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What hiring managers should ask job candidates


By Neil Amato

For job candidates to succeed in an interview setting, preparation is critical. Knowledge of the company and know-how for answering those difficult questions can go a long way towards landing a job.

But, on the other side of the table, the hiring manager’s preparedness is also vital.

Around the world, organisations repeatedly cite talent – in finance and other departments – as a top concern. Bad hiring decisions can cost companies money, so those making the call on a job opening can’t be careless as they screen candidates.

Several finance professionals offered thoughts on the questions managers should ask to make sure they make the right hire. With a few exceptions, they believe questions about an applicant’s technical skills are less important than finding out what motivates the applicant.

Ask about teamwork, time management, and knowledge of the company

Bob Gaby, CPA/CITP, CGMA, principal and co-founder of Arxis Technology in California’s Simi Valley, likes to ask about difficulties applicants have had communicating with team members and how that difficulty was overcome. He also asks this question: What do you do when you have some free time in your day?

The answer can tell him plenty about candidates. Those who quickly dismiss the question by saying, “I’m always busy,” can seem evasive. Gaby’s ideal answer: I’ll look for a way to educate myself. I’ll go speak with a co-worker and see if there’s anything I can help with.

“That shows a real spirit of collaboration,” he said.

Mick Armstrong, CPA, CGMA, the CFO of Micro 100 Tool Corp. in Meridian, Idaho, also wants to learn about a person’s ability to handle workplace challenges – say, getting along with a prickly co-worker. “You really want to find out how they are going to interact with people,” Armstrong said.

Company knowledge matters, as it shows the applicant is serious about the position, said Scott Hofferber, CPA, CGMA, the CFO of Farmdale Creamery in Southern California. He suggests asking: What do you know about our company? He wants to hear a desire to work for that organisation, not just a desire to earn a paycheck.

Ask about goals and aspirations

Research has shown that career development is key to retaining employees. An organisation must first hire individuals who want to grow their careers. That’s why Marc Valentin, CPA, CGMA, is a proponent of exploring a candidate’s career blueprint.

Among the questions he asks job-seekers: Are you forward looking? Are you looking to grow as an individual? Where do you want to be two, three, five, ten years from now?

“I want the people who want to grow and who want to be challenged working for me,” said Valentin, the CFO at Kimble Companies Inc. in Dover, Ohio.

Doug Roosa, CPA, CGMA, director of internal controls at General Motors, wants to hear about an applicant’s vision to see whether it is aligned with the company’s vision.

It’s important for a hiring manager to understand job-seekers’ professional goals. It’s tough to know where to take them if you don’t know their road map to success, says Kathy Johnson, CPA/CFF, CGMA, a principal partner at CPA Forensics Plus LLP in San Bernardino, California. “What opportunities do you have that might match up with where that professional wants to go?” Johnson asked.

Ask about the candidate’s passion

Donny Shimamoto, CPA/CITP, CGMA, wants to know what engages a prospective employee. He’ll ask: What’s your passion?

“If I can align the work that they’re doing with what they’re passionate about, then I’m going to have a much more motivated, more dedicated employee … because they’re not just in it for the money,” said Shimamoto, the founder of organisational development consulting firm IntrapriseTechKnowlogies.

Money has been shown to be an effective way to motivate employees, but meaningful work is vital to keeping an employee engaged.

Ask about technical skills

Other assessments exist for assessing technical skills, so perhaps the interview can focus on other, more personal topics. But one finance professional said he makes a point to ask about specific skills, just to make sure.

“I can read your résumé, and I can see what your experience is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know what you’re talking about,” said J.D. Kern, CPA, CGMA, the CFO of Flexi-Van Leasing in Kenilworth, New Jersey. “And I think in the world of accounting, what I’ve found is it’s kind of taboo to ask technical questions to see if people understand what they’re supposed to be doing for a living.

“If you’re hiring an accountant who’s doing lease accounting, ask him some questions about lease accounting, make sure they know what they’re talking about. Just because they did it for the past few years doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand it.”

Ask a good closing question

To close a job interview, Paul Shillam, CPA, CGMA, recommends the hiring manager ask about what might have been overlooked. After all, it’s tough to tell a life story in a one-hour conversation or even several of them.

His question: What have I not asked about you that you believe I should know?

“The reason I do that is to give them one last opportunity to sell me on their skills and their qualifications,” said Shillam, controller at Pacific Medical Centers in Seattle. “I’ve looked at their résumé, and I’ve had a conversation with them, but I want them to have one last opportunity to really shine before me.”

He said successful candidates will mention a skill or other selling point that didn’t come up in the interview. It’s the sort of strategic, opportunistic thinking that some candidates might lack. And the answers, all of them, can help hiring managers make a critical decision based on so much more than a strong résumé or sharp business attire.

Related CGMA Magazine content:

Six Ways to Build Employee Engagement”: Amica Mutual Insurance CEO Robert DiMuccio, CPA, explained how his company develops an engaged workforce.

CFOs Most Crave These 2 Non-Accounting Skills”: General business knowledge and IT expertise are the non-accounting skills CFOs in the United States sought most from finance and accounting job candidates, according to a 2013 survey.

Neil Amato (namato@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.

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