“Can you describe your cash handling experience?”
This interview question comes up often when applying for customer-facing roles, especially those in the food, retail, and baking sectors.
But what’s the right way to answer this one? And what should you do if you have little to no cash handling experience?
Let’s start from the top.
Variations Of This Question
There aren’t too many variations of this question, and even those are only slightly different in terms of wording.
The variations include:
- Do you have experience handling cash?
- How are you with handling money?
- Are you comfortable handling cash?
- Can you describe your cash handling skills?
- Have you ever handled cash at a job?
What The Interviewer Really Wants To Know
Unlike many other interview questions, this one is pretty self-explanatory in terms of the underlying agenda.
It’s ultimately about trust.
While there is some question of your moral character, swiping notes under the table isn’t necessarily the main concern here — although it certainly should be addressed in your answer, and we’ll get to that.
As well as honesty and integrity, correct handling of money (including debit cards, credit cards, money orders, wire transfers, etc.) involves other character traits such as being detail-oriented, being able to solve problems on the fly, and even being able to multi-task.
It can also involve a lengthy list of hard skills such as being good with numbers, knowledge of POS (Point-of-Sale) systems, and a practical understanding of loss prevention.
These traits and skills are the difference between an employee who frequently makes mistakes at the cash register and an employee who consistently finishes their shift with no shortages or overages.
In the end, having past experience managing cash is a very reliable indicator that you, as a candidate, have developed most of these skills already.
How To Answer: “Describe Your Cash Handling Experience”
Despite the obvious nature of this question, simply reeling off relevant cash handling experience isn’t the best approach. Not by itself, anyway.
We’ll need to go a bit further for a complete answer.
1. Highlight Your Experience with Handling Money
Of course, with this being such a direct question, you’ll need to start off by answering it head-on, which means detailing any experience (including any skills and achievements) you developed when it comes to handling cash.
If you have a few jobs under your belt, you more than likely have one or two experiences you can draw from.
Here’s an example:
“I worked as a cashier in my last job. Not only was I directly responsible for transactions at the checkout, but I was also delegated to close out cash registers on the last shift. I learned a lot about how to record takings and ensure daily data was recorded correctly, and how to go about dealing with any discrepencies.”
Remember, this is anything to do with managing financial matters, it doesn’t have to be a customer-facing role where you’re directly accepting payments. Try going a little broader if you need to.
There are plenty of finance-based rules that work here, such as a Mortgage Advisor, Insurance Underwriter, or Tax Examiner. The list is endless.
Note: Even just having minor financial-related duties qualifies as experience. For example, you don’t need to be an accountant to have accounting experience.
If you don’t have any professional experience handling money, be honest about it.
For one, lying in job interviews is risky business and not something I wholly recommend. (There are caveats, but that’s another article by itself.)
For two, professional experience isn’t the extent of all experience. You’re a living, breathing human being, and in order to stay that way you need to be able to manage finances to some degree.
Are you a diligent saver that tracks every nickel that comes in and out of your bank account?
Do you take advantage of promotions, collect vouchers and coupons, and always look for opportunities to cut costs?
Have you invested money in your or a friend’s side hustle, stocks or index funds, or even cryptocurrency?
Just dig deep and you’ll find something you can use here.
Here’s another example:
“I don’t yet have any job-related cash handling experience, but I do have plenty of personal money management skills that I think speaks to this question. For example, I’ve invested a lot of my own savings into carefully selected index funds, applying dollar cost averaging to ensure reliable gains over the long-term.”
2. Make It Clear That You Understand What’s At Stake
Detailing your experience is the bare minimum you need to do to satisfy the question, but that alone won’t be enough for a home run.
You still need to demonstrate a clear understanding of why this question is being asked, what’s really at stake for the company, and that you care about the consequences of getting it wrong.
Do this right, and any lingering doubts the interviewer has will be squashed here.
So what exactly is at stake?
If you’re interviewing for a customer-facing position where you’ll be directly handling financial transactions, you’ll want to focus on things like:
- Overcharging customers can lead to disgruntled customers
- Undercharging customers can lead to loss of revenue
- Chargebacks and refunds can lead to penalties (from banks and credit card companies)
If you’re interviewing for a higher-up position where you’re handling financial matters on the company level, you’ll want to focus on the consequences of inaccurate financial reporting, like:
- Not being able to identify the source of data
- Not being able to spot positive or negative trends in the data
- Not being be able to properly track cash flow
- And so on…
Don’t overcomplicate this.
You don’t need to go into too much detail and you certainly don’t need a degree in corporate finance. You only need to demonstrate that you understand the importance of proper money management at work.
Simply follow your experience with a few sentences highlighting what I’ve laid out above, in your own words.
Here’s an example:
“I’m fully aware of the importance around handling cash at work. A successful business is one that keeps the customers happy and the financial reports in check, and a lot of that comes down to having dilligent staff on the floor. I take that responsibility very seriously.”
3. Explain That You Posses the Relevant Character Traits
This is the cherry on top, just to round off your answer.
Remember those character traits we spoke about earlier? Traits like honesty and integrity, high attention to detail, and a knack for problem-solving.
Well, these are all very desirable qualities for someone in a potential cash-handling position, so highlighting one or two of these traits as your own is an appropriate way to wrap things up.
Again, this doesn’t need to be a thesis of your personality, just a few words.
Here’s an example:
“I’m someone who value’s integrity so I always try to hold myself to a strong moral code. I’d also consider myself a perfectionist, so attention to detail is one of my stengths and I feel those are both very relevant traits when it comes to handling money at work.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
I can give you instructions for days, but putting all this theory into a complete and coherent answer can still be a bit challenging.
So below are some full sample answers for this interview question using the exact 3-part structure laid out above, from having no cash handling experience all the way to veteran status.
Example #1: Zero Experience
“I don’t have any experience handling cash in the workplace because it wasn’t required at my last job. However, I do have a ton of personal experience managing money.
Growing up, my mother suffered with a chronic illness and it fell to me to handle all our financial affairs. Without turning this into a sob story, I very quickly learned the value of money and how to manage it responsibly.
With that being said, I also understand the consequences of mishandling cash at work. Customers lose when they’re overcharged, and the company loses when we undercharge. Neither of those outcomes are acceptable.
I consider myself a very meticulous person so I place a lot of emphasis on accuracy in both my personal and profession life.”
Example #2: Some Experience
“I worked as a cashier at a fast-food restaurant last summer serving customers and dealing with hundreds of transactions every day. The position required me to develop both excellent customer service skills and cash handling skills.
Regardless of the amount of people we’d serve every day, it was always important to me that every customer left the restaurant with a positive experience, and that includes a smooth transaction at the cash register.
I’m someone who takes pride in my work, so I can assure you I intend to carry these same high standards into my new position.”
Example #3: Years of Experience
“I have plenty of cash handling experience since I worked as a Budget Analyist for the past four years, and a Bank Teller for almost two years before that.
Both jobs required a high degree of focus because any innacuracies could be highly damaging to the company. I was accutely aware of how sensitive that process was, and, in all those years, I’m pleased to say I never had a single discrepancy on my record.
I don’t believe I would have lasted in those positions if I wasn’t someone who could hold myself accountable and ensure things were done properly, especially when others were depending on me to do so.”
How NOT To Answer
We’ve covered what you should say, but what about what you shouldn’t say? Here are some mistakes to watch out for when answering this one:
Don’t Mention Your Cash Handling Blunders
Steer clear of mentioning any previous cash handling situations where you screwed up, especially where it resulted in a loss for the company.
Sure, nobody’s perfect and we all mess up now and then, but it’s best to not offer up this information during a job interview – especially one where handling cash is part of the job.
While you might feel it to be noble and honest to talk about, all it will do is sow doubt in the interviewer’s mind that you may not be the most qualified candidate for the position.
Don’t Fake Your Cash Handling Experience
If you have minimal experience working with cash, don’t be afraid to let them know. There’s nothing wrong with telling the truth where this is concerned, and doing so will work in your favor.
When you’re truthful about your past work experience, the interviewer will see you as someone who is upfront about themselves, and therefore can be trusted.
If you embellish your cash handling skills, it can backfire on you and you may end up in over your head once you begin the job.
- Learn the different variations of this question
- Highlight your experience handling money
- Show that you understand the consquences
- Detail the relevant character traits you posses
- Avoid mentioning any past mistakes in handling money
- Don’t fake having professional experience