Accounts payable specialist interview questions and answers

By Robert Half on 8 May 2024
Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes

If you’re interested in a career in finance, more specifically, accounts payable, Hong Kong may just be the right place for you.

Hong Kong was ranked fourth in the Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI) released by Z/Yen Group and the China Development Institute in September 2023. Since the first of its semi-annual ratings was published in March 2007, the GFCI has consistently ranked Hong Kong as one of the top international financial centres in Asia.

With Hong Kong’s financial services sector accounting for approximately 7.5% of total employment, it’s safe to say, it’s a coveted industry.

Accounts payable specialists are considered vital members of an organisation’s finance team. Providing financial, administrative, and clerical support to the business, it’s no wonder these professionals are in high demand.

If you’re preparing for an upcoming job interview for an accounts payable position (or, if you’re preparing to interview some prospective candidates), it’s important to understand the art of impactful responses. By taking the time to review accounts payable specialist interview questions and answers, you can pre-empt, prepare, and empower yourself to rise to the top of the talent pool. The more comfortable you can become, the more confidence you can conjure!

Ready to ace your interview? Well, join us as we explore the most effective ways to highlight your unique ability to deliver successful outcomes. We’ll also share some tried and tested sample responses along the way.

Answering Techniques: The STAR Method

So, you’re ready to take a look at some accounts payable specialist interview questions and answers, but do you know what employers are looking for?

Jonathan Lee, Division Manager at Robert Half and specialised finance and accounting recruiter, says prospective employers are looking for a candidate who makes them feel confident rather than cautious. He says, “Approach every question carefully and take the time to consider how your answer will instil the employer with confidence about your accounts payable abilities. Sure, employers want to hear about your qualifications and credentials. However, they want an insight into how you contribute to achieving goals while making a meaningful impact at work.

As the interviewee, it’s crucial that you shine a light on your ability to generate positive outcomes through your actions and strategies.”

With the role centred around facilitating payments, controlling expenses, and verifying and reconciling invoices, it’s important to consider how you can highlight your relevant skills and strengths. Take the time to pause and ponder the ways that you:

  • Meet personal and business goals
  • Motivate yourself and your team members
  • Support your organisation
  • Deliver consistent results

Jonathan says, “Knowing how to prove that you are reliable and action-oriented is critical. In my experience, businesses gravitate towards candidates with a track record of delivering results. I truly believe that the best way to sell yourself is through unique and meaningful answers. I believe the STAR method is one of the most reliable ways to approach interview questions. It helps candidates draw on the situations that will help employers to realise their true potential.”

Related: How to answer the interview question: "How do you drive results"

The STAR interview method is a constructive technique for identifying suitable situations and outlining them clearly and concisely:

Situation - Briefly outline the situation you were in.

Task – Discuss the task at hand and your responsibilities.

Actions – Explain the actions you took and why.

Results – Outline the results that occurred as a result of your actions.

If you’re finding it hard to pinpoint employment situations, consider using examples that have occurred during school, university, or charity work.

Related: How to answer the “What are your hobbies?” interview question

Common accounts payable specialist interview questions with sample answers

When it comes to accounts payable specialist interview questions and answers, it’s important to note that balance is key.

An effective interviewer will curate a selection of questions to help them assess your technical skills, your behavioural intelligence, and your ability to prioritise and problem-solve. The right responses will be instrumental in cementing your credibility and your capacity to:

  • employ financial accounting principles
  • operate with strong attention to detail
  • maximise accuracy and minimise errors when processing invoices
  • communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders
  • utilise relevant accounts payable systems and software

Let’s explore some of the top accounts payable specialist interview questions, along with the sample answers that can boost your chances of success.

Technical skills questions

Describe in detail your accounts payable process workflow

“I consider myself to be very diligent when it comes to my accounts payable process workflow. The process begins with the receipt of invoices, which I cross-check against purchase orders and receiving documents. Once verified, invoices are approved for payment and entered into the accounting system. I regularly reconcile invoices to ensure accuracy and regularly communicate with the relevant stakeholders. I then work to schedule and process payments according to the relevant terms and policies. This workflow has been very effective in my previous roles – it has truly maximised my accounts payable efficiency and minimised errors.”

Which accounting software are you proficient in?

“I am proficient in various accounting software and tools including QuickBooks, SAP, Upflow, and DocuWare. I have used these platforms for invoice processing, payment scheduling, and financial reporting. I’m acutely aware that new tools are emerging as technology advances - I'm committed to learning and understanding these systems so I can continue to upskill myself in this evolving industry.”

What steps do you take to resolve discrepancies in invoices?

“Like everyone, I have encountered minor discrepancies from time to time. That said, I regularly double-check invoices to identify any discrepancies quickly. I treat all discrepancies very seriously and I take the time to analyse them thoroughly to resolve the issues promptly. One situation that springs to mind is when I noticed a discrepancy between a received invoice and the corresponding purchase order. I immediately contacted the vendor to discuss the situation. They were able to identify that there was a billing error on their side which they rectified. Overall, I feel that my process workflow has been critical in safeguarding my accounts payable accuracy and consistency.”

Problem-solving and prioritisation questions

Tell me about a time you had to handle a difficult vendor situation

“I pride myself on my strong interpersonal skills. I’ve always maintained very open, respectful, and collaborative relationships with vendors - I feel that this has put me in a good position when difficult situations arise. There was one occasion when a new vendor had become frustrated because the report I was sending was different to the reports they were receiving from other businesses.

I took the time to schedule a meeting with this new vendor so I could understand their expectations. I soon realised that our accounting software did not allow us to format the report in the way the vendor wanted. I spoke with my managers and they allowed me to use a different program to export this vendor’s report. The vendor appreciated the effort I made to understand their needs and ensure that they were met moving forward. Overcoming this challenge has helped us to build a very prosperous partnership.”

Related: How to answer: “What are your weaknesses?” in a job interview

How do you manage your time when you have a high volume of invoices to process?

“I believe that effective time management is the key to doing this job well, especially during busy times. Regardless of the volume of work, I always start my day by making a list of priorities so I can stay on track and organised. I assess the urgency and importance of each task so I can streamline my workflow and address the most pressing tasks first. This is essential in busy periods when I’m facing a high volume of invoices. I pride myself on my organisation skills as they allow me to stay on top of my accounts and tasks.”

Behavioural questions

How do you ensure accuracy and attention to detail in your work?

“I consider myself to be very meticulous when it comes to accuracy and attention to detail. I ensure accuracy at every step of the accounts payable process by reviewing all details thoroughly and double-checking all transactions. I believe that my diligence and attention to detail have enabled me to minimise errors. It’s also led me to explore and implement useful tools like auto-fill and templates to maintain accuracy. I regularly reconcile accounts to quickly identify any discrepancies.”

Share an example of how you've improved a process in a previous role

“For me, positive vendor relations are crucial. Having a solid relationship with my vendors has allowed me to uncover pain points in certain processes. Recently, vendors were becoming frustrated with the time it was taking for invoices to be approved. Off the back of this, I worked hard to improve vendor invoice approvals. I escalated this issue to my senior managers and presented a proposal to introduce a digital approval system. This was well received and later introduced to help streamline the process. All of my vendors were thrilled with this new process as it enhanced the efficiency of the accounts payable workflow, reducing the delays in payment processing.”

Related: Understanding the accounting hierarchy in the workplace

Questions YOU should ask at the end of an Accounts Payable interview

It’s important to consider accounts payable specialist interview questions and answers before an interview. However, Jonathan cautions against spending all of your time studying the questions and answers that make up the formal interview component.

He says, “Employers aren’t just analysing your answers, they’re also analysing your questions. After an accounts payable interview, take the initiative to ask the employer some questions. By putting the spotlight on them, you can shine a light on what is important to you – what drives you, what interests you, and what you could bring to the role. Taking the time to arm yourself with insightful questions is sure to impress a prospective employer while helping you to discern if the role is the right match for you.”

Here are some questions you might consider asking at the end of an accounts payable interview:

  • What are the biggest challenges your accounts payable department currently faces?
  • Are there opportunities for professional development in your organisation?
  • What are the opportunities for advancement in the accounts payable department?
  • How would you describe the team dynamic within the accounts payable department?
  • Could you shed some light on your onboarding process for new team members within the accounts payable team?
  • What measures does the company take to ensure work-life balance for employees in the accounts payable department?

Related: How to answer: "What’s your expected salary range?”

When preparing for an accounts payable specialist interview, be sure to brush up on common questions and artful answers. Concise and articulate responses will boost your chances of success however, meaningful examples and insightful questions are the key to highlighting your tenacity. As an accounts payable specialist, problem-solving skills, attention to detail, and a collaborative approach are a must. So, make a conscious effort to shine a light on these capabilities wherever possible. Good luck!

Related: The best way to answer: “How is your new job?”

FAQ’s

1. What are the basic skills required for an Accounts Payable Specialist?

  • Attention to detail
  • Data entry skills
  • Organisation skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Numerical aptitude
  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Collaborative skills

2. What are the top technical questions in an Accounts Payable Specialist interview?

  • Describe in detail your accounts payable process workflow.
  • Which accounting software are you proficient in?
  • What steps do you take to resolve discrepancies in invoices?
  • Tell me about a time you had to handle a difficult vendor situation.
  • How do you manage your time when you have a high volume of invoices to process?
  • How do you ensure accuracy and attention to detail in your work?
  • Share an example of how you've improved a process in a previous role

Some less common, but highly relevant questions also include:

  • Have you worked with any automation tools in accounts payable? Can you describe potential benefits and challenges you've observed?
  • Describe a few red flags that might indicate a fraudulent invoice. What would your next steps be?
  • Have you ever had to negotiate terms or resolve a major issue with a vendor? Tell me about the situation.
  • Accounts payable often interacts with other departments. Give an example of how you've successfully collaborated with a team outside of accounts payable.
  • If given the opportunity, what's one thing you would change about the typical accounts payable workflow to make it more efficient?

3. What Excel skills are needed for Accounts Payable?

  • Data Entry and Navigation
  • Formatting and conditional formatting
  • Basic Formulas
  • VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP
  • PivotTables
  • Filters and Sorting
  • Charts and Graphs:
  • Data Validation
  • Keyboard Shortcuts

4. Why do you want to be an Accounts Payable Specialist?

Top responses might include:

  • As a detail-oriented individual, I enjoy working with numbers and maintaining accuracy.
  • As an organised individual, I thrive in environments where I can create systems to manage invoices, payments, and financial records.
  • I enjoy the challenge of problem-solving. I use this passion to resolve discrepancies, investigate billing issues, and ensure that payments are processed accurately and on time.
  • I have a strong passion for finance, and I feel this role could help to grow my knowledge and skills while advancing my finance career.
  • I recognise the meaningful impact that an accounts payable specialist has on the wider organisation. It’s a privilege to help maintain the financial stability of the business.

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