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Competency Based Interview Questions for Accountants in 2020

Improving your reference checking of accountant candidates

Reference checking is a tedious task. It’s also among one of the least reliable ways to determine whether a candidate is likely to be effective in your practice.

However, you can increase the reliability and validity of reference checking by structuring your questions to pick out transferable skills and behaviours considered universal to success in any accounting practice in 2020 and beyond.

Luckily for you, that work has been done by the collective might of the ACCA, who put considerable research into what makes an effective accountant in a world shifting from compliance to advisory work:

ACCA identified 7 core competencies associated with success in a changing accounting world:

So, what are the most effective questions to ask accountant candidate’s referees in uncovering whether your candidate is likely to perform in a changing world of accounting and bookkeeping work?


Referee Questions for Accountants 

If you’re going to make reference checking a valuable exercise, you need to interview your referees as effectively as you interview your candidates, using a technique called competency or behavioural interviewing.


Competency-Based Interviewing Checklist

Before we run through the competency-based referee questions, let’s quickly review what competency-based interviewing is and whether you need support in delivering this technique.

This method is hardly new but remains the most highly rated interview technique in structuring interviews to get consistent results and is based on the premise that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.

The core element is to insist that candidates provide you with specific examples of actual experiences and to avoid hypothetical scenarios and generalisations at all costs.

If you are not trained in Competency or Behavioural Interview Techniques, we strongly recommend that you bring someone who is onto your recruitment panel until you get trained and comfortable.


The ACCA Accounting Competencies & Referee Questions to Address them:

1. Technical & Ethical

The skills and abilities to perform activities consistently to a defined standard”


  • Tell me about a time when their professional integrity as an accountant was tested by a client or colleague.
    • How did they react to the situation?
    • Did they report the issue to you? How quickly?
    • How did they explain the risk to the client or colleague?
    • Did you observe them learning from the experience in future instances?


  • How did they keep up to date with accounting technical knowledge?
    • Describe their most recent improvement in technical knowledge

Interviewing people on how good they are technically is never as good as asking them to prove their technical competence.  Take a look at for a suite of accounting technical tests to add to your selection process


2. Intelligence

“The ability to acquire and use knowledge: thinking, reasoning and solving problems”.

  • When you think of occasions where your accounting team have worked on difficult problems, where would you rank this candidate in the order of ‘getting it’?
  • What has been the most difficult concepts or initiatives you have observed this candidate solve?


3. Creativity

“The ability to use existing knowledge in a new situation, to make connections, explore potential outcomes, and generate new ideas”

  • Describe an idea that this candidate came up with that has been successful.
  • Describe a time when the candidate challenged the ideas of others and this led to something new.


4. Digitally Savvy

“Awareness and application of existing and emerging digital technologies, capabilities, practices, strategies and culture”

  • When technological advances have been introduced, would you say the candidate was typically threatened or enthusiastic about those changes?


5. Emotional Intelligence

“Ability to identify your own emotions and those of others, harness and apply them to tasks, and regulate and manage them”

  • Describe a time when you were extremely busy and the candidate needed to interrupt you for vital input to their work.  How did they approach the situation?  Was it successful?
  • Describe a time the candidate needed to deliver bad news to you.  How did they approach the situation?  Was it successful?
  • Internal and external customer focus is critical in this role.  Give an example of a time when the candidate’s internal and external customers were in conflict with the outcome they were trying to provide.

6. Vision

“The ability to predict future trends accurately by extrapolating existing trends and facts and filling the gaps by thinking innovatively”.

  • What would describe as the candidate’s most innovative achievement?
  • Tell me about a time when they took a good idea from beginning to end.


7. Experience

“The ability and skills to understand customer expectations, meet desired outcomes and create value”

  • Tell me about a situation where the candidate’s experience as an accountant was clearly instrumental in getting an outcome for a client.
  • If we took the candidate on, what would you say would be their number-1 priority for training and professional development?


Author’s Bio

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 jointly setting up Accountests in 2013. Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests for accountants and bookkeepers.


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