The finance industry can be a complex field to navigate for business owners unfamiliar with the daily responsibilities of an in-house accountant. Here is a simple guide to finding a qualified accountant for your organization.
1. Consider your company’s culture
Be realistic about the culture of your company. If you employ a fun staff prone to harmless pranks and Happy Hour once or twice a week, you may want to steer away from accountants that are aloof and somewhat serious. Likewise, if your firm has a polished image and deal closely with public relations, you’re looking for a confident extrovert with excellent written and verbal communication skills.
2. Create an accurate job description
The accounting field is just as, if not more, diverse as the medical and legal field. To attract the best selection of candidates, you must create an accurate Job Description starting with an outline of the day-to-day activities and major projects this new accountant will perform.
Task-Oriented versus Advice-Oriented Day-to-Day Tasks
Will the accountant be up to their elbows in paperwork for at least ninety percent of their day? Or will the accountant perform ad-hoc, project-related assignments where you’re primarily seeking their opinion on how to handle a situation? Your Job Description must accurately highlight the difference. For example, Advice-Oriented accountants are typically seasoned, senior-level accountants who will attract the salaries associated with this skill. Vice-versa, if the position is primarily Task-Oriented, you don’t want to interview candidates who are accustomed to holding meetings and working on a more flexible calendar, but instead, look for individuals used to strict deadlines and heavy data-entry.
General versus Specialized Day-to-Day Tasks
If the open position has multiple assignments relatively easy to pick up without intensive training, your job description can remain broad: create customer invoices, pay vendor bills, month-end close. However, if the position will perform tasks common only to a certain industry or organization scale, then specifically list those assignments so accountants inexperienced in those duties are discouraged from applying: quarterly 10-K filings, experience recording REIT transactions, must have advanced hands-on experience using Oracle.
Many hiring managers misunderstand supervision. One form of supervision allows an accountant to implement procedures and policies and manage the work flow of certain assignments. The other is direct supervision over other accountants. Distinguishing which form of management you require is pivotal if you want to make the best hire. There are many accountants looking for senior roles but have no desire to manage other employees, vice versa there are accountants looking solely to supervise a team of accountants.
Experience versus Credentials
The requirements listed under most accounting job descriptions are typically flawed. The more you require, the smaller your pool of accountants and the higher your salary bracket extends. However, not listing a necessary requirement can lead to a poor hire and immediate turnover. Truly think through if it’s necessary to require a Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s Degree, and a CPA License for a Senior Accountant role; when a Bachelor’s Degree and six years performing a specific duty in your job description can prove satisfactory.
The title you select for your job description should highlight every aspect of what the Job Description is advertising. Try to be as specific and appropriate as possible.
Administrative Tasks Primarily:
|Accounting Clerk||Accounting Administrator||Junior Accountant|
Handle Customer Billing Only:
|Accounts Receivable Clerk||Billing Coordinator||AR Specialist|
|Payroll Specialist||Tax Specialist||Internal Auditor|
Handle Vendor Invoices Only:
|Accounts Payables Clerk||Accounting Administrator||AP Specialist|
|Staff Accountant||Senior Accountant||Accounting Specialist|
|Accounting Supervisor||Controller||Senior Accountant|
|Chief Financial Officer||Vice President of Accounting||Director of Accounting|
Examples on determining a position’s title:
Common Title: Accounts Payable Lead
Common Title: Staff Accountant
Common Title: Senior Accountant
Better Title: Accounts Payable Supervisor
Better Title: Accounting Clerk
Better Title: Financial Reporting Specialist
|Supervise and coach a team of 5 AP Clerks||Primary receptionist for the accounting department||Compile monthly, quarterly, and annual financials for internal and public reporting, must have 10-K filing experience|
|Implement AP procedures||Clerical tasks such as filing, scanning, retrieving and sorting the mail||Intensive variance analysis with suggestions for improvement|
|Maintain the Nexus Payables accounting system||Record routine journal entries assigned by the Accounting Manager||Work closely with external auditors|
|Must have 10 years of AP experience and 3 years in a prior supervising role||Looking for an individual currently in school for a Bachelor’s in Accounting||CPA license required
Primary background in Manufacturing
5+ years in a prior Senior Accountant role
Ethics can take on a different meaning from person to person, and your company should highlight its own policies and values relating to ethics. Be ready to discuss it with your candidates to determine if they’ll be a good fit. Employ integral individuals you can trust, especially if they will handle your cash and financial reports daily.
3. The Interview
Most accountants today carry advanced credentials and multiple years of matching experience, so additional tips to consider when selecting a new accountant are:
- Ask probing questions to discover exactly how well they match your job description’s requirements versus other candidates. For example, if you require a certain level of proficiency with an accounting software, ask simple questions on how to maneuver through the system: steps to create an invoice, how do you perform a bank reconciliation, how do you setup and edit the chart of accounts?
- Listen to how they communicate, because this candidate will be working with external stakeholders such as vendors, customers, and investors. Being professional and easily understood is critical.
- Familiarity with Excel spreadsheets –there might be many areas in your business where an Excel spreadsheet report will be utilized. While it isn’t necessary to demand a candidate to create macros and V-Lookups, you’ll want to know if they’re comfortable with the more basic formulas and formatting required for a suitable spreadsheet report.
- Familiarity with U.S. GAAP and the FASB Codification is a must for any accountant handling your financial statements.
- Can they perform basic math? So many people assume that accountants can do large mathematical formulas in their head. Accountants often joke by saying “We’re accountants, not mathematicians!” You may not be seeking an accountant to be a master in calculus; however arithmetic, fractions, percentages, and algebra are part of an accountant’s daily work life and they should be able to solve basic problems without heavy use of a calculator.
4. Hire slow, terminate fast
What should you do if your new accountant doesn’t work out? First, evaluate your own part in the matter; did you offer appropriate resources for success in the form of training, access to information, and instruction manuals? Did you overwhelm your accountant by not providing a realistic 90-day plan of action? Did you speak with the accountant to highlight any pressing concerns to ensure there wasn’t any miscommunication?
If you feel that you’ve done everything in your power for your new accountant to be successful, please avoid the worst mistake of not taking action. An unqualified accountant can wreak havoc on your financial reports, which will have to be cleaned up later at costly price. Take your time to hire the right individual, but terminate as quickly as possible if it isn’t working out.