3 finance business partner interview questions to ask before offering the job

Read the average job profile for a finance, HR, procurement or other business partner and the only thing missing is a cape and pair of pants to wear on the outside.

In our rush to squeeze in as many capabilities as we can, are we missing the big picture?

By the time someone gets in front of you for an interview the chances are they are a great accountant.

They may have a lot of experience as a finance business partner, in job title at least.

But how do you know whether they’ll actually be any good?

I believe that great business partners in any function build strong relationships, turn data into insight and bring numbers to life.

Here are some of the HR and finance business partner interview questions I liked to use when I was recruiting:

1. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

Question: Let’s say you’ve got the job, and your planning your first 30 days. What are you going to prioritise, and how are you going to do it?

What I’m looking for here is whether the person appreciates the importance of building relationships.

Most people say generic things like get to know the business, understand the products, get to know the processes and systems.

Yawn!

I’m looking for a more specific answer around building relationships with the key decision-makers, understanding their needs, and finding some common ground.

Asking people what is causing them pain, and how you can help them.

And what I really want is not just an explanation of what, but how.

So if someone replies, ‘I’ll get to know people’ I’ll ask ‘how specifically will you get to know them.’

I want someone to explain to me how they build relationships with people.

2. TURN DATA INTO INSIGHT

Question: What is insight? How will you translate the data into insight that influences decisions?

Here I want to find out how stuck in the data the person really is.

Most people think that processing, summarising or visualising data somehow magically makes it information or insight.

The problem here is that processed data is still data.

It only becomes information when we answer the question why is the data the way the data is.

So here I am looking for someone who appreciates that data explains what has happened – whether it is raw, processed or visualised.

Someone who gets that information explains the why.

And someone who knows that insight answers the question so what. Or how do we improve.

I am also looking for people that appreciate that no MI or BI system is able to deliver insight.

Because it will never alone tell you the root cause of why the data is the way the data is.

And it certainly won’t tell you how to improve the future.

So really I’m looking for people who know that relationships are the key to turning data into insight.

3. BRING NUMBERS TO LIFE

Question: How do you bring numbers to life? Give me a few examples.

The ability to bring numbers to life separates specialists in finance, HR or any other discipline, from influential business partners.

I’m not looking for great Excel skills.

Nor fancy graphs or charts.

Except maybe a well formed waterfall chart or simple bar chart.

Mainly I’m looking for people who can add context and meaning to the numbers.

People who appreciate that less is more. That tables of numbers turn people off.

I’m looking for people who can pull out the 3 most important messages from the sea of data, and explain them to people in simple words and pictures.

I know I said the 3 finance interview questions to ask, here’s a bonus number 4, just in case you aren’t sure from the first 3 answers you get!

4. SIMPLIFY

Explain to me how the cash flow statement or TUPE works, and why I should care about it, using no jargon. 

The ability to make the complex simple is invaluable.

Any accountant can explain the cashflow, balance sheet or P&L a/c to another accountant.

Any HR specialist can explain employment law to another HR specialist.

It takes a different type of thinker and communicator to show someone outside of finance or HR why they should care.

For me it doesn’t matter how good someone’s CV is. How much experience they have, or how well they interview.

If they can’t answer this question well then I just know they won’t stand a chance of explaining the financial or people consequences of commercial and operational decisions.

Even though it’s last, this is actually one of my favourite HR or finance business partner interview questions.

Try it out!

The next time you interview someone, give these HR and finance business partner interview questions a go.

Basically you’re asking the following questions:

  1. how will you build relationships
  2. how will you turn data into insight
  3. how will you bring numbers to life
  4. how will you simplify the complex

If you find someone who knows how to do those things, then you’ll be onto a winner.

These are just the ones I find useful, please share the HR and finance business partner interview questions you find useful.

And the final question:

How well can you answer these questions?

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