Controller Interview Questions

Financial Controllers are responsible for important tasks like implementing budgets, monitoring business accounts, and establishing financial procedures. Controllers are most effective when they apply finance best practices to a thorough understanding of your business operations and goals. Look for a candidate who demonstrates exceptional critical thinking skills to not only guide company financial decisions, but to constantly assess policies and procedures for areas of change or improvement.

During your Controller interview look for strong communication skills needed to work with all departments in your organization. A strong candidate will be able to monitor the financial performance of the business while developing strategies that support department and company planning. The ability to clearly articulate ideas and methodologies to staff and senior management alike is essential to the role. 

General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position. 

Below are Controller interview questions to help you get started: 

How have you reduced expenses at previous companies?

What you want to hear: A qualified candidate will be able to readily cite a number of instances where they reduced expenses. Listen for a candidate who shows initiative to challenge the status quo, the skills to recognize where changes can be made, the ability to present their findings and recommendations to management, and the follow through to successfully implement new processes or procedures. The candidate should also use specific numbers when detailing incidences of expense reduction.

Red Flag IconRed flag: Controllers Controllers who can’t recall specific expense reductions, or cannot explain their ideas in a clear and concise manner that would easily be understood by your managers or board members, may lack the experience required for a key finance role in your organization. 

What efforts do you make outside of the office to continue your growth as a professional?

What you want to hear: An experienced Controller will demonstrate their commitment to professional growth by pointing to substantive Continuing Professional Education courses. You might also look out for a candidate who has taken leadership, management, or new systems upgrade training in the past few years. Overall, listen for someone who has the drive to keep learning, because they will likely bring that energy to the job. 

Red Flag IconRed flag: A Controller who fails to stay current with best practices and available technologies is a risk for missing opportunities to help your company’s financial position and may even run afoul of accounting or legal regulations. 

What is the difference between a general journal and general ledger?

What you want to hear: Don’t resist asking fairly basic technical questions to ensure your candidate’s command of, and ability to communicate, accounting principles. An experienced Controller may answer something like, “A double-entry system that uses both a general journal and a general ledger is the best method for tracking information and keeping the operation running smoothly. A general journal is the first place where data is recorded, keeping track of business transactions by date. A general ledger tracks assets, liabilities, owner’s capital, revenues, and expenses.”

Red Flag IconRed flag: Your candidate should know the ins and outs of how to manage the company’s financial information. Listen for someone who can clearly and confidently explain their answers. A candidate who uses too much jargon may not be able to simplify financial presentations for the Board of Directors and other team members. 

In a team environment, what role do you usually take on?

What you want to hear: Controllers typically report to a CFO and manage a team of accountants. Directing a finance team and mentoring new hires takes strong leadership skills. Your candidate should be able to discuss the techniques they use to lead effectively, and how they work collaboratively with the CFO to create new business initiatives, implement system changes, and enhancing profitability over the long term.  

Red Flag IconRed flag: A timid candidate who doesn’t have the confidence to lead is a red flag and may disrupt productivity. Also, look out for a candidate who loves to lead, but doesn’t appear to acknowledge the valuable contributions of others on the team. A certain amount of give-and-take is essential for smooth working relationships and better idea generation.

What motivates you to come to work every day?

What you want to hear: A Controller with an outstanding work ethic will be eager to answer this question. Listen for details about which part of this job inspires them the most, and why they feel they can have a positive impact in their department and on the organization as a whole. 

Red Flag IconRed flag: If a paycheck is your candidate’s primary motivator, you can’t expect the best work from them. A Controller who is not inquisitive and always interested in finding new ways to improve the financial health of an organization is lacking the qualities needed to succeed in the position. 

What frustrates you about the work of a Controller?

What you want to hear: A great candidate will offer solution-focused answers over problem-focused ones. If something about their individual or team responsibilities frustrates them, they should explain the techniques they use to overcome those frustrations and make things run more smoothly. 

Red Flag IconRed flag: Someone with a long list of grievances, or no apparent way of coping with or fixing their frustrations, will likely bring this pattern of behavior to your work space. 

If you could only pick one, what stock would you pick and why?

What you want to hear: This unique question is simply an opportunity to challenge your candidate’s ability to get creative and offer an impromptu response. While there is no right or wrong answer, look for a candidate who can make a decision and explain the rationale for it. 

Red Flag IconRed flag: A candidate who can’t think on their feet may not be well-suited for the role. Controllers are constantly asked for opinions and advice, and a strong candidate can respond well to unexpected inquiries.

Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Controller position.

Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:

  • Communicate complex ideas in a clear manner
  • Have confident leadership abilities
  • Know the ins and outs of complex financial procedures