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About the Author
Chris Arendale joined SAP Concur in 2013, and was named Chief Financial Officer in April 2018. As a certified CPA, Mr. Arendale has served in various leadership roles within the Finance organization, managing the billing and revenue assurance functions for SAP Concur. He was instrumental in integrating the finance functions of SAP Concur and SAP, as well as migrating to a new system. Prior to joining SAP Concur, Mr. Arendale worked for nearly a decade in the telecom industry across financial teams at leading enterprise companies AT&T and Cbeyond.

Find the Best Controller: Interview Questions You Should Be Asking

SAP Concur Employee
SAP Concur Employee
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The primary responsibility of a financial controller is to ensure the long-term financial solvency of a company. To accomplish this, a controller must monitor accounting and finance department policies and procedures, create budgets, develop forecasts, direct the company on complex tax and compliance issues, and contribute to the overall financial strategy.


A top controller can help your business save money, run more efficiently, and enable healthy growth. To ensure you select the best candidate for your organization, focus on asking situational and behavioral-based interview questions. Those types of questions give candidates the opportunity to talk about specific examples of the work they’ve done and can give you a window into how they might handle your business’s financial needs in the future.


General experience


Start by asking candidates to describe their experience using specific examples and situations. This is a chance to make sure they have the baseline skills and experience needed for your business. Doing this also allows you and the candidate to start building a rapport and ease any tension that might be in the room.


Dive into their experience with general questions and discussion topics like these:


  • Explain the most important factors you consider in budget development.
  • What is the most challenging financial project you have worked on?
  • What does your typical day look like and how do you manage your time?


Identify topics most important for your business and focus on those – for example: payroll, accounts payable, budgeting, forecasts, administration, compliance or vendor negotiation. The fact that the candidate was selected for an interview means they should have this stuff covered, limit yourself to just 10 -15 minutes to allow for more time to be spent on other areas of focus.


Leadership and communication


To oversee the finance and accounting practices of a company, a controller must maintain good business relations within their team and with leadership across the organization. Search for candidates who showcase strong leadership and communication skills. During the interview look for evidence the candidate can adapt to the multiple communication styles of the people they’ll be managing and working with.


Your controller will most likely need to manage change among their team and across other departments if you want them to drive improvements within your business. Change is hard, it takes a strong leader with the ability to actively listen and motivate others. Think of the situations you will need this person to lead, then craft your questions to align to those.


Questions and discussion topics to help identify a strong leader and communicator:


  • In your words, how should a controller display strong leadership within a business?
  • How has your leadership contributed to the success of your colleagues?
  • What’s your approach to hiring and growing a financial team?
  • How do you determine which communication channels to use with different personnel and situations – for example: email, in person, and phone calls?
  • Share a few examples of how you motivated your team and others in different departments.


Industry knowledge


Knowing and understanding the unique finance components to your industry is a key ingredient to controller success. Every business is unique, but those within similar industries face similar finance circumstances. Look for candidates that understand terminology and language specific to your business. You should be able to identify the ones who truly know and understand your industry versus the ones who quickly looked at your website.


Here are a few questions and discussion topics to help you gauge a candidate’s knowledge of your industry:


  • What do you consider the financial strengths and weaknesses within our industry?
  • Describe a situation or situations where you have dealt with specific tax and compliance rules that are unique to our business.
  • In relation to the duties of the controller, how would you say our industry is different from others you have worked in?
  • In your words tell me what our business does.


Ability to improve your business


A skilled controller is an integral part to improving your business. They can find ways to reduce costs and maximize cash flow, which can open the door for higher profits and position your business for growth.


Candidates should be able to showcase examples of how they have improved businesses in former roles. Be sure to go beyond this and get them talking about how they’ll improve your business. You may have to provide some direction and you can do this by dropping a few hints about pain points you expect them to solve.


Questions and discussion topics to discover how they may improve your business:


  • Tell me about a time you identified a financial opportunity for your company.
  • What approach have you used to reduce expenses at previous companies? Where would you start with our company?
  • Can you tell me about a time you improved the quality of financial information?
  • Where do you see the largest financial opportunities for a company like ours? How would you go about identifying these?


Experience with finance technology


Finance leaders, including controllers don’t need to be IT experts but they do need to have an understanding of what finance technology can do for a business. A controller should be able to identify the best tech solutions and vendors for your business, then lead the vetting and implementation process. Look for candidates with past fintech experience and dig into potential situations directly related to your business.


Questions and discussion topics to drill into financial tech expertise:


  • What accounting/financial software are you familiar with? Where did you find the biggest benefits to the business from these technologies?
  • Explain your process for examining technologies to automate traditional finance
  • How would you determine the best time to bring on a new technology?
  • Have you ever had to onboard your staff to a new technology? How did or would you go about that process?


Lastly, be sure to consult and get feedback from your accounting team. The individuals that will be reporting to your new controller can provide valuable information and other perspectives to help you find the best controller for your business.


I hope these questions help you to find the next controller that will help lead your business to financial success.