How do I...

How to Hire a Bookkeeper

Every member of your business team is important but few others work will influence your business the way that the bookkeepers does.  Your secretary makes a typo or answers the phone good afternoon in the morning well not great but o.k.  Hire a bookkeeper that is faking it until they make it and well you could have a real problem on your hands. I’m always surprised at how many people hire a secretary and them ask them to be the bookkeeper.  Don’t get me wrong good administrative help is an invaluable part of the team and I wouldn’t know what to do without mine, but they just can’t be asked to do a job well they aren’t trained or qualified for.  It’s kind of like asking my house cleaner to clean up toxic waste.  Similar fields but not even close in many respects. So here we go with my TOP 6 list for hiring a bookkeeper.

1.    Ask if they have ever taken an accounting class or read a book on accounting.  If they can’t tell you what equity is or how accounting systems use debits and credits in equal amounts to balance an entry they don’t belong behind the keyboard.

2.    Ask for REFERENCES!!!!  I come across three bookkeepers a year minimum that had no business being a bookkeeper.  When they get fired because they weren’t up to the job they go onto the next job application and list the last one as a reference and the next guy hires them without ever calling the last place of business or following up with a listed reference to see if they ever did a good job.

3.    Ask if they have used your accounting software before.  Lots of bookkeepers are Quickbooks or Peachtree users.  I understand accounting and use QuickBooks with the best of them, but I would have no business applying for a job where they used Master Builder as their primary bookkeeping system.

4.    Ask for their professional affiliations.  Are they a member of a professional bookkeeping association or reputable business group such as a chamber of commerce?  Those groups have done some background work and their affiliation with those groups is like another reference.

5.    Does the bookkeeper understand your industry, or are you willing to teach them about it?  If the candidate for your job has 30 years experience in retail bookkeeping but has never touched a set of books for your type of business be prepared that they will have a learning curve.  Get someone who knows about what you do.  If you’re a restaurant and the bookkeeper doesn’t know that there is a tax credit for running your tips through payroll maybe you should find someone who does.

6. Ask your CPA or a local firm for referals.  Not every bookkeeper fits every need.  I send lots of business to other bookkeepers either because they are industry specialists, they will travel to places I can’t or won’t, or because I just can’t fit someone in.  Your CPA probably isn’t interested in doing your bookkeeping.  They want to be your tax advisor.  Ask around.

The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers offers a free test on their website for business owners to give candidates for bookkeeping jobs.  It is a helpful tool if you’re not quite sure.


  1. Crystal Lee

    Thank you for posting. I run a bookkeeping business myself and many, many business owners have no idea what it takes to process bookkeeping procedures. They believe it is something anyone can do, it is just boring. :)
    The test on the AIPB website is a good one. Basic but good. At least you will get a solid idea if the individual you are hiring knows the basics or not.
    I specialize in real estate bookkeeping and property management. Feel free to look at my website.

  2. Jody Seibert

    Amen! I am a freelance bookkeeper too and there are definitely people working in bookkeeping that should not be. And business owners are held hostage by these people. Maybe it's intimidation. After all, the bookkeeper is supposed to be the expert. One business owner I met couldn't get responses to simple accounting questions, like the balance of accounts payable or seeing the financial statements. That bookkeeper was ultimately fired, but not before damage was done to the business.

    I let clients know that I am accountable to them and having employees and consultants who do not respond to their request for information regarding the business is a huge red flag not to be ignored.

  3. Darcy Grubaugh

    I agree with #3, though I think it’s safe enough to say that your accounting applicant is already knowledgeable about his/her job, since he/she is using QuickBooks or Peachtree. They probably can easily adapt to any new accounting software, as well, since they already had an experience about using the two, most popular accounting software in the market.

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