Michael Sterling

Culture Clash? Find a Better Match.


How to Find an Accounting Firm with Values that Match Your Own!


Finding a firm that matches your core values means you must first take time for introspection. This requires that you are brutally honest with yourself. What’s important?  What’s not?


Only once you’ve clearly defined your core values, will you be successful in finding a position that will genuinely satisfy you. But, how exactly do you determine a potential employer’s true culture?  The answer is through research, observation and well-crafted interview questions.


I recommend you frame your questions around two areas:


  1. Culture/Values
  2. Position Specifics


Firms are placing more and more emphasis on a candidates’ ‘soft skills’. (See our article: The Hard Facts about Soft Skills) Candidates need to do the same when assessing a firm.


If you value a flexible work environment or work best when you have a quiet workspace, you need to ask questions that help determine whether the job will make you happy. For example:


  • Can you describe the environment here?


Listen to the adjectives the interviewer uses. What aspects of working there does he or she choose to highlight – collaborative teamwork or the wild and crazy holiday party? The career development opportunities or the free breakfast bar?


Ask questions that require definable and qualitative answers. Such as:


  • Describe the day-to-day involvement of the partners?
  • What type of professional development opportunities are provided?
  • What philanthropic organizations does the firm support?


The ‘Eyes’ Have It


“What you see is what you get” is true. In addition to advance research on a firm, ask for a tour around the firm or, at the very least, pay attention to the surroundings during an interview.


  • Is the environment inviting or sterile?
  • Are the partners’ accessible; are their office doors open or closed?
  • Are there areas for teams to meet?
  • Do employees have family photos on display?


When it comes to culture, remember, no workplace is perfect.  Anyone who tells you it’s all sugar and spice isn’t being truthful.  A good, honest employer will be willing to tell you the good and the bad.


Keep in mind, the interview process is a two-way street. It needs to be a win-win. You need to be the right person for the job and the job needs to be right for you. Most importantly – trust your gut! If your gut says you’ll be unhappy, chances are you will.


Want more career and job search tips? Check out our Career Wellness library on the SterlingFreeman website.



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