the right skills to get the job done. And yet, these staff members serve a critical role in the success of your business, so hiring the right people is of utmost importance.

Let 4 Corner Resources spearhead your finance and accounting hiring. We’ll source and screen talent from a vast pool of active and passive candidates, developing customized interview questions to ask finance professionals that are tailored to the specific responsibilities of the job and the goals you’re looking for the person to accomplish. We’re skilled at identifying candidates with the right mix of accuracy, integrity, and technical skills to succeed in your financial role.

Get in touch today to start your search.

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Stacey Haley

About Stacey Haley

Stacey Haley is the CFO of 4 Corner Resources, a nationally renowned staffing agency. She has eight years of experience in public accounting as well as seventeen years of consulting in the private sector. As a CPA, Stacey works closely with decision-makers and shareholders for small and medium-sized businesses. Her vast experience varies from debt financing, auditing, cash flow management to mergers and acquisitions. In her free time, she enjoys horseback riding and being outdoors!