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Anatomy of an Accounts Payable Star

Accounts Payable (AP) specialists play a key role in the overall operation of an organization. While they may not hold a prestigious C-suite title, every dollar that an organization spends goes through AP, from suppliers to utilities, to rent and loan payments. For that reason, the Accounts Payable role is like the foundation of a house: without it, nothing else is on solid ground.

So besides technical skills, what should employers look for in an AP specialist? Here ‘s the anatomy of an AP Star:

Analytical and problem-solving skills

When invoices don’t match purchase orders, and statements and ledgers aren’t reconciling, the AP Star must figure out why. This requires sound analytical and problem-solving skills.

To check out whether an applicant has the analytical skills your organization needs, ask very detailed interview questions, such as:

  • Give an example of when you had to diagnose a problem. What approach did you take? What was the outcome?

Time management and organizational skills

Like many areas of an accounting department, AP involves a lot of documentation, whether paper or digital. AP Stars must have a well-organized system to match the right documents to the right files and payments. Additionally, they need to be able to prioritize payments based on due dates, amounts, and relationship with the payee.

To identify a candidate with good time management and organizational skills, pay attention to how well they follow directions when applying for the job, whether their resume is organized and error-free, and whether they show up for their interview on time and prepared. Also, ask a few questions that dig into their ability to prioritize, such as:

  • Describe a typical work week. How do you plan the week’s activities? How well does the schedule work?

Communication skills

AP employees interact with many people in various departments of an organization, as well as vendors and suppliers. They communicate with other team members to ensure that everyone is aware of how transactions are processed. They may also train suppliers on proper payment requests. The ability to communicate well and work as a team is vital.

To identify good communication skills, ask questions such as:

  • Give me an example of how you would explain a complicated procedure to someone who is new to the organization.

Attention to detail and accuracy

An accounts payable employee goes through many payment requests, expense reports, and bills on any given day. When employees submit expense reports or vendors submit invoices, an AP Star must accurately input invoice details and ensure that all documentation follows company policy to support the payment.

Because AP is a target for fraud from inside and outside the business, an AP Star must pay close attention to details to ensure that all disbursements are appropriated and authorized.

To spot attention to detail and accuracy, ask questions like:

  • Tell me about a time when you found an error in your work. How did it happen? What did you do about it?

Keeping your AP Stars happy

Once you’ve found your AP Star, how do you hold on to him or her? It’s no secret that there is a huge demand for skilled accounting professionals, so staff retention is more important than ever these days. Here are tips to keep your AP Stars on board:

  • Offer competitive compensation in line with other companies in your industry and region;
  • Subsidize training and education to show your AP stars that you value them and want them to grow with the company;
  • Offer flextime and telecommuting, allowing your AP Stars to feel more in control of balancing work with personal obligations;
  • Show appreciation for a job well done with sincere expressions of gratitude, like lunches or other get togethers outside of the office, gift cards, cash bonuses, or an afternoon off; and
  • Provide a defined career path so your AP stars know that they can take the next step in their career with you rather than with a competitor.

The best thing you can do for your business is to hire the right people and provide them with job satisfaction. When your AP stars are happy, they’ll help make the company successful. In the end, everyone wins!


Accounting Principals

We're Accounting Principals--a leader in finance and accounting staffing. In fact, since 2010, we've been part of Adecco Group, a Global 500 company and leader in staffing services around the world. But this isn't staffing as usual. We take quite a different approach than most staffing agencies. A people-focused approach. We believe in forming real relationships with both our clients and our candidates. We want to understand the needs on both sides.