Every business needs to maintain accurate financial records, ensure outgoing payments are processed correctly, and all monies owed are collected in a timely manner. If these critical processes are not handled with care, a company will soon find itself in financial hot water.
That's where the role of a bookkeeper comes in. These are the employees responsible for recording financial transactions, reconciliation and compiling reports as requested. In many cases, they will also handle payroll, accounts receivable and accounts payable.
Bookkeepers are the backbone of a company's accounting department. If a bookkeeper fails in their duties, that failure can have a major impact on cash flow, strategic financial decisions, and legal tax obligations. That makes finding the right bookkeeping talent an absolute must.
In this article, we cover all you need to know about hiring a bookkeeper, including what skills and abilities to look for, and how to test for them as part of the recruitment process.
What should a bookkeeper be able to do?
The duties assigned to a bookkeeper will vary from business to business. If you're a small company, they may essentially cover all financial requirements, using an external accounting firm where necessary - such as for preparing and filing your tax return.
If you're a large organisation with a multi-disciplined finance department, it's likely they'll be tasked with just the core bookkeeping duties like data entry and bank reconciliation.
That said, a good bookkeeper will be versatile, and able to turn their hand to any tasks associated with company finance. These include:
- Recording all financial transactions made, typically using double-entry bookkeeping.
- Prepare accurate monthly reports such as profit and loss statements, cash flow statements and balance sheets.
- Balancing the books with monthly bank reconciliation.
- Creating, sending and ensuring invoices are paid on time, and process all payable invoices.
- Calculating staff pay and any relevant deductions.
- Logically ordering and filing all physical and digital documents relating to company finance.
It's also vital for a bookkeeper to have a working knowledge of spreadsheet software programs such as Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets, and be proficient in the use of accounting software like SAGE, Quickbooks and Xero.
Skills to look for in a bookkeeper
Unlike certified public accountants, bookkeepers do not need professional qualifications. In fact, there's no requirement for any formal training, with many bookkeepers learning their craft on the job.
This can make if difficult to determine how qualified a candidate is for the role, so it's important to assess every applicant on the following set of essential skills:
- Numeracy skills: a bookkeeper must be confident in working with numbers, performing basic calculations, and communicating numerical information. Depending on how involved their responsibilities are, they may require more advanced mathematical skills such as knowledge of common accounting formulas.
- Administrative skills: this covers the core skill set every bookkeeper needs to complete day to day tasks, and includes things such as computer literacy, data entry and filing.
- Interpersonal skills: professional communication is central to a bookkeeper's role and they must have the skills to interact appropriately with different groups of people, whether that be colleagues, top-level managers, external accountants, clients or vendors.
- Software skills: as well as general computer literacy, a bookkeeper should be competent in a range of software. Basic requirements include spreadsheets, word processing, accounting software, file sharing and databases.
- Problem-solving skills: whether it be chasing outstanding payments or dealing with a cash flow issue, a bookkeeper will often encounter complex situations, and must have the skills to find effective solutions.
Useful abilities for a bookkeeper
To complement their skillset, a good candidate for a bookkeeping role will also have key abilities that allow them to apply those skills effectively. When shortlisting applicants, look for the following:
- Attention to detail: bookkeepers must be both thorough and accurate when dealing with a company's financial data. Just one single error can have wide-ranging implications, so attention to detail is critical.
- Reasoning ability: bookkeepers must be able to apply critical reasoning to spot patterns, interpret data, and form financial conclusions. Reasoning ability is also required for finding the source of any irregularities.
- Organisation: keen organisation is an absolute must for a bookkeeper. It's this ability that allows them to maintain logical filing systems, prioritise their workload and meet key deadlines.
- Integrity: bookkeepers deal with a lot of important and confidential information, so they must demonstrate honesty and integrity. They must also be willing to take ownership of any failings on their part.
- Initiative: a good bookkeeper will do more than the basic requirements of their role. They'll show initiative by taking on new challenges and making suggestions to improve a company's financial standing.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a bookkeeper?
Assessing a candidate's soft skills is no easy task, as many of those skills won't present themselves until that candidate enters the workplace.
Thankfully, you'll find a number of pre-employment tests designed specifically for this purpose. These tests bring value to the hiring process by showing you a candidate's true potential. Tests you might find useful for a bookkeeper include:
Time management: in this test, candidates must reflect on a range of time-pressured scenarios and choose what they see as the most effective course of action. Results will tell you how they handle their workload, and how capable they are of meeting time-dependent responsibilities.
Accountability: another form of situational judgement test, here you're looking at how accountable a candidate is likely to prove for their own decisions. A high score indicates someone with a strong work ethic and an appropriate level of integrity.
Interpersonal: interpersonal skills are essentially the people skills we use to tailor our approach to different situations. This is key for a bookkeeper, who will interact in varying business scenarios on a daily basis.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a bookkeeper?
Since there is no requirement for a bookkeeper to hold a formal qualification, it's important to put their hard skills to the test during recruitment. To do this, consider using technical and aptitude tests such as:
Numerical reasoning: this multiple-choice assessment will tell you how competent an applicant is when dealing with numerical information. They'll be required to interpret data, draw conclusions and perform basic mathematical calculations.
Error checking: this test is ideal for anyone involved in data entry and record keeping. Candidates work under a time limit to identify errors and inconsistencies in text and data sets.
Logical reasoning: a measure of problem-solving skills, logical reasoning tests see candidates identify patterns and use them to inform conclusions. This is very similar to the way they'll look at patterns and outcomes in financial data.
Microsoft Excel: as the most popular spreadsheet software, proficiency in Excel is a prerequisite for most bookkeeping roles. This test looks at a candidate's knowledge of its features and functionality, and their ability to use them effectively.
Our recommended test battery for a bookkeeper
If you're running recruitment for a bookkeeping position, you'll want to ensure the tests you use to bring the greatest possible value to the process. Our recommended test battery is as follows:
Numerical reasoning: to measure each applicant's ability to evaluate, interpret and draw conclusions from numerical information, as well as to test for basic mathematical skills.
Error checking: use this test to assess each applicant's eye for detail and their ability to remain attentive under pressure.
Microsoft Excel: this software test will give you confidence in an applicant's spreadsheet proficiency.
Accountability: to ensure any potential hire will work with integrity, take ownership of their decisions and hold their hands up to any mistakes.
For further information on hiring a bookkeeper, visit Picked's bookkeeper test page.