How to Interview for Culture Fit: Why It Matters and What NOT To Do

July 25, 2018

If you’ve experienced a hiring process from beginning to end many times in your career whether directly as the hiring manager or from the sidelines, this situation might sound familiar to you:

You encounter a candidate who blows you away throughout the application and interview process, only to find out after they’ve been hired that they don’t have that certain something they need in order to be successful in the big picture of your organizational culture. For whatever reason, they’re not meshing well with what the company has got going on.

Why does this happen and what can you do to mitigate your risk of hiring? Well, many of these unfortunate situations can be chalked up to poor cultural fit and not doing a good job of screening for it early on.

Candidates who don’t fit the culture can fall short in a number of different ways; perhaps they’re having difficulty fitting in with their workgroups or developing relationships with their peers or they have personal beliefs that are misaligned with the company’s core values. It could be that they view the employee’s role differently than the organization does or they don’t enjoy the environment or kind of work they do. At any cost, culture fit does matter because ultimately, an employee who doesn’t fit won’t feel good at your company, and their leader(s) and team members won’t feel good about their presence on the team.

This is why interviewing for cultural fit is so critical. It can help you find candidates who have the right skills, are personally aligned with the organization’s vision and values, and will authentically enjoy their colleagues and their work, which spreads positively all around. Here are some more tips on how to interview for culture fit and also what NOT to do:

How to interview for culture fit

In order to design an interview template that speaks to culture, we must first explore which components of an organization’s operations and environment contribute to culture as a whole. According to Paul Speigelman, Chief Culture Officer of Stericycle, your organizational culture is comprised of many things including your core values, camaraderie among colleagues, celebrations, communication, caring, community, commitment to learning, and consistency. While every leader defines culture uniquely, these components are shared across many schools of thought.

Consider questions that might help you learn more about how each candidate will contribute to the culture based on these components. For example:

  • To evaluate their core values: “What factors will you consider when deciding whether to accept or reject an offer during a job search?”
  • To evaluate communication: “Tell us about a time you weren’t working well with a colleague and how you resolved the underlying issues.”
  • To evaluate caring: “Tell us how you demonstrated care for your coworkers and clients in your previous role. Give concrete examples.”
  • To evaluate consistency: “How do you balance the need for consistency with the need for change? Can you share some examples?”

It’s important to note that asking what the candidate would do if they were in a situation is not as effective or insightful as asking what a candidate has already done in these situations in the past. Keeping this in mind, reevaluate your interview questions with a goal of ensuring that at least half are designed to measure cultural fit while the other half address knowledge, skills, availability for work, and other technical details.

What not to do

Most importantly, don’t define your culture in a way that eliminates certain groups of people. A generalized comment HR managers often hear from hiring managers is, “He’s a little old…I’m not sure if he’ll really fit our culture because of the age difference between him and the rest of the team.” It’s illegal to pass a candidate over because of age if they’re otherwise able to meet the requirements of the job.

Don’t mistake a candidate’s likeness to you as likeness to the company or a cultural fit. Many interviewers don’t recognize the “like me bias,” in which they’re drawn to the candidate who is most like them. Evaluate the candidate’s true fit in a measurable way to overcome those sneaky biases.

Finally, don’t sway too far to either end of the spectrum. A candidate with all the skills but nothing in common with the culture isn’t going to work despite your need for the skill set. Likewise, a candidate who would fit like a glove but doesn’t have the qualifications to the job isn’t going to offer the ROI you’d like to show.

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Linda Le Phan
Senior Content Marketing Manager at kununu.

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