TFYW#026 A Better + Faster Way To Hire

Mar 10, 2023

This week is all about hiring people in your firm.

Good talent is harder to find.

Work is piling up for most firms, and some will make the mistake of taking any warm body to relieve the pressure.

I won’t get into the high-level stuff of attracting and retaining good talent here – you can see that in issues TFYW #009 and TFYW #010 – but I am going to get into asking better interview questions for cultural fit.

Time Is Of The Essence

Gone are the days when candidates wait for 4 – 5 weeks while you assess if they are a good fit. A candidate needs to know if you want them within two weeks of the initial contact.

Good talent will not be on the market for long. So being able to identify a strong candidate quickly is crucial.

You may only have one, possibly two, interviews to speak to a candidate, so those interviews have to be maximized.

Interviews are not the time to assess technical skills. It is almost impossible to determine skills and abilities with a few questions. Technical skills can be confirmed through reference checks, prior experience and paid trial days.

I will focus on interview questions to determine culture or attitude fit.

Note: Recruiting firms can be excellent resources for finding a candidate quickly. They can do a lot of the heavy lifting when finding good candidates.    

However, recruiting firms can be expensive and do not guarantee success. If the recruiting firm has yet to work with you, it will be hard for them to determine your culture. 

Their recommendations will probably be based on the candidates’ technical know-how and experience. 

If you work with a recruiting company, ensure you understand their policies regarding non-successful placements.

Culture And Technical Fit

If I were a betting person, I would put my chips on cultural fit every time. Culture/attitude fit trumps technical fit.

A certain level of technical skill is required, but you can improve a candidate’s technical skill with support and training.

It is impossible to improve someone’s culture fit.

People need to encounter semi-seismic events to have their attitudes changed. Joining an accounting firm is not that type of event.

I’ve heard many firm leaders say, “I just need someone to get the work done.” Unfortunately, it is not that easy.

Yes, you need someone to get the work done, but you also need someone who:

  • Can be resourceful
  • Can take directions
  • Can be self-reflective
  • Communicates clearly
  • Understands team roles
  • Wants to learn and improve
  • Takes ownership of their work
  • Speaks to the level of the client

A cultural mismatch will impact the individual performance and the surrounding team. I’ve fired top performers only to see the remaining team member’s performance improve – and not for fear of termination, but for the release of tension and resentment.

What is your Firm’s Culture?

If you think your firm doesn’t have an identifiable culture, just look at how YOU do things.

  • How fast do you respond to client and team member requests?
  • How involved are you in the personal lives of your team members?
  • Do you make time for the team to connect during work hours?
  • What emphasis do you place on time off and disconnecting?
  • How do you view and leverage technology?
  • Do you give orders without getting insight from other team members?

As the leader, you usually embody the firm’s culture whether you know it or not.

Your team members take clues on expectations and behavior based on what they see the firm leadership do.

If you don’t remember anything else from this week’s newsletter, remember this:


Your culture is not set by what you say but by what you do.

When judging candidates’ cultural compatibility, ensure your behavior matches your expectations.

Cultural Fit Questions

These questions are designed not to have a correct answer.

They will help you peek behind the candidate’s personality and attitude curtain.

You will see how self-aware they are. You will observe if they know where their blindspots are and if/how they manage them.

I like using uncommon questions. They will prompt authentic answers that the candidate couldn’t have prepared for.

I like questions that focus on the WHY of actions instead of the actions themselves. That way, I can see their values (again, that part we cannot change) and their logic (ability to make decisions well).

How did you prepare for this interview?

What to listen for: Assertiveness, preparedness and intent. You will see if your firm was just one on the list or many and if they prepared for the interview.


Tell me about someone you didn’t get along with at your last job. What would they say about you?

What to listen for: Honest self-assessment and awareness. You’ll put them in someone else’s shoes in order to respond. People lie for themselves without hesitation, but it is harder to lie on behalf of someone else.


What is the most significant challenge facing accounting professionals today?

What to listen for: Their understanding of the profession and the role they’ll play as service providers in the changing market. If they can link their response to something you’ve mentioned about your firm, they get bonus points.


What is something you can give a 5-minute presentation on?

What to listen for: This will cut through to the individual’s personality. I like to see passion and creativity.

If you have time, invite them to present on a whiteboard the topic they mention. You’ll see if they can tailor the info so you can understand it.


Tell me about the three people you admire the most and why you admire them. 

What to listen for: This question lets you know what candidates aspire to be and do. Are they looking for fame and success? Or challenges and growth?


Tell me about the last three books you have read.

What to listen for: This shows their passion and what they value, as well as their recall and ability to explain concepts or ideas they’ve previously learned. You will also get a flavor of them as a person.


You will not overcome the barriers facing much of the industry and your firm with teams that put their heads down and grind it out.

Hiring just a pair of hands might have worked in the past, but you’ll want a culturally aligned brain along with those hands moving forward.

Build The Firm You Want.


P.S. Email with something that you want me to talk about. I’ll add it to the list. 

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