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Controller Interview
Questions

25 Questions and Answers by
| Brian Schuchart is a CPA with fourteen years of experience, including nine years in financial strategy roles. He has held the roles of auditor, staff accountant, manager of financial planning and analysis and senior finance partner.

Question 1 of 25

Do you have any experience interacting with external auditors?

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Controller Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    Do you have any experience interacting with external auditors?

      This is an opportunity to speak about your interaction with your previous employer's external auditing firm. A very key duty of any Controller is working with the auditors to ensure a smooth audit. Responsibilities include preparing working papers, completing checklists, completing balance sheet reconciliations, and attending audit planning meetings.

      Brian's Answer

      "Yes, I have ample experience interacting with auditors. My employer engaged Deloitte to perform our annual audit, and I would work with them throughout the year. It was my responsibility to prepare all of the footnotes to the financial statements in accordance with the latest GAAP principles. I was also responsible for documenting variance explanations. Additionally, I documented our internal controls for the auditors."

  2. 2.

    What is your approach to budgeting, forecasting and other forward-looking projections?

      In addition to reporting on actual results, a controller will often also be responsible for budgeting, forecasting and other projections. Forward looking projections are part art and part science, so this question is being asked to learn about your thought process when there is some gray area.

      Brian's Answer

      "As accounting manager, I was responsible for the annual budget for our division, as well as reforecasting results throughout the year. Senior leadership, including the CEO, CFO and Controller, should drive the budget process, landing on acceptable revenue and profit growth rates in line with long term goals and investor expectations. Then, the Finance team builds a detailed budget that meets those growth targets. From a granular perspective, my approach is to always use last year as a benchmark. If a line on the P&L is projected to be different, I need to make sure I have a good reason why."

  3. 3.

    How have you interacted with the tax department in your previous roles?

      A key job duty of a Controller is to understand taxation and be able to effectively work with the tax department. Most tax departments report to the CFO and are responsible for the filing of tax returns, payment of taxes and the accounting entries related to income tax expense, taxes payable and deferred income tax.

      Brian's Answer

      "The relationship between a controller and the tax department is vital. In past roles I was responsible for liaising with the tax group to understand changes in income tax expense and tax liability. I understand that a controller must understand the tax implications of various decisions and must stay up to date with the latest tax guidelines. I look forward to expanding my taxation knowledge even further as my career evolves."

  4. 4.

    What skills or qualities do you believe a good leader should possess?

      The interviewer is looking to gain some insight on what you look for in a leader as well as what your leadership style might be. Highlight that a good leader should have the ability to coach their employees, balance motivating and placing trust in their team, and be able to anticipate and react to changes. Think about what you value in leadership, whether from prior managers or from your own experience leading.

      Brian's Answer

      "I believe a good leader should be able to help both their company and their people grow. To help their company grow, I believe that a leader should be analytical and flexible so they can anticipate and react to changing situations. To help their employees grow, I think that a leader should be able to educate, motivate, and trust their employees."

  5. 5.

    Which financial statement do you feel is the most important and why?

      Rather than give one answer, speak to the value of all three: the income statement, the balance sheet and the statement of cash flows. Each statement is vital in evaluating the financial health of an organization.

      Brian's Answer

      "I can't choose just one because each statement has immense value. First, you need the income statement to assess the profitability of the organization and to compare performance to benchmarks such as last year and budget. The balance sheet is important as it is a snapshot of the organization's financial position. It can be used to calculate important ratios that assess the health of the organization's finances. And finally, cash is king, so the statement of cash flows is extremely important when evaluating liquidity."

  6. 6.

    Do you have experience handling massive amounts of data? Give an example of how you used data to solve a problem?

      Due to the advancement of technology, accountants have the ability to take massive amounts of data and analyze it . Give a specific example of a time when you used data to answer a question or solve a problem.

      Brian's Answer

      "Yes, we used Big Data frequently at my current employer, ABC Retailers. One way we were able to use Big Data to our advantage was for estimating Sales Returns. Rather than use a high level percentage of sales, we were able to drill down to each product sold and assign a historical return rate. This allowed for a more precise estimate in the month of sale, and required fewer adjustments in subsequent periods."

  7. 7.

    What attracted you to the Controller role here at our corporation?

      This is a good opportunity to emphasize why your skills and experience align nicely with the responsibilities of the Controller role. Also highlight why the organization itself was attractive. When preparing your response to this question, review the job description, company website, and your own resume. Use the information you find to reflect on why you are so interested in this position and company, and outline a few to have ready for the interview.

      Brian's Answer

      "Throughout my career, I have steadily taken on more and more responsibility in the financial accounting function, including leading a team in recent years. I believe serving in a Controller role is the next logical step in my career. I have a passion for accounting and for leadership. Additionally, joining a company with a reputation for excellence such as XYZ Corporation is very appealing to me. The organization's mission aligns nicely with my personal outlook."

  8. 8.

    What is your experience with presenting to senior executives?

      The interviewer is likely asking this question because it will be expected of you in the role. You might find details pertaining to this in the job description, so always look back over it prior to your interview. Highlight that you have experience presenting in front of leadership and also that you are comfortable doing it. Be specific with what you presented. For example, monthly results, pitches for new initiatives, and so on.

      Brian's Answer

      "I have ample experience getting in front of leadership and presenting. In my previous role as Account Manager, I would present to the CEO, CFO and other senior leaders during our monthly finance review meetings. I always felt the need to prepare in advance for any questions that might arise, and would often circle back promptly on follow-ups that developed during those meetings."

  9. 9.

    What ERP systems have you used?

      ERP systems are robust software systems that combine accounting with other functionality such as inventory management, payroll, etc. Popular systems include SAP, Hyperion, and Oracle. Being able to effectively use these systems are a must for a Controller and their team.

      Brian's Answer

      "At my last company, we used SAP. Specifically, I utilized SAP to load journal entries, generate financial reports, and run custom queries to feed robust analysis reports. I have also used Hyperion and Oracle in previous roles, so I welcome the challenge of learning a new software and getting it to work for my needs."

  10. 10.

    How do you manage your manager? In other words, what steps do you take to make sure you get what you need from your boss and make both your lives easier?

      Also known as 'managing up', 'managing your manager' is a soft skill that can be developed over time. It essentially means doing whatever is necessary to make your manager's job easier. Some clear-cut benefits of managing up include increased productivity and better working relationships between boss and employee.

      Brian's Answer

      "I am a firm believer in the benefits of managing my manager. At the end of the day, I want to make his(her) life as smooth as possible. One area where I really focus on is communicating and prioritizing workload on a regular basis. This ensures that I'm always working on the highest-priority items. Another thing that is crucial is understanding my manager's style. For example, do they like regular check-ins by email throughout the day, scheduled catch-up meetings, etc. Then I tailor my communication to their style."

  11. 11.

    Have you ever had to explain complex accounting concepts to non-finance leaders? How did you go about that task?

      This is a question to gain insight into your communication skills. Controllers and other financial leaders will often need to present to other leaders who may not have strong financial backgrounds. Give a specific example of a time when you were able to communicate with other non-finance functions.

      Brian's Answer

      "When I was Accounting Manager at ABC Retailers, we noticed that bad debt expense was higher than normal. After analyzing the situation, we determined that our sales teams would need to change their product selection in order to return bad debt expense to an acceptable level. In order to do this effectively, I first needed to explain what we were seeing on the accounting side and the impact to the financial statements. I created a deck that laid out some concepts like accrual accounting and the components of how bad debt expense was measured. These were concepts I knew the audience would not be familiar with. Then, I gave examples of what steps could be taken from the sales side and the impact it would have financially."

  12. 12.

    How would your management style change in an increasingly remote environment?

      This is a question to gauge how your management style has changed in recent months with many people working remotely. Even after things return to normal, remote work may continue to be more common across many industries.

      Brian's Answer

      "I have found that working remotely has required more flexibility from a manager perspective. Due to family and other personal demands, some employees may not be able to work a traditional 9-5 schedule. Given that fact, it's key that expectations are clear regarding when deliverables are due. Then it is up to the manager to trust that the team member will do what is necessary to meet those deadlines. I have also found that scheduled check-ins at mutually convenient times are helpful, as we can no longer 'drop by' our team members' desks for a quick chat."

  13. 13.

    In your opinion, why is it important for organizations to have effective internal controls?

      Internal controls are rules, regulations and safeguards that an organization puts in place to ensure integrity of financial information and to prevent fraud. There are several benefits to having robust and effective internal controls, including preventing fraud/theft, improving accuracy of financial reporting, and complying with laws and regulations.

      Brian's Answer

      "Internal controls are vital for organizations of all sizes. First and foremost, internal controls are necessary to be in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. Additionally, strong internal controls are necessary to prevent fraud and theft by employees. Finally, strong and effective internal controls result in improved timeliness and accuracy of financial reporting, which makes for smoother audits."

  14. 14.

    Identify a time when you made a mistake and the actions you took to correct it.

      Everyone makes mistakes, so don't be tempted to say you don't! This is a good opportunity to show that you don't let a bad situation become worse. It an opportunity to speak to your honor and integrity.

      Brian's Answer

      "One time in my accounting manager role I noticed I had made an error in a calculation that impacted the monthly financial statements. The draft financials had already been distributed to the leadership team. I was embarrassed, but I knew the situation would be made worse if I waited or failed to say anything. I told the Controller what had happened, and we agreed that it was best if I made the correction and then redistribute the package. It ended up not being a huge deal, but it drove me to review my work even more thoroughly before distributing to others."

  15. 15.

    What are some methods you use to motivate your team?

      The job of an accounting professional can be stressful. As a leader, you will be expected to not only manage your employees but also help motivate them to complete difficult assignments and 'stay sane' during the more hectic times.

      Brian's Answer

      "First and foremost, I motivate my team by setting a good example. I show enthusiasm for new projects, find the best in all our partners in the organization, and try to keep things light. Second, I understand that not all team members are motivated by the same incentives. Some enjoy praise for their work, while others like to be rewarded with more responsibility. Getting to know my team members and what motivates them is key for any good leader. Third, I like to 'let loose' with my team during slower times. In the past, we have gone bowling, gone to a baseball game and had holiday parties."

  16. 16.

    How do you mitigate and manage stress?

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  17. 17.

    Have you ever been involved in accounting software implementations?

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  18. 18.

    How do you keep up with the latest developments in accounting principles?

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  19. 19.

    What are the steps to the monthly financial accounting close?

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  20. 20.

    Describe how previous experience has prepared you for the Controller role.

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  21. 21.

    What skills or qualities do you believe a good accountant should possess?

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  22. 22.

    What experience do you have with developing business metrics?

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  23. 23.

    What is the role of a Controller as you understand it?

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  24. 24.

    Where do you see yourself in five years?

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  25. 25.

    Give an example of a time when you implemented a policy or procedure that improved a process.

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