In what instance would you use LIFO compared to FIFO?
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This is an inventory-based question. LIFO, or Last In First Out compared to FIFO, First In First Out.
If you have personal experience, always draw on that for an answer. If you don't have personal experience, then provide an analogy that would help explain not only the difference, but the importance. Understanding various industry inventory methods is important for this. A food service business will always want to use FIFO, whereas a manufacturing company that doesn't have products that expire will use whatever is most convenient. The Accounting method changes based on the inventory method. While not a lot of companies use LIFO due to the government's indecision on whether to accept it and the additional documentation it requires, the tax implications are less compared to FIFO.
"Inventory methods all depend on the type of inventory method used and how the inventory is managed. In food service or most hospitality fields, you'd use First In First Out to ensure nothing expires and is counted as waste. Whereas in a manufacturing company's inventory where nothing expires and all raw materials are the same life expectancy, you'd be able to use Last In First Out. So looking at your company, it all depends on the type of inventory method you have in place and the type of goods."
Entry Level Example
"I've never personally used Last In First Out, but have taken courses regarding the different inventory methods. There are certain industries that have to use FIFO, like the food service industry. They need to ensure their product doesn't expire and is counted as waste. This ensures higher profits for the amount of product you have. If you have a manufacturing company where nothing expires, then the inventory method can change."
As far as accounting goes FIFO generally has higher tax implications because costs generally go up over time so you are being taxed at the current rate of inventory costs not when the inventory was bought. If you use LIFO you will be taxed at the rate you purchased the most recent inventory. This will lessen the tax implication for the inventory."
"This will depend on the current inventory system in place. LIFO has its tax benefits but the higher the profit, the higher the tax implications will go either way. The industry matters and the products matter. For costing issues, using LIFO if costs increase the last items sold are the most expensive, while if the costs decrease, the last items sold are the least expensive.
It's also important to know to whom to report your financials. The IFRS doesn't allow for LIFO method of inventory management, while the IRS allows it with stipulations. LIFO has a lot higher standard of record keeping in case the older inventory stays in the system for years."
Give an example of when internal controls needed to be changed or updated and how you handled the change.
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This is a SOX related question. SOX compliance is critical for publicly traded companies because controls are constantly evolving as the company grows and change.
If you have no experience with this, be honest and use your ability to learn quickly and adapt well to change. Mention how compliance changed drastically after ENRON and WorldCom.
If you have experience, then describe the exact change that occurred unless you're prohibited from revealing details due to an NDA agreement.
"At my previous company, we grew too quickly and had a lot of controls created that partially hit a lot of different issues at the time. As the company got better at handling the bigger client load, confidential data, and money coming in, we were able to adjust or reword a lot of controls that made others redundant. When I first started, there were at least ten different controls that all dealt with terminations. After reviewing them, we assembled a team to tackle the controls and limit them for less confusion. After that team devised only three controls to cover all terminations, we retrained the staff in proper control methods and how to successfully audit them."
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"As a recent college grad, I haven't had the privilege of updating the controls myself but in my current position, the company I work for just changed a few controls. I can't go into much detail because of the NDA I signed, but we've streamlined the process of training people on the active controls to ensure that the most up-to-date controls are followed, and also gave a detailed explanation to the auditors about the transition to new controls to eliminate questions."
"In my last position, I was the senior Information Security Officer, which meant I oversaw all the internal controls for information security to include finance and IT fields. As our company went through some changes, it became apparent there were holes in our internal controls that had allowed someone to approve a vendor, input the vendor, and approve the invoice for payment. This is a clear SOD issue so we immediately went into action and created a compensating control to disallow that feature. We avoided the possibility that someone could commit fraud by doing so, and the controls have been in place now for ten years with no deficiencies since the controls were placed."
Give me an example of how your strengths help you in Accounting.
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This is a subjective question and one that will be asked (maybe in a different way), but this is the strength vs. weakness question. I'd focus on about 2-4 strengths and give an example. Common list of strengths to choose from are:
1) Organizational and planning skills.
3) Persuasive ability.
4) Communication skills.
5) Leadership ability.
6) Stress tolerance.
7) Ability to learn and apply new information and skills.
10) Detailed oriented.
Always try to give an example of how you've used your strengths to improve your performance or your company in some way.
"I'm a highly organized person. I live off of my planner and always carry it with me. I do bi-weekly budgets for myself so that I can continuously pay off my student loans. Due to my organizational skills, I'm great with time management, which allows me extra time to help other departments in my current role. I'm known for always completing my tasks on time, if not early. They know they can turn to me if they have extra work that they can't complete because I'll almost always help out unless it's not possible, then I'm direct and honest about my time constraints."
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"I'm very detail oriented. I have the ability to catch small errors that are overlooked by most and have proven this in college when I was an aide to one of my professors and constantly caught errors he missed. He told me that I helped keep him honest, which is why he offered me this letter of recommendation. He's also listed as a reference if you should like to speak with him regarding my detail-oriented abilities."
"My ability to thrive under pressure has helped in year end close and tax preparation for my current company. When all the departments suddenly remember they have a million things they need to submit, I'm able to organize it and keep the process moving while everyone else is stressed and I'm calm and composed. This past year, we had one employee who had a breakdown due to stress because there was an error in the financial reports. I was able to take over, correct the error, and help the employee overcome that stressful moment all while heading meetings and implementing the changes that were requested for the new year. Staying calm under stressful situations is perfect for audits and tax time at most companies because that's how you can lose a company."
Tell me about the financial forecasting you've been responsible for.
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To answer this question, you have to understand what forecasting is. It's not just making a budget for yourself. You can make a budget for yourself at the pay rate you have right now for the next year. Do you take into account if you're going to get a raise? Do you project how much of a raise? Probably not. Forecasting takes into account the busy seasons and basically alters the budget for the year by the time of the year before it ever happens.
If you have no experience forecasting, then explain how you'd handle forecasting by demonstrating your knowledge of it.
"I helped my manager forecast the accounting budget for the next year by reviewing the budget from the previous year, noting the busy seasons, and also noting when the company had influxes of revenue due to high sales for the past five years. By finding the busy times of the year when sales consistently increased, we could increase our budget following that time period. This ensured we could hire two more employees immediately after the busy sales season for to have enough help to assist with year-end close out."
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"Although I haven't had any work experience with forecasting, I do budgets for my family as well as myself to ensure everyone stays on top of their finances. I would, however, love to forecast for a company, and the way I'd do that is by reviewing the financials and budgets from the last five years of the company. By noting when the company has high cash influx and low cash influx, I'd be able to make a budget by quarter or even by month to keep the company profitable. By monitoring the budgets monthly over the first year of my forecast, not only could we stay on budget, but also make real-time decisions on saving money to become more profitable overall."
"I know this example is a long time ago, but it was also the best learning experience I've had when putting together a budget and forecast. In 2009, I was a Plant Controller for a $75m corrugated box plant and the company had forecasted a significant downturn in the economy. They informed me to decrease all sales revenue by 20%, increase costs across the board by 10%, but increase freight by 25%. The increase to freight took my sales revenue from a positive $500,000 net income, to a loss. The plant was in East Tennessee, and the annual budget for freight was $7.5m. The plant could not sustain a freight increase of 25% and continue to operate. The General Manager and I personally visited the 5 closest freight companies and told them that we'd sign a dedicated contract with 2 carriers, guaranteeing them a certain number of loads to haul a week. If they didn't haul them, we'd still pay. The catch was that their prices must remain at current levels and couldn't increase for 12 months. This was a win-win for both parties, since business was already slowing for many trucking companies, and this was a guarantee of more business coming to them for 12 months. The outcome was that our plant only sustained a 7% increase in freight due to lanes that the freight companies didn't haul."
Give an example of something you'd put on a sub-ledger that wouldn't be included on the General Ledger.
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Sub-ledger is the subset of General ledger in accounting terms. The relation between sub-ledger to the general ledger is many to one. There can be multiple sub-ledger accounts linked to the same general ledger account. Posting from sub-ledger to general ledger is a process in which entries from the general journal are periodically transferred to ledger accounts (also known as T-accounts).
This is the second step of the accounting cycle because business transactions are first recorded in the sub-ledger, and then they're posted to respective ledger accounts in the general ledger. The type of accounts found on the sub-ledger would be Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, and Fixed Assets. These are then rolled up in summary form to the general ledger.
"Fixed assets and accounts receivable would be some of the accounts not listed individually on the general ledger. The General ledger would have an assets or liabilities section."
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"The key difference between general ledger and sub-ledger is that while general ledger is the set of master accounts where transactions are recorded, sub-ledger is an intermediary set of accounts linked to the general ledger. The relationship between these two is that multiple sub-ledgers are attached to the general ledger."
The sub-ledger is also referred to as 'subsidiary ledger', which is a detailed subset of accounts that contains transaction information. This account is referred to as the 'Control account', and account types that generally have a high activity level are recorded here. Subsidiary ledgers can include: purchases, payables, receivables, production cost, payroll, and any other account types.
The general ledger is the principal set of accounts where all transactions conducted within the financial year are recorded. The information for general ledger is derived from the general journal which is an initial book for entering transactions as two sided entries known as the debit and credit: assets, liability, owner's equity, income, and expenses. "
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"The general ledger is the central place that stores every accounting entry a company makes. The entries, called journal entries, are debits and credits. The entries are made to various accounts (payroll, inventory, or advertising). These accounts fall into categories such as assets, liabilities, revenue, etc. The sub ledgers would have accounts payable and receivable would be included on the sub-ledger."
A company often has dozens of accounts and tens of thousands of journal entries in the general ledger in a year. Every journal entry should involve a debit and an offsetting credit - this is the basis of the double-entry bookkeeping method.
6. What financial planning have you handled in the past? Financial planning has to do with the stock market. This could be for a financial analyst position or financial planning position. This means looking at someone's finances, finding out how much they can and will invest, and where they should invest it. It requires an analysis of their age, financial status, and the length of time they want to invest.
This can be used for anything from saving for retirement to someone wanting to make big market money moves with a day trader. Here is an answer example: "Last year I worked with an elderly couple to invest some of their retirement into a growth mutual fund for their granddaughter's college fund. At this point in time, it has grown by 12% in one year so with their initial investment of ten thousand dollars, that little girl should be able to be anything she wants and have extra cash to spend or invest in her future." Here is an entry level answer example: "Though I've never worked with a client on their financial future, I've taken several classes in financial planning and investing and two years ago, invested one thousand dollars into the stock market. I got a 6% return on my investment, which I reinvested. I intend to be able to retire by age 50 with smart investments." Here is an experience answer example: "I helped over one hundred happy customers at my last position. I have a portfolio of clients that want to stay with me wherever I travel to ensure they get the same kind of attention and care for their financial futures. My biggest client alone made over two million from the advice I gave him and is currently in early retirement at 42. He'll be living comfortably for the rest of his life. He's investing his extra money for his kids' college and futures after college."7. Tell me about a time you updated or revised an Accounting process. This is a question that if you have no experience cannot be fabricated or guessed. You have to be honest with your experience, otherwise you're being unethical. Ethics is an important role for any Accountant and demonstrating this in your interview is important.
If you have experience revising or updating a process or control, this is where you explain your experience, keeping in mind any NDA agreements you've signed. Once again, this points to ethics. Here is an answer example: "In my previous position, I was able to assist in updating control verbiage for various audit controls. I can't go into much detail about the direct controls because of the NDA I signed with that company, but as an example, I was able to refine one control to eliminate the possibility of pulling in extra data or white noise by detailing the exact query necessary to pull down the data. By updating the verbiage of the control to point to the exact query, we were able to focus the external auditors and remove several questions that had no bearing on the control itself." Here is an entry level answer example: "I'm fresh out of college, so I have no practical experience in updating or changing any processes, but in class for auditing we were taught how to update a control and the proper steps to take. Updating processes need to conform the GAAP standards, and if possible, IFRS, so that if the company becomes an international company it will conform to all applicable guidelines. For your company, I'd start by reviewing the processes in place and ensure they all conform to the GAAP and IFRS standards. If I find some don't, I'd make the adjustments in a controlled environment and get them approved through the appropriate in-house channels before rolling them out company wide." Here is an experience answer example: "When I was a Finance Manager and just starting with the company, I'll never forget on my first day, I'd asked the Financial Analyst for an AR and AP Aging Report. The individual looked at me and stated that they're not current and it's 30 days behind. I didn't understand and waited for the Analyst to explain the process that had been put into place. Before changing anything, I went and asked all users why the reports weren't kept current. I was told that the reports weren't updated every month-end close, and that's just the way it has been for years. This obviously didn't conform to GAAP standards, so after a few weeks of observing the process, this was changed to balance the cash on a daily basis, therefore updating AR and AP. This change was challenged by the owner of the company until I had a one-on-one meeting to explain the necessity of updating ledgers on a daily basis and the amount of money that could be lost due to incorrect data. This saved time at month end and unnecessary overtime at year end caused by inconsistencies that had previously occurred."8. What cost-cutting initiatives have you been part of? This is a very straightforward answer that can be successfully answered by anyone who has had any job in any field. Draw on personal experience of cutting costs whether it was at the fast food place where you worked during high school or cutting costs in your own budget to ensure timely bill payments.
If you have accounting experience with cutting costs, this is the perfect place to demonstrate that knowledge. Here is an answer example: "When I worked as a Business Analyst for my last company, we were outsourcing auditing expertise to a company that was constantly trying to find ways for us to spend more money. When I realized we were spending a million dollars a year on a team that did minimal work apart from running a few queries and providing advice, I started educating myself on query management. I quickly proved to my manager through parallel testing that I could do the work and we could eliminate that expense for the company. We saved the company one million dollars a year by handling control and queries in house." Here is an entry level answer example: "I've never cut costs in a specific accounting role, but during college when I worked as a team leader at the local Starbucks, I was able to cut waste costs by 25% by buying reusable cups for the employees since they were allowed three free drinks a day. By using reusable cups, waste dropped 25% that quarter." Here is an experience answer example: "I've been able to present cost-cutting suggestions many times to my previous employer. The one that I feel had the biggest impact was when I suggested additional warehouse staff. We had three various shifts and still averaged 100 hours of overtime per week. I suggested to my employer that we hire one more warehouse employee for each shift and keep hours to 120 regular vs. 100 hours of overtime pay, which was time and a half. This recommendation saved the company $31,000 per year. They implemented this change across 15 warehouses the following year, amounting to nearly half a million dollars in savings per year."9. When looking at the COGS on the P&L statement, what are some examples of variable costs? COGS is Cost of Goods Sold and the P&L is the Profit and Loss statement. It's important to know the acronyms as well as what's on the documents they indicate.
Variable costs are expenses incurred based on the production volume. Examples of common variable costs include raw materials, packaging, and labor directly involved in a company's manufacturing process. Here is an answer example: "On the variable costs located on the Profit and Loss statement, the cost of goods sold refers to the finished product. The variables included in that finished product are raw materials, packaging, and labor ." Here is an entry level answer example: "Variable costs that go into making the final product and determines the cost of goods sold would be things like direct labor, indirect labor, parts, and overhead. All these costs will be listed on the profit and loss statement." Here is an experience answer example: "The variable costs include things like direct labor, inventory or raw materials, sales and commissions as well as overhead. Basically everything that goes into making the product. This is all important to note because if you don't account for everything included in the work-in-progress inventory, then you'll be short of inventory in the long run."10. A start up company needs help understanding GAAP. How would you explain why GAAP is important? GAAP stands for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and it's the framework for accounting standards. If you're new to your accounting career, you could talk about how you studied GAAP rules in college. If you're an experienced accountant, talk about how you've applied GAAP in your work. Here is an answer example: "GAAP stands for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, which is the standardization set out by the AICPA or American institute for Certified Public Accountants. They created these regulations to ensure that if you go from company to company, the skeleton of the financial records will be the same. That way, auditors and the IRS can easily find the necessary information across multiple companies." Here is an entry level answer example: "GAAP is the standard set of regulations is used for American financial statements and processes. This is important because if every company was allowed to devise their own accounting method, the government or investors would have trouble understanding them. This would cause a lot more work for the government as well as investors, which could deter them from investing in the company. Having a standard set of rules keeps companies honest and sets out a path to follow when filling out financial documents." Here is an experienced answer example: "GAAP is important for companies because without the detailed standards, it would be chaos. Now GAAP is not the same as the IFRS, which is the International Financial Reporting Standards. These standards are actually a little more relaxed than GAAP in a lot of ways apart from inventory valuation methods. Knowing the differences between GAAP and IFRS will help if the company decides to expand internationally in the future."11. Discuss your experience in the financial analysis of your previous company's projects. You can answer this at any career level. If you're just getting out of school, then discuss a project where you did some type of financial analysis. If you have more work experience, discuss the broad scope of the analysis you did. Always be aware of your ethics and any NDA's you may have signed. Here is an answer example: "At my previous company as a financial analyst, I was responsible for analyzing our financial statements to ensure our company had good ratios and was attractive to investors. I'd run ratios daily on the various department's budgets, and once a year I'd review all our financial statements before they were released publicly to ensure we were appealing to potential investors." Here is an entry level answer example: "As a fresh college graduate, I have no real world experience with this but for my final project, I had to do a full analysis of a publicly traded company. I went online, pulled their financials, and reviewed everything using various ratios and formulas to see if this company would be worth investing in. I really enjoyed the profitability ratios and the return on investment formulas I reviewed for the project. The analysis went so well I actually invested in the company and should be seeing a return on my investment with dividends within a year. It will continue to pay out over time and I'll continue to make a profit on my investment." Here is an experience answer example: "In my current role, I build 13-week cash flow projection models in Excel. The model measures the DCF, WACC, and CAPEX of past, current, and future projects. The business was looking to implement two new additional lines and there were no reports to measure future projects. Building the cash flow projection model provided information that Senior Leaders used to make better decisions. One line was delayed and another was approved to start production, along with the purchase and investment of the equipment and machinery due to my analysis."12. How do you stay updated on all the accounting rules and techniques? This is a very good question for anyone just graduating from school, as you'll be updated on accounting principles, rules, any changes, and techniques.
Experienced professionals will need to demonstrate how they stay updated. This question seeks to learn from the interviewee if they're continuing to improve their knowledge in their field of work. Here is an answer example: "I keep up to date by subscribing to Accounting Today and Public Accounting Report, which are magazines following all accounting laws and changes, and break them down. I'm also a member of the AICPA, so they send information on accounting changes that have been implemented." Here is an entry level answer example: "I feel very fortunate to have an Accounting Degree from a University that focused on current accounting practices, changes in GAAP and SOX, industry trends, proposed legislation, and bank regulations. I'll continue to stay updated by being actively following LinkedIn Group articles and CPA newsletters, as well as applying to the AICPA as a studying CPA exam applicant." Here is an experience answer example: "I take advantage of PwC, BDO, EY, and Deloitte. They have a lot of resources, and their articles do a lot of the researching for me. KPMG's Alert is a crucial email I review every time it comes in. Locally, I'm a member of the CPAA chapter and listen to guest speakers on a quarterly basis for CPE credit. As a CPA in the state of Ohio (say your state), it's required to take 120 hours of CPE classes in 3 years to maintain a CPA license and stay current on all accounting practices and changes."13. Give an example of a time when you caught an invoice error before it was paid out. This is a question that also tests honesty because if you have never encountered this issue, you shouldn't make something up. That doesn't mean that you won't have an answer. Have you ever personally been billed for something you didn't buy? Has a waiter ever charged you for something you didn't order? It's all about checking the work before the debt is paid.
If you have experience with this, relay that story and let them know exactly how you handled the situation. Here is an answer example: "At my previous company, before paying any invoices, my manager and I double checked them before submitting them. When my manager was on leave over the holidays one year, I was allowed to approve with the instructions that if there was an error, to contact my manager's supervisor, the Director of Accounting. An invoice came in that was supposed t show a credit, but it hadn't been applied. In the notes for that vendor, there should have been a credit of four hundred dollars and change, but it wasn't applied and they were charging for the entire shipment. I immediately sent an email attaching the invoice and screenshot of the note in the vendor file and escalated it to the Director. We caught it in time and revised the vendor invoice to pay the appropriate amount, which helped our company save money during the holidays." Here is an answer example: "When I started as the Accounting Manager for my last company, it was in shambles. The previous Accounting Manager had been fired for stealing from the company and there were almost no internal controls. As the company wanted to go public, it needed to have them. I found that invoices were submitted, approved, and processed by the same person. After reviewing their work, it was obvious they weren't actually reviewing the invoices before paying them. The company had been overpaying its vendors for six months and not getting the same amount of product. I quickly instituted internal controls to separate the duties involved with invoice payment and retrained the staff on how to handle these situations. After slight push back and a small turnover, we were back on track. I also contacted the vendors and obtained credits for the over-payments they'd received from us. This saved the company from paying invoices to those five vendors for the next two months." Here is an entry level answer example: "I've never had professional experience with this but when I bought my current car from a used car dealership, I immediately got an invoice from the toll agency saying I owed then over two thousand dollars. Somehow, the previous owner had convinced them that the debt was mine to pay. I had to prove that I had just purchased the car and hadn't been driving it the previous year. It took a little bit of time and faxing several documents over to them, but we cleared up the situation and I didn't have to pay the invoice that didn't belong to me."14. Give me an example of how SOX compliance has affected your career. SOX, or the Sarbanes Oxely-Act, was enacted after the ENRON scandal in which a company lied on their financial statements and stole money from customers, the public, and their employees. Hundreds of people lost their jobs, a few committed suicide, and their highest executives were sent to prison. Due to this scandal along with a few others, the Accounting industry was turned upside down as new standards and laws were established. Auditing has become common practice for all publicly traded companies. Here is an answer example: "SOX Compliance affects everything I do as an auditor. If there's no control for an issue that arises, then the company needs to create one. I've assisted in several different types of audits from User Access Reviews, Financial Audits, and Information Security Audits. All fall under the SOX Compliance regulations that have been enacted." Here is an entry level answer example: "I haven't had any auditing experience working in a professional setting. I just graduated and I think education is an integral part to gaining the technical knowledge necessary to become an auditor. I took several Auditing classes and was able to focus my courses on the financial audit. I enjoyed finding discrepancies and chasing down leads. It's like a financial jigsaw puzzle that when correctly put together, ensures the accuracy of the company's financial statements for the public." Here is an experience answer example: "I have my Certified Information Systems Auditor designation from ISACA, so I'm certified to audit information systems. My first accounting position was as an internal auditor on the front lines of a User Access Review and Termination controls, both of which are information security concerns for any company. I enjoyed auditing so much I became an internal financial auditor for 4 years before moving to an external auditor role with PWC, one of the big four accounting firms, for 3 years, so I'd say that SOX has impacted my career at every turn."15. Do you plan on attaining your CPA? This question is pretty standard. If you haven't considered going for your CPA, you should know the requirements. Look into the state requirements where you live in or where you intend to move. Different states have different types of regulations and qualifications.
Knowing whether or not you're going to try for your CPA is an important step in the career of an Accountant. This may be a good time to counter question the interviewer as well. Here is an answer example: "I'm seriously considering it and have all the necessary college credits and coursework. The only thing I'm missing is the one year of experience working with a CPA. Is there a CPA here that I would be able to work under to get that qualification?" Here is an entry level answer example: "When I started school I always knew I'd try for my CPA when I graduated, but I was naive and didn't know how in-depth the process would be. I have all the credits, the one year experience, and have signed up to sit for the exam. Does this company provide financial assistance for taking this exam? Or allow time off to study a few days before the exam?" Here is an experience answer example: "I've worked in Accounting for 15 years and have studied on and off for the exam but to date, my career has not warranted the necessity of that certification. I am, however, open to taking the exam. I have all the requirements and qualifications for it though I'm curious if it is a necessary part of this job? If so, I'd happily sit for the exam."16. What is your knowledge and experience using QuickBooks? The interviewer is asking how many years of QuickBooks experience you have. If you have none, then be honest. Perhaps you've used other accounting systems similar to QuickBooks. If you have no Quickbooks experience but have used other platforms like Waze or Sage, discuss how beneficial those platforms have been in your experience.
There are hundreds of Quickbooks tutorials on Youtube, and you can even download a beta version from the Quickbooks website and run through scenarios. Quickbooks is a widely-used product, so it's best to learn it to some capacity.
You'll note on the experienced response I've included a question to the interviewer. The greater your experience, the bigger the company you'll likely interview with, and sometimes during an interview you should challenge the company on their growth. Here is an answer example: "I have ten years of experience in the field of accounting which has allowed me to work with a variety of software programs. I've used QuickBooks for business for four years. I like QuickBooks because of its simple user interface, speed, and accuracy. My overall proficiency lies in QuickBooks and NetSuite. I've used both programs to create balance sheets and financial statements. Additionally, I believe my computer literacy will allow me to learn any new accounting software very quickly." Here is an entry level answer example: "I recently graduated from college, and in class, we would use QuickBooks Pro for simulations and school projects. This experience allowed me to become familiar with creating a payment, generating an invoice, and creating a chart of accounts. I have also created financial statements in Excel. I also have limited exposure to Sage accounting, and from what I've seen Sage and QuickBooks are very similar in their ability to update a general ledger and track expenses on the go. I'm sure that I can apply my Sage experience to Quickbooks." Here is an experienced answer example: "I have over five years experience working with Quickbooks on a professional level with a small company. Quickbooks is perfect for small to even some medium size companies, but as the company grows, I'd suggest something closer to Blackline or Peoplesoft Financials. If using Quickbooks long term, it's great for companies that move around a lot with their app and ability to upload receipts immediately. It's easy to go in and put together Chart of Accounts, invoice clients, and update Journal Entries. Does this company have a growth mindset to have the capabilities of moving to a higher functioning accounting platform?"17. Give me examples of the accounting reports you've prepared. The interviewer would like you to demonstrate your experience in maintaining accounting principles, practices, and procedures. As an accountant, it's critical that you ensure accurate and timely financial statements and reporting. Discuss the ability to meet tight deadlines and undertake a multitude of accounting activities.
Many entry level individuals will not have experience in preparing accounting reports. If you're new to your career, don't worry about this. Discuss what you learned in school instead. Discuss a project you enjoyed, such as creating the chart of accounts or a hypothetical month end project you may have worked on. Here is an answer example: "As a Controller, I run many accounting reports throughout the month to monitor financial performance and to ensure prompt completion of day-to-day accounting functions. In addition to month-end financial statements and monthly summary reports, other reports include a daily activity report the summarizes total labor dollars for the day, how labor was used operationally for that day, total daily sales, and total goods shipped." Here is an entry level answer example: "In my first year as an accountant, my job duties have included reviewing the daily cash report to ensure daily balancing of the cash book against the Open A/R report, and that cash received from customers is applied to paid invoices. I'm also responsible for managing the Goods Received Invoice Received report, or GRIR, on the purchasing and payable side. This report verifies that purchased items have been received and will be reflected as an expense on the income statement and not stay on the balance sheet in the liability GRIR account." Here is an experienced answer example: "As the Controller, I was responsible for overseeing month and year-end duties for my previous company. I was responsible for handling the IRS tax filings for the company and ensuring all Financial Reports submitted to investors and the public were accurate before they were published for public knowledge."18. Give me an example of why you chose this career field. This answer is a personal one. We can only advise you to be honest about why you decided to join the field of Accounting. Don't embellish or exaggerate because most people can tell when someone is lying or exaggerating. Try to keep it simple and if possible, not a long-winded story about your life.
This is time for the interviewer to get to know you a little better and a good place to set boundaries if you have them. Here is an answer example: "I've always loved Math and when in school, I excelled in it. I've also been highly organized for the majority of my life. When I was in high school, I was the class treasurer and was the first class in ten years where the teachers didn't have to correct my calculations for school dance budgets or graduation party budget. It shaped the way I looked at college and have lived my life." Here is an entry level answer example: "There were a lot of influences in my life that led to Accounting. Both my parents were Accountants for the IRS and I decided to follow in their footsteps. I've never regretted it and with their help, I plan on obtaining my CPA within the year." Here is an experience answer example: "I've always loved numbers and formulas. In school, I tutored kids in higher grades than me in Calculus and Trigonometry in exchange for rides and invites to parties. As I got older, I was able to turn that into a budgeting business in college to help broke college kids make ends meet while we all were broke in school. I built my career on my ability to manage finances and time like no one else, which is why I have a strict policy that when I'm home, that's my kids time. Just like we invest in the stock market, we need to invest in our families, which is why I like to know I can be off the clock at least a little every day to spend time with my family."19. What courses were your favorite in college while preparing to be an accountant? Be honest. If you didn't have a favorite then pick the class you did the best in. If college was 15 years ago, then talk about some of your most important learning experiences with the updated laws and regulations that have been enacted.
You don't want to sound like your bragging, but you do want to brag a little. This is a good time to casually mention the grade you got in that class or the way you were able to implement what you learned into your work. Here is an answer example: "My favorite class was the auditing course and lab. It was like a big jigsaw puzzle finding all the pieces and putting them in a specific order to ensure everything is accurate. The formulas you get to use will show you if their accountants did the math correctly, which is always fun. I really enjoy math and finding things other people missed. That's why I believe I'll be a great auditor!" Here is an answer example: "Though it has been 15 years since I was in school, I do take CPE courses to maintain my CPA credential. I recently took one for the changes in the tax laws that are being implemented and it was really interesting. I was able to go back to my office and prep for these changes by changing the tax allocations to which our company was contributing to prevent owing more than we should. By implementing the changes when I did, it saved the company five thousand dollars in taxes owed." Here is an entry level answer example: "I've always enjoyed working with numbers and handling the monotony of repetitive action, which is why I chose Accounting. Financial Analysis was my favorite course not only because you get to use all the formulas we learned in school, but because you get to discover things about the company that you wouldn't ordinarily be able to see. You get to spot where they're investing their money and see if it's working for them in the long run. It's like a financial background check for the company."20. Give me an example of a challenging tax situation that you have encountered. This question can be posed to anyone of any experience level. This is assuming at some point you have had a job and had to do your own taxes. Discussing personal taxes can be tricky because you don't want to show that you're avoiding tax because of your knowledge, but you want to demonstrate your knowledge.
If you have corporate tax experience, rely on that to explain your knowledge. Here is an answer example: "When I worked for my previous employer as a Tax Analyst, I was required to review client invoice data to ensure we were paying the proper taxes on that client company for the state in which they were located. One company I worked with had several offices in several different state so each office was taxed for the state in which is was located. This took some time to figure out, and I had to call a few local tax offices in those states to ensure I got the most recent tax rate because as we all know, the internet doesn't always indicate when the tax rate has changed." Here is an entry level answer example: "I don't have any corporate experience as of yet but when I was in high school and college, I helped my father with his taxes. As a truck driver paid by the mile, you have to calculate mileage for each trip, factor in construction detours, and map the exact route he takes to ensure that his pay is accurate and his taxes are accurately paid. This is a lot more complicated than your average 1040 EZ as not only do you have to itemize, but you have to provide documentation to the IRS before they'll approve the refund. That's when I realized how good I am at following the breadcrumbs of taxes." Here is an experience answer example: "As the Senior Tax Manager at my last company, I was responsible for the final sign off of the yearly taxes for the entire company. I had to ensure all necessary documentation was included and that the funds to pay the taxes had been correctly allocated by the Accounting department. Under my tenure as the Tax Manager, we never received inquiries for an IRS audit and consistently passed the internal and external audits we performed. A challenging situation would be when I took over as Senior Tax Manager, as my predecessor had no formal tax experience. They weren't allocating their charitable contributions and the firm they were using to handle the taxes weren't asking the necessary questions to get the company any real tax breaks. I was able to utilize the disabled employee benefits that grant tax breaks for hiring disabled employees, as well as accumulate tax breaks for hiring reformed criminals as the company was a second chance company. I decreased the tax liability for that company from paying nearly a hundred thousand dollars to paying ten thousand dollars and some change."21. How do you ensure that you don't forget details and ensure accuracy when you prepare monthly journal entries a, record transactions, etc.? This is an attention to detail question that demonstrates the person's organizational system. If you're disorganized, I suggest you find a system that works for you. As an Accountant, you can't be disorganized because no will hire someone who can't organize their lives, let alone their work schedules.
If you're fresh out of college, this is a great time to visit Pinterest or Google and research how to stay organized. Here is an answer example: "I live and die by my planner. I carry it everywhere with me and it has everything that I need to do both short and long term. I'm organized and the type of person who's always fifteen minutes early, otherwise I feel like I'm an hour late. It makes my skin crawl to be late for an appointment or forget an important detail." Here is an entry level answer example: "I've always been really organized with my school projects. I pride myself on getting things done early so I don't have to stress the way I saw so many of my friends did when they procrastinated. It also gives me the opportunity to review the data and make sure I don't miss anything regarding the project I'm working on." Here is an experienced answer example: "I've learned over the years that setting reminders and having a step process for every function or project is important. It's easy to miss a step when projects become very detailed and involve functions and tables along the way. If you miss one step, you have to start over, so having a step process typed up and double checking it as you go through the process helps a lot."22. Describe one of the biggest mistake you've made on the job. If you don't have a professional example to share, a relevant experience from college might work. Regardless of which example you pick, don't exaggerate or over-dramatize. Your interviewer will notice and might decide that you're being less than honest.
Also, if you've committed any major mistakes, I wouldn't advertise them. I'd pick a significant mistake that had a relatively simple solution. Choose an example quickly so it doesn't look like you're trying to pick a less serious mistake, which might leave a bad impression. Here is an answer example: "When I was still learning my position at a company, I was told to run an Audit on the user access of one system. I didn't know they had a standard operating procedure for how this was done and I made the mistake of thinking I could reinvent the wheel. I was cocky. So I created a template and emailed it. Later, I was told they had an internal system they used for only this purpose and what took me eight hours should have taken only thirty minutes. I learned from that point always to ask before trying to reinvent something." Here is an entry level answer example: "During my very first job, I was hired only to handle payroll and had two weeks of training before the person left the company. I had no backup and no one to ask for help. The week I was processing payroll, the Accounting Manager, who was my boss, noticed I wasn't comfortable with my work but never once offered to help me, even though I asked everyone for help. It was extremely frustrating and I thought about leaving, but didn't want to quit something that I hadn't finished. While I finally managed to complete payroll, I couldn't transmit direct deposit and all 600 employees received manual checks. They had to be printed because I didn't complete payroll until late Thursday evening, and the direct deposit information had to be sent to the bank by Wednesday at noon. I didn't make the cut off time, but I successfully completed payroll. There were mistakes on the paychecks, but the employees were very patient with me. At the end of the week, my Accounting Manager called me in and said I did a nice job. She informed me that she didn't offer to help me because she wanted to see how I handled the situation and the pressure. She congratulated me and told me to keep up the good work." Here is an experience answer example: "My biggest mistake could have ended my career. I was working as a Plant Controller in a new accounting system that I'd inherited, and the valuation of the inventory was mis-stated and miscalculated on the balance sheet. The inventory should have a valuation with a unit of measure of 1000 per pound, but it was valued at 100 per pound. It took me two months to discover this process, and it cost the plant $230,000, which was a hit to the bottom line and off the net income of the plant. The Plant Manager said it wasn't my fault since I was new and trying to learn the system. It was my first job as a plant controller, and the manager felt the planner who placed the order for the roll stock and viewed the internal and external price transfers, should have caught the error. I was looking at a daily report of all the roll stock and value and didn't catch it. After the error, the Plant Manager and I came up with a checks and balance system between the Planner and Accounting Department to review a daily specialized report to ensure this didn't happen again. "23. Describe a time when you had to use numerical data or a graph to convince a manager. Discuss how data, a chart, or a graph helped you make your case, and how the outcome worked in the organization's favor. If you don't have any working experience, then describe an class assignment.
It's important to create visuals because sometimes simply showing numbers on a screen doesn't work for some people. Having a visual is a helpful way to get you point across. Here is an answer example: "I've used Visio to create flow charts to show the step process of how audit projects are completed. I've also used graphs and pie charts to show where finances are going for departments to better help them maintain their budgets. This helps managers visualize what the issue is and correct it." Here is an entry level answer example: "I've never used them professionally, but in school I had a course that focused only on creating graphs and charts for projections. In statistics class, we had to constantly create graphs to outline what we were talking about. I really enjoyed it." Here is an experience answer example: "I regularly had to maintain a heat map indicating the areas of focus for the month for the Accounting department. This basically meant tracking errors made so we could focus training on issues that were common among the team. This helped improve the department's efficiency by 74% over the course of a year. I'm also well-versed in Visio and NVision to create flow charts and graphs for review."24. Describe to be a time when you faced an ethical dilemma regarding your work. This is one of the most important answers you'll ever give to an employer. Being trustworthy with someone's money is what makes or breaks an Accountant's career. That's why most states now have an Ethics test you must pass in to obtain a CPA. You always have to be discreet and ethical. That means if your company is doing something illegal you must stop it or at least try to.
If you have a coworker or someone doing something illegal or that could hurt the company, you're ethically obligated to do something about it. Nowadays, people think of it as ratting or being a whistleblower, but imagine if it was your money they were stealing. Wouldn't you want someone to tell you? Corporations are not faceless. They employ millions of people who are affected by theft and embezzlement. All major accounting scandals have cost thousands of people their jobs, life savings, and livelihoods, so it's not okay to ignore an issue simply because it doesn't directly impact you. Here is an answer example: "When I worked for a previous company I made friends with my manager who was the Accounting manager. We would go out for a beer after work and he would share his life with me. One day he told me that he had been upping his pay since he approved the pay raises and knew his boss never looked at the final approvals before approving because he trusted him. I knew this was wrong and I thought about it for a long time before I said something to him about it. He told me it was none of my business and we stopped hanging out. I did not want to get him fired but my loyalty was to the company not to him so I wrote a letter to HR who investigated. Eventually he was let go and he blamed me but he was stealing from the company." Here is an entry level answer example: "I've never run into this professionally, but when I was a kid, I had a teacher who didn't get along with my friend's mom. She'd pick on my friend during class, call her stupid, and wouldn't let her volunteer to read. The teacher was a bully and it hurt my friend badly. When her mom tried to involve the school, they didn't do anything so I went to the school board and talked to them about it. I told them how the teacher's behavior wasn't only affecting my friend, but how other students treated my friend. I told them it was unethical for someone in a position of power to bully and torment a child, and that teacher was sent for training. We didn't see her for the rest of the year, and when she came back the following year, she was much more respectful of her students and aware of how her actions reflected in her other students." Here is an experience answer example: "I worked for a Tech company for about ten years and loved it. One day a stranger approached me asking questions about the company's financials. I knew there was a major sale going on with our company and didn't want to give reveal anything that could short the stock or hurt the company, so I told them our financials were posted for public view. After about a week, he came back and offered me a couple of thousand dollars to provide the current financials. I went to my boss about this and they asked me to set up a meeting with this man. When he showed up at the meeting and saw my boss and the CFO of our company, he was shocked. Turns out it was a competitor that wanted to outbid us for the subsidiary we were buying."25. Give an example of when you have seen or corrected the Trail Balance from being out of balance? After posting all transactions from an accounting period, the trial balance is checked to verify that the total of all accounts with debit balances equals the total of all accounts with credit balances. The trial balance lists every open general ledger account by account number and provides separate debit and credit columns for entering account balances. An accurate Trial Balance means that debits and credits are in balance.
If you have experience with out of balance books, this is a good time to demonstrate that knowledge. Be honest about the process you used to correct it, and ensure that you don't reveal any sensitive information. Generally, when you're talking about the financials of a previous company, you don' need to provide the company's name. Remember, everyone is a potential investor of your previous company, so you don't want to information leaked and the company stock falling because of a comment you made in the interview. Here is an answer example: "When I was working for my previous company, I found that the trial balance was not balanced. One of the data entry financial analysts input a debit instead of a credit, and it completely threw off the books. We searched the journal entries and found the error and made a correction that balanced the books." Here is an entry level answer example: "As I'm fresh out of school, I haven't run into this issue yet but when I was in school, I did have to create journal entries. Before I mastered that skill, I put together an inaccurate trial balance and had to investigate where I made the mistake. It helped me learn and master not only journal entries but the trial balance process itself." Here is an experience answer example: "I'v have run into this various times. Generally when you hire new graduates to input the data for journal entries you will have at least one of them put a journal entry in wrong. I have found this is a perfect teaching moment for them to learn what not to do in the future. I comb through the journal entries and find the error and find the log in that input it and we have a training session. This is not to shame them or make them feel bad its to educate them. We sit down and go over the process I went through to find the error and I let them fix it and then have them run the trail balance to ensure it ties out. Its a great learning experience for all and gives them a confidence boost when they learn the entire process start to finish."26. What ERP systems and accounting softwares have you used? Simply list the ERP systems and any financial tools you' have used. A list of common Financial ERP systems are: QuickBooks, Quicken, Peachtree, SAP, Infor, Visual, Xero, Microsoft Dynamics, Sage, Oracle JD Edwards, Epicor, Yardi, etc. Don't forget to mention your Excel skills, Google Spreadsheets, and being familiar with CSV files and uploading into different systems.
If you have no experience with any of these platforms than the suggestion would be to download free versions online and practice on a few by creating journal entries and chart of accounts. Then you can answer this question in the hypothetical rather than having no experience. Here is an answer example: "I have worked with Quickbooks and XERO and my excel skills are advanced to say I can run macros and formulas. If you use a different platform I am a quick study and learn on my feet so I can master any platform with a little bit of training." Here is an entry level answer example: "I just graduated, so professionally I haven't worked with any of those platforms, but in college I had an entire Quickbooks class. We used Quickbooks and Waze accounting software as well as a dummy program of XERO. I like Quickbooks the best because of its ease of access." Here is an experience answer example: "I' have worked with several over the years to include Quickbooks, XERO, Blackline and Peoplesoft financials. I liked Peoplesoft the best because it can be integrated into the HR process to track when people get promoted or terminated easier. It is able to work parallel with various other platforms as well. What program does your company utilize?"27. Give an example of an exciting project you worked on in Accounting. This is a subjective question. It can be for any level of experience and can have a wide variety of answers. Always remember to be honest and respect any NDA's you've signed. The Accounting world is a confidential, which must be respected. Any interviewer that would pressure you to reveal confidential information should examine their own ethics. You have no loyalty to an interviewer but you do to your former employer who trusted you with that information.
Projects to discuss can be from school or from a project you previously worked on. It's easy to review the broad scope of a project without revealing anything that could violate an NDA. Here is an answer example: "At one of my previous positions, I worked on an audit project for a company that had grown too fast to quickly. They had various outdated controls that were duplicated throughout the process. I was put on a team to comb through the controls and decide which ones could be decommissioned or ruled out of scope for the audit. It was like being an investigator because I got to see all the inner workings but didn't have to actually handle the audit." Here is an entry level answer example: "I had this project in my Tax class that allowed me to make up tax records and fill out all the required tax forms for personal, sole proprietorship, partnerships, as well as major corporate filings. I learned so much about the many facets of tax and how to get tax breaks that I never would have considered. It has helped me in my side business of helping others with their taxes as well as hopefully to one day become a corporate tax accountant." Here is an experience answer example: "After 15 years, I've had a lot of projects that I really enjoyed but my favorite was when I was about five years into my career. I was working for a start up company and they'd never had an accountant before. In the interview, I challenged the owner about their growth strategy and when hired, I consistently asked about their growth potential. After about three months, the owner wanted me to put together a budget forecast of how they could financially afford to grow consistently and to maintain it as a guide for future expansion. Within two years, they opened two new branches and within five year, expanded to other states. It always makes me proud to see how far they came by using my forecasting model."28. What responsibilities do you have during month-end? Explain your month-end experience and elaborate on all responsibilities, especially if there's a complex journal entry. The point of this question is to ensure that your responsibility is more than typing in debit and credit into the system and that you have additional responsibilities and understand the GL impact.
Some companies don't have month-end close, or it's quarterly, or they only have end year prepared by a CPA firm. If this is the case, explain your role in preparing and maintaining many accounts and reconciliations.
If you're recently out of school and new in the field, use an example from a class or project. Here is an answer example: "I've been responsible for opening and closing the ledgers for input by multiple departments. I'd get approval from the executive director of finance to open ledgers after the month had ended and closed them after inputting edits." Here is an entry level answer example: "I'm new to the accounting world but we had a project in my advanced accounting class where we had to run month end from start to finish. This included updating journal entries and opening and closing ledgers multiple times for a real world view of how month end is run." Here is an experience answer example: "As a Senior Accountant, I've spent the past two years as a General Ledger Accountant, where I'm responsible for a posting 50% of all monthly journal entries for a specific profit center. One of the more difficult Journal Entries is the payroll entry. This includes the actual and accrued payroll entry. Since the payroll system isn't linked to the company's current ERP system, it's done and generated in a separate system. Each entry is about 54 line items and it can't be downloaded and then uploaded into the General Ledger due to system limitations, so it's all manually entered. It's very time consuming and most importantly, it's necessary to ensure the accrued payroll entry is correct based on the number of payroll working days left in the month. If this entry is off, then the following month's entry will be inaccurate."29. How do you calculate DSO (Days Outstanding)? For this question, the interviewer is looking for the interviewee to be familiar with DSO or Days Outstanding. If you don't know what the acronym stands, for then don't be afraid to ask the interviewee.
DSO or Days Outstanding and is a measure of the average number of days it takes a company to collect payment after a sale has been made. This is a very important metric in Accounts Receivable.
DSO = Total Accounts Receivable/Total Sales x Number of Days. Here is an answer example: "To calculate days outstanding, take account receivable and divide by total sales, then multiply it by number of days. You can do this by individual account or by total accounts in outstanding." Here is an entry level answer example: "DSO is often determined on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, and can be calculated by dividing the amount of accounts receivable during a given period by the total value of credit sales during the same period, and multiplying the result by the number of days in the period measured. This is a metric allowing companies to gauge how fast cash flow will be coming in." Here is an experience answer example: "Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) is a widely used method to help evaluate how effective a company is at collecting receivables. DSO has always been an emphasis for all companies I've worked with and is calculated by dividing total accounts receivable by total sales and multiplying by number of days.
There is much to know about measuring and interpreting DSO:
1. A low DSO indicates the company is collecting receivables quickly and is generally a positive sign.
2. A high DSO proves that a company takes longer to collect on credit sales and can indicate current or impending cash flow problems, operational issues, or a lack of effort or focus on credit collections. A healthy DSO is one that is half the payment terms. For example, if payment terms are net 30 and the DSO is 45 day, then this considered good."30. Give me an example of your least favorite Accounting ftask. This is a variation of the old "what are your weaknesses" question. The problem is that it asks for an example, so turning this into a positive "I'm too detail oriented" type of thing won't work. You have to be honest. You can't say that your ethics get in the way without them asking what would challenge them. Being honest with your interviewer is the best policy. I'd advise not saying that your least favorite task is what you're applying for. Saying you hate Auditing but you're applying for an auditing role would be a mistake.
Try to pick something that has nothing to do with what you're applying for. Here is an answer example: "what are your weaknesses" Here is an entry level answer example: "I wouldn't say I dislike any portion, but in school I did struggle with the simulation for month end close. It's something I know I could do well if I get training and have someone to answer my questions, but I didn't have a long session with it so I'm uncomfortable to say the least." Here is an experience answer example: "I really don't like the stock market. I wouldn't be a financial adviser for all the money in the world. I wouldn't want to be responsible for people losing their life savings because I picked the wrong stock or bond. It's too much pressure and like gambling, which just isn't worth it for me."
Writers for Accounting Answers and Questions
Ryan Brown, is the creator of MockQuestions. He has over ten years experience creating interview questions. His website has helped over 10 million job seekers in their interview preparation.
Bobbi Witt, has been a finance manager for over 15 years, with direct recruiting and hiring experience in her field. Additionally, she helps young graduates prepare for their job searches by reviewing resumes, doing mock interviews, and providing guidance.
Samantha H. has almost three years of experience in recruiting and loves to help people obtain their dream jobs. With a mix of recruiting and accounting knowledge, we hope she can help you land your dream job.
First written on: 06/23/2018 Last modified on: 01/22/2019
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