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How to Hire a Competent Bookkeeper

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When hiring a new bookkeeper, small business owners and bookkeeping firms generally rely on the same information to base their hiring decision – the candidate’s CV and their performance during the interview.

Unfortunately, this information is not much more effective at predicting job performance than flipping a coin. Interviewers tend to overestimate their abilities and underestimate their vulnerability as an objective observer, they ask hypothetical questions and they go with their gut instinct.

An education from a particular training organisation tells very little about how an individual will perform on the job. There’s a widely held assumption that education provides the training and experience for job performance. It does not! Good interviews do work – but most employers use a very unstructured process for interviewing, which research shows is ineffective at picking the best person.

So, a good education and an outstanding performance during interview does not equate to a high performing individual. In order to gauge a candidate’s abilities, you need meaningful data.

The following three tips will help to keep your recruitment process focused on the data that matters, reduce the effects of bias, and uncover each candidate’s true capabilities.

Structure the interview process

Structured interviews are measurably more effective than unstructured interviews. A structured interview involves developing an interview script and a measurement methodology, and then sticking to them closely. The script will include a list of initial questions, a series of follow-up questions designed to elicit additional information as needed, and a consistent scoring mechanism that enables you to evaluate the responses and assign a numeric value that indicates whether the candidate’s answer demonstrated below-average, average, or above-average capability.

Take a Competency-based approach

It is widely accepted that the best way of predicting how someone will work in the future is to understand how they have worked in the past. We always recommend using a competency-based approach to interviewing where questions are linked to the behaviours required for the role and information is gathered about actual situations that candidates have been in.

Constructing competency-based interview questions is not as difficult as it sounds. The first step is to review the job description and person specification together with competency requirements. Each competency question is then designed to test one or more defined skills. Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances, which they need to back up with examples. Every candidate is asked the same questions, and those questions are anchored firmly to the job requirements, ensuring both the consistency and the relevancy of the interview process.

As an example, if a key competency in a bookkeeper’s position description is ‘Delivering Quality Service’, you might ask the candidate to describe a time where they have had to manage multiple tasks. Ask how they prioritised their time and managed their workload and how they may have acquired people and other resources to accomplish a goal and meet the service standards of a client. If a key competency is ‘Business Focus’ you may ask the candidate to tell you about a time where they had to demonstrate their ability to identify business opportunities and successfully manage commercial risks. Probe deeper and ask for an example of some recent client work and look for evidence of how the candidate helped grow the relationship and identify new business opportunities. 

Assess Technical Skills

When hiring a skilled role such as a bookkeeper, we suggest you use work sample tests, such as Accountests to assess a candidate’s ability to perform tasks similar to those to be performed on the job. These types of tests provide the highest predictive validity of all selection methods and not only save organisations time and money but also help reduce the possibility of hiring bias by giving a standardised pre-hiring skill assessment to every applicant. You can also design your own ‘case study’ or similar, but it needs to be up-to-date and provide an objective way of comparing candidates for this role against required knowledge levels. For example, our Bookkeeper Test has been designed to make it clear what tasks a bookkeeper will be able to do, and what they probably don’t have the skills for.

When work sample tests are combined with structured interviews and competency-based interview questions, you have the best chance of selecting the right person.




About the Authors

Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.  

Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.

Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers. 

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