How to probe about company culture

  • 09-03-18
  • Geoff Balmer

When it comes to evaluating your next job in the Sydney Accounting sector, one of the most important factors to consider is the company culture. You need to be as sure as you can be that you’re joining an organisation that aligns with what you want personally together with being a good career move long term. Is the culture one that will have you leaping out of bed each day? Uncovering the answer is a little more complicated than simply asking “What’s your culture like?”

These are nine of the best questions to ask in a job interview to assess company culture.

1. What is the average tenure with your company (in your team)?

Employee turnover is one of the biggest indicators of whether a culture is healthy or not. If most people have been with the company for some time, it’s likely that the company has won the loyalty of its team and is a positive place to work.

On the other hand, if the majority of employees have been there a relatively short time, it might suggest there is trouble behind the scenes. Unless the business is a startup or is experiencing rapid growth, high employee turnover should be a red flag.

2. What makes you proud to be part of this company?

The values of a company play a big role in forming its culture, as do the motivators of those who work there. This question will help you find out not only what’s important to the organisation and what behaviours are rewarded, but whether the interviewer is happy to work there themselves. Look out for vague or trivial responses or lack of eye contact, as these signs could indicate that the interviewer is dissatisfied with where they work and that perhaps there isn’t too much to be proud of.

3. How does the organisation support professional development?

You don’t want to end up in a company that boxes you in and allows no room for progression. Training courses, mentorship, conferences and clear pathways for promotion all suggest that a business is willing to invest in its employees long-term. If your interviewer is unable to provide a straightforward reply, then you could be looking at an accounting job that will leave you at a dead end in the future.

4. How do you measure performance?

This can help you uncover the expectations so that you don’t walk into a company where the bar is set unrealistically high. An organisation with a good culture gives its employees goals that are both achievable and easily measured, meaning you will know exactly what is required of you and how to get there. Regular performance reviews, individual targets, transparent feedback and ongoing support are all good signs that success is cultivated and measured fairly.

Additionally, asking about success metrics also provides an insight into what failure looks like, telling you what you’ll want to avoid as well as the potential consequences of poor performance.

5. What attributes does it take to succeed in this company or accounting team?

This is one of the best questions to ask in an interview, as the personality traits that are valued by the company can give you an insight into the type of people who are successful, and what kind of approach is expected from you. Read between the lines of what is being said, as it’s easy to give a buzzword-filled answer here. Phrases such as “team player” or “results-driven” can be vague, so try to look at them in context with the rest of your interview experience. “What do you mean by that” can also draw out additional information on the success criteria should the responses not answer your question fully.

6. How does the team celebrate achievements?

A business that marks key milestones and recognises the triumphs of both individuals and the team as a whole more often than not has an engaging and supportive culture in general. Do they go out for drinks? Do they do team lunches? Perhaps they have a formal recognition system? The way in which they celebrate will help you know if you’ll fit in with both the company management style and the individual personalities in the organisation.

7. What was the biggest challenge the business faced last year, and what did you learn from it?

In this case, the actual challenge the interviewer describes matters less than the way the business or team handled it. Listen out for whether they blame people or processes. If it’s people, then be wary of a potential scapegoat culture that tends to direct culpability onto individuals for a problem or failure rather than managing the consequences as a team.

Meanwhile, an emphasis on the process can be a sign that they’re focused on more holistic improvement than assigning blame. That said, if processes are always failing and changing, then perhaps there is a competence issue.

8. If you could change one thing about the company, what would it be and why?

This question will allow you to delve even further into the company’s values and how they address the things that are problematic to them. If this question is avoided, or a solution (or at least plans to resolve) isn’t mentioned, then that’s a red flag. Likewise, watch out for any uneasiness about portraying a problem or breaking the status quo. Whilst no workplace is perfect, if the company is willing to tackle issues and make changes then you can be rest assured that you’ll be joining an organisation that is willing to accept feedback to create a positive culture.

9. Could you show me around the office?

This is best saved for the final interview, but there’s no better way to get an idea of what it’s like to work at a company than to see it for yourself – especially if it’s impromptu. Make sure you pay attention to the way the office is set out and the general atmosphere of the space. Is it open-plan or closed off? Do people appear stressed? Are they interacting at all? Does it feel natural to you? If you get the chance to be introduced to members of the team, take note of how friendly and relaxed they are (or aren’t).

Does what you see confirm or conflict with what the interviewer has been saying? If you’re still unsure about the culture, this might give you the last bit of insight you need.


These questions will enable you to assess an organisation’s culture during an interview and give you a more detailed understanding of what you can really expect from a role. By getting a clear idea of the company culture before you say “yes” to a job offer, you’ll be in a much better position to choose a workplace that’s a good fit for your needs and goals. Furthermore, by asking these probing interview questions, you will show your initiative and hopefully stand out from other applicants.

If you’d like to know more about how Richard Lloyd Accounting Recruitment helps quality Accounting and Finance professionals find the Sydney accounting jobs that are right for them, contact our experienced recruitment team.

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