Hiring the Right Financial Professional: The Bookkeeper

Part one of four in a SmartMoney series

If your company is like most, you are beginning to see welcome signs of financial recovery. But the memory of the recession has not faded, and vigilance about company finances must remain a top priority.

I’ve seen too many businesses launch a search for a financial professional without first focusing on the specific skills required. Do you need someone who can generate timely and accurate financial information? Or are you seeking a financial decision maker who can help take your company to the next level? Maybe the solution lies somewhere in between.

There’s a lot riding on your decision. Right now (and in the next few short articles), I’ll detail some choices and the benefits and limitations of each. Then I’ll wrap up this series with some tips on finding the right financial professional for your needs—no matter what your needs.

Today we’ll talk about bookkeepers, and I’ll advise you to beware of variable skill levels.

A bookkeeper might have an associate’s degree, or he or she might have gained expertise through on-the-job training. In either case, this can be a difficult position to fill because experience and ability vary widely.

When a client seeks our help in hiring a bookkeeper, we always test candidates to ensure that the skills they profess to have are actually in place.

Typically, bookkeepers will:

  • Record transactions, sales, orders and invoices.
  • Enter payables and process checks.
  • Reconcile bank accounts.
  • Possibly even process payroll and prepare payroll tax returns.

In a one-person accounting department, you’ll need a “full charge” bookkeeper. This is someone who handles all accounting needs, including preparing financial statements.

Bookkeeper compensation varies widely with experience and geographic region. Salaries typically start in the range of $32,000 to $34,000. If you want a top-notch, full-charge bookkeeper, you should expect to pay above $50,000. Alternately, you might hire someone with less experience and fill in with help from your accounting firm or from an outsourced financial services provider.

A client recently asked for help filling a bookkeeping position. After conducting initial phone interviews, I narrowed the field to five candidates. Following an in-office interview, we administered a skills test and asked the candidates to leave the completed test with our receptionist.

Two of the five were unable to complete the test and left after a few minutes. One scored poorly, and one of the remaining two was hired. By all accounts, she’s doing a great job.

The takeaway here? Never rely solely on a résumé and references to assess technical skills.