5 Things to Consider When Hiring a Bookkeeper

Accountemps bookkeeper

You've decided to hire a bookkeeper. Good move! Using a professional to help you maintain your accounts can take a lot of stress off your daily routine.

But if you hire the wrong person, you could end up with a big mess on your hands. Bad bookkeepers make financial records impossible to decipher and might even try to brush mistakes under the rug, leaving you to handle the consequences.

How can you make sure you find the best bookkeeper for your firm? Use this five-point guide to help you identify the candidates you ought to pursue.

1. Essential skills and competencies

At minimum, your bookkeeper will need the skills and knowledge to carry out all essential tasks of bookkeeping, such as:

  • Reconciling bank statements
  • Processing payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable
  • Posting and updating journal entries.

In addition, the best bookkeepers are organized and methodical and understand the interplay of cause and effect in business accounts.

The person you hire will also need strong problem-solving skills to resolve discrepancies and good communication skills so he or she can produce easy-to-absorb reports. People skills are important as well, if your bookkeeper liaises with your vendors, suppliers and customers.

You'll also want to be sure that your bookkeeper has experience with the financial software applications your organization uses, or you'll need to provide training to help him or her learn your preferred applications.

2. Industry-specific bookkeeping experience

Bookkeeping practices vary between industries. A bookkeeper who has only worked with fashion retailers may not have the knowledge and experience it takes to do an equally good job for, say, an air-conditioning company. In other words, the relevance of a candidate's experience is often more important than the duration of experience.

3. Professional certification

Bookkeepers in Canada are not legally required to obtain a licence, but they can participate in several voluntary certification programs. When a candidate is certified or licensed by the Canadian Institute of Bookkeeping (CIB), the Institute of Professional Bookkeepers of Canada (IPBC) or the Canadian Bookkeepers Association (CBA), it generally means his or her knowledge and skills are up-to-date. Ask your candidates if they carry any certifications or designations.

4. Professional memberships

Bookkeepers have to pass the membership criteria of a professional organization before they're allowed to join, so you can take professional memberships as an indicator of your candidate's professional status and commitment to his or her career.

An active membership in a professional group also helps a bookkeeper stay current with news, trends and best practices in the industry.

5. Transparency and accountability

A good bookkeeper will keep your books clean and make it easy for you to review and query the entries; a bad bookkeeper will leave your books in shambles and run away at the first sign of an independent audit. So it's no use hiring a bookkeeper you can't trust. Do your due diligence and ask for references from accountants who have worked with your bookkeeping candidates.

For added assurance, you might want to try values-focused interview questions to get a sense of which candidates are the most honest and reliable. Examples of such questions include, "Can you tell me about a time when someone claimed credit for work that you did? What did you do about it?" and, "Has your trustworthiness ever been challenged? What was your response to the situation?" These questions should give some insight into how the candidate thinks and processes challenging scenarios in a professional environment.