A good Bookkeeper is a valuable resource who will take care of all the financial issues and keep you apprised of the financial health of your business. A bad one can destroy your business. Here's a practical checklist to guide you through the process:
Decide what you need - sounds obvious doesn’t it, but many businesses employ staff before giving much thought to what they actually need. Get your current Bookkeeper to draw up a comprehensive list of everything she does on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Do you need a senior Bookkeeper capable of taking your books up to balance sheet, or do you need someone with just enough financial knowledge to do a trial balance and hand over everything to an Accountant?
Write a job description – using your current Bookkeeper’s list of responsibilities put together a properly constituted job description for the new person, eliminating non financial tasks that the existing person has inherited or just taken over and that can be given to other members of staff. Check with your Accountant and see if there is anything the new person should be doing that the old one wasn’t.
Develop a profile – you have a comprehensive job description and now you need to add in details such as how many years experience you need the person to have, what level of Bookkeeper you need (your Accountant will be the guide here), what accounting software you use, hours of work and how much you want to pay, benefits and so on. In addition consider if this is a full time job or a part time one.
Short list carefully – whatever way you decide to recruit, via a recruitment consultancy, your own advert or by referral, make sure that you are clear what the minimum criteria are that you are looking for in a new Bookkeeper and anyone that doesn’t meet those criteria doesn’t get interviewed (make sure that the criteria are job specific – “Do you look like Megan Fox?” is not a work related criteria). Always be careful to check that they are happy with the salary on offer, they can commute easily and what notice period they would have to give.
Organise the interviews – having short listed a small number of candidates who meet all the relevant criteria organise to meet them (try and get your Accountant to sit in on the interview or to meet them as well once you have). Make sure that you make time in your diary to do this, don’t just try and fit interviews in around your other responsibilities.
Allow plenty of time for each interview with a 30 minute gap between each appointment so that if you want to talk for longer you can. Try and meet everyone on one day as in that way you can compare everyone at the same time.
Prepare a list of questions – this is very important as you want to compare like with like so you need to ask everyone the same questions. Interviews that meander from one topic to the next mean that you could miss some important points and are more likely to make a decision based on emotion rather than facts. The questions need to cover work related issues (your Accountant should help) and must be specific to the job description that you have written.
If you can (and it is a very powerful way to assess people for this type of position), get your Accountant to put together a short, practical test ideally on the accounting package that your company uses. It doesn’t have to be more than 15-20 minutes and can cover some basic functions that you can get the candidates to do it once they arrive and before they meet you. It provides another objective measure of each candidate’s abilities.
The interview – remember that while you are evaluating each candidate on their ability to do the day-to-day job, you are also assessing how they would fit in with your existing staff. Make sure that your questions also cover their interpersonal skills and how they handle stress, conflict (and customers if their job requires client interaction) and deadlines.
Final checklist – Once you have asked all the questions on your list, you need to check again on salary (get a very clear idea of what the candidate would be happy with), notice period, travelling distance, hours of work and any holidays coming up that you need to know about. Let them then ask any questions on issues you might not have covered (this is also a good way of assessing what is important to the candidate).
Check references - You then need to get the names, job titles and telephone numbers of two referees that you can contact. You need to speak to someone who can confirm what you’ve been told, especially on such areas as scope of work, meeting deadlines, accuracy of work, integrity, interpersonal skills and reasons for leaving their job.
Always make sure that you are talking to a line manager and not a colleague (or relative) and that they are who they say they are (be careful if you are only given a cell phone number). Finally tell the candidates that as this is a finance related job and that they will be handling money you need to do a criminal and credit background check.
The decision – once you have interviewed everyone take some time to go through their answers and their CVs. How did they do on test? Who gave the best answers and who the worst? Who sounded authoritative and who sounded vague? Who did you make a connection with and who not? If one person stands out take their references and do their background checks. The criminal check can sometimes take a few days so if their reference is good and there is no problem with the credit check, you can make an offer subject to the criminal check being clear. If no-one stands out take the references and decide, but if you really don’t think anyone is suitable don’t be afraid to start the process again. Never hire someone if you don’t think they are right for you and your business .