Paul Barnhurst - FP&A Interview Questions

6 FP&A Interview Questions To Ask Your Candidates

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You probably know him as “The FP&A Guy.” For nearly 15 years, Paul Barnhurst has been a leader, influencer and educator in the FP&A community.

"Talent and labor”—that’s been the CFO’s highest priority this year.

In a 2021 Q4 report, 60.7% surveyed CFOs ranked it among their top three concerns heading into 2022. Now we’re halfway through and those priorities probably have changed for some CFOs. While declining stock prices, rising interest rates and supply chain issues have stopped growth for many businesses, for others, it has meant a larger talent pool as great candidates enter the job market.

Last month, I wrote about hiring an FP&A “magician” and the seven emerging FP&A roles. I discussed the importance of assessing your business’s objectives, the skills needed to accomplish those objectives and my six-step framework to address your FP&A team’s resource needs. The last step in the framework is developing a hiring plan. In FP&A, we need to ensure our business makes the best decisions on deploying the next dollar—and that our team is aware of this and how to do it.

In this blog post, I’ll cover six FP&A interview questions that can help you understand your candidates. These questions can help you determine which candidates to advance in the interview process.

(And if you’re a candidate, well, have your answers to these FP&A interview questions ready for your next interview…)

1. What Have You Learned From Your First and Last/Current Jobs?

This question helps us understand what’s important to them. By hearing their most memorable learnings and the career accomplishments they’re most proud of, we find out their values and motivators. We can learn a lot about what drives them on a daily basis to success.

2. On a Scale of 1 to 10, How Would You Rate Yourself in Excel? Why?

We want to know if they can honestly assess their own skill set. Their answer will, of course, trigger follow-up questions at which we can then “drill down” and learn more about what they can—and like to—do in Excel. This question can also tell us about their creativity and possibly give them an opportunity to show their passion for data analysis and everything spreadsheets. If necessary, give an Excel assessment to ensure they have the Excel skills required to perform the job.

3. How Have You Used Data Analysis Tools To Generate Valuable Insights and Make Informed Decisions?

I’ve heard some companies ask candidates about which tools they’ve used. I prefer to ask how they’ve used the tools they’ve been given. Focus on the tools that have been made available to them, because not every candidate has had equal access. This lets us learn about not only their experience, but also their resourcefulness and how they’ve maximized ROI with what they’ve been provided.

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4. How Would You Forecast a New Product/Service You’ve Never Sold?

Ask a scenario question. This is only one example of infinite scenario questions you can ask, but always provide an ambiguous scenario. Don’t make it vague, but rather loosely defined. This question helps us understand how they think through ambiguity in finance. No right or wrong answers here, but you can learn so much about their thought process and how they arrive at assumptions and other decisions.

5. How Do You Approach Interactions With Stakeholders Who May Not Have as Much Finance Knowledge as You?

We need to see how they communicate. It used to be FP&R—financial planning and reporting. Today, in FP&A, we need to be strategic business partners to the company, so everyone on your team needs to be able to communicate with the business. One of the most important skills lacking today in finance is communication. It’s a “soft, non-technical, essential” skill.

Because we need to work cross-departmentally with product, sales, marketing and other functions, they must have the ability to communicate, with respect, and if needed, layperson terminology. This also means storytelling and influencing—they need to help these teams understand FP&A processes at a basic level and your team’s decisions. This question tells us if they can support our team in serving as that strategic business partner and providing real value to the company.

6. How Have You Worked on Improving Your Skill Set in the Last Year?

This question gives us insight into their openness to learning. We want to see that they’re motivated to learn, grow and do more. I love teaching and mentoring—it’s why I share and post on LinkedIn to help others in the FP&A community grow—but it’s especially important for your team and company to hire someone who wants to continue growing within the company. Hiring is hard, especially right now, and what’s harder than hiring? Re-hiring.

FP&A Interview Questions

These are six of my favorite FP&A interview questions. They can tell you about your candidate’s values, motivators, self-awareness, creativity, resourcefulness, thought process and communication skills.

Now you can increase the chances that the candidates—at least the ones you advance to the next interview stage—can support your FP&A team in making the best decisions on deploying your company’s next dollar.

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Watch “The FP&A Guy” Paul Barnhurst’s Excelerate =SUM(it) 2022 session, Contemporary Skills for Strategic Finance Professionals, on Plan To Grow to learn more about the skills needed in today’s FP&A.

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