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The #1 thing to look for when hiring a bookkeeper


There could be a lot of reasons you need to hire a bookkeeper or an accountant. Maybe your last one quit or your staff is overloaded. Maybe you were ripped off or are afraid you’re going to get ripped off because the person who writes your checks is the same person who reconciles your bank account. Maybe you were doing your own books but no longer have the time.

Whatever the reason, the simple fact is you’re not getting the financial information and business intelligence you need to make accurate, timely decisions.

If you get the right person and processes in place, you get the right information. Even if you’ve decided outsourcing your bookkeeping is better than taking on the hiring risk, you need to find the right service to help you.

So what’s the first thing you should look for?

It’s not just skills

Of course, you need someone with basic skills. Your next bookkeeper or accountant should know how to:

  • Add vendors and customers to your books
  • Be proficient in QuickBooks®
  • Know how to pay payroll taxes online
  • Reconcile bank statements and credit card statements
  • Analyze your books for errors
  • Manage accounts payable and receivable

There are a lot of people out there with those basic skills.

So how do you decide which one of those people is your perfect person? What’s the #1 thing to look for?

It’s behavior

Skills, you can teach. What you can’t teach is behavior.

Even the most skilled bookkeeper in the world is useless if he can’t communicate his findings to you and to other members of your team. The most experienced accountant in the world can’t help you if she’s unable to spot financial trends and suggest changes to boost your numbers.

Behaviors to look for

You should focus on any behaviors that are important to you and your company but here are three suggestions: good communication, innovation and problem solving.

Here’s why.

1. Good Communication – The biggest challenge in accounting is getting the information from the person who approved a transaction to the person in the back office who has to properly record it.

A good bookkeeper or accountant is not only a good number cruncher, but also a part-time detective. Where’s this bill? Why wasn’t this expense signed off by the department manager and should it be applied to a billable job? If you have a number cruncher who’s uncomfortable with reaching out to the rest of your team to track down questions, you have a number cruncher who may overlook an entry that should be flagged and questioned.

2. Innovation – You may think bookkeeping and accounting is the last place you’d want innovation, but the Cloud is completely changing the accounting industry. With all the data now readily available on the Internet instead of on in-house servers, you can automatically download just about any transaction into QuickBooks®, and automate complex and time-consuming job costing processes from electronic time sheets.

As those technological changes ramp up, you’re going to want someone who embraces change and has a continual learning mindset to implement best practices with your books. You want a bookkeeper who’s innovative so that your valuable payroll dollars are spent on the account analysis you need to get accurate and timely financial intelligence.

3. Problem Solving – Even more than a number cruncher, bookkeepers and accountants are problem solvers. Why didn’t these numbers reconcile? What account should this expense fall under? Why doesn’t our gross-profit-by-job report pass the “sniff test?” Rather than skipping or glossing over a problem, an excellent bookkeeper will analyze the options, gather information and develop solutions to fix it.

How to determine behaviors in an interview

The best way to ferret out these behaviors during an interview is by asking situational questions like:
  • Tell me about a time when you …
  • Give me an example of …
  • What would you do if…
  • What did you do when …

Don’t just take your prospect’s first answer and move on. Drill down even further into those questions. For example, to uncover a person’s communication abilities, you’d ask something like “Tell me about a time you had to present complicated information to someone else.” Then follow up with questions like “How were you sure the other person understood? Tell me more about that. How did you know? What was the issue?”

In the end, you’ll find that looking for behaviors rather than skills will help you find people who not only fit the job, but are more apt to fit your company and your professional expectations.

Having a great workplace is crucial to finding the right talent – whatever the job title. Download our magazine, The Insperity guide to being a best place to work, to learn how to create an attractive culture.