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Find Out if They’re a Cultural Fit with these Interview Questions

Kristen Ruttgaizer

April 18, 2019 · 5 min read
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You can train new hires in specific skills they need for the job, but you can’t train them to thrive in your unique environment.

Most employers now recognize the importance of “cultural fit” or “culture fit” – the alignment between the values, attitudes, and behaviors of prospective employees and organizations. Assessing that compatibility can be difficult, but these three strategies can help:

A candidate’s fit in your company culture can be equally as important as their hard skills and experience. Research shows that employees who fit well with their organization have greater job satisfaction, are more likely to stay in the job, and show superior job performance than those who don’t. Of those newly hired employees who fail within the first 18 months, only 11% lack the necessary technical skills, while 81% had poor interpersonal skills, flaws that many of their managers admit were overlooked during the job interview process, according to a recent study.

Culture fit caution

The importance of ensuring an employee will feel comfortable and succeed in your company is clear, but very recently some organizations have shifted away from the term “culture fit.” The phrase has sometimes been used to justify hiring candidates with the same profile every time, resulting in a static, homogeneous culture.

Instead, companies are shifting their focus to hiring “culture adds” – people whose unique backgrounds and experiences will enhance your workplace culture, while still being in sync with its central values. This approach decreases the risk of discriminatory hiring and encourages racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, which has been shown to improve organizations’ financial returns.

Before the interview: Define and share your workplace culture

You need to have a deep understanding of your company culture before you can determine whether a candidate will fit in it. If your organization hasn’t created a formal statement outlining your organization’s core values, do it now. It can be as simple as answering these questions:

  • What do we believe?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we want to achieve?

If you’re not sure about the answers, just ask your employees. They’re the ones who live and breathe your company culture everyday. Create a and distribute a culture survey that invites them to share their ideas and observations. That way, you’ll have an authentic account of what’s happening across the organization and employees will appreciate the opportunity to weigh in.

Some experts recommend creating a detailed culture deck to spell out exactly what kind of behaviors will contribute to an employee’s eventual success in an organization. You could also identify what kind of workplace culture style you have based on the Harvard Business Review’s culture taxonomy. Based on two key dimensions – how employees interact and your company’s response to change – companies fall into one of eight culture styles: Caring, Purpose, Learning, Enjoyment, Results, Authority, Safety, and Order.

Once you’ve determined what kind of culture you have, communicate it. Put your mission and values statements on job postings and your website so prospective applicants can pre-screen themselves. It’s also a good idea to add this information to your intranet home page or  internal onboarding center to serve as a refresher for new employees during their first few weeks on the job.

With this knowledge firmly in hand, you’ll be ready to evaluate how candidates would fare in your environment. If your culture is based on authority, for example, you can quickly reject highly independent people who prioritize flexibility at work. On the flip side, if your culture puts enjoyment first, you can eliminate introverted, rule-bound candidates.

During the interview: Ask these culture fit questions

There are no simple rules or step-by-step instructions for assessing people’s beliefs and work styles. It’s a nuanced process that relies on an interviewer’s intuition and ability to encourage candour and openness in candidates. Still, asking key questions based on these broad themes will give you crucial insight:

Ideal company culture

  • Describe the kind of work environment where you’re happiest and most productive.
  • What workplace values do you admire?
  • Tell me about a job where you felt uncomfortable in the workplace. Why was it a bad fit?
  • What aspects of the culture at your previous company would you want to see here?
  • How would you describe the company culture here, based on what you’ve learned so far?

Preferred management style

  • How much direction and oversight do you like to get from supervisors?
  • What traits do you believe make a successful leader?
  • Are you most effective in a hierarchical or flat structure?
  • What do you consider the right type and amount of feedback for motivation?
  • What expectations do you have of the senior leadership team?

Collaboration and communication style

  • How do you prefer to communicate with colleagues (in person, email, IM)?
  • What are your feelings on remote work arrangements?
  • Are you comfortable with virtual collaboration (including video conferencing)?
  • What role do you usually take on project teams?
  • Do you do your best work alone or with others?

Throughout the interview process: Watch for culture fit clues

Look beyond the traditional back-and-forth of the actual interview to assess candidates for culture fit from the moment they step in the door to when they walk out. Pay attention to their body language, eye contact, friendliness, forthrightness, and ease. It can tell you a lot about a person’s true personality, as well as their comfort level in your environment.

Here are a few ways to expand your knowledge of the people who want to join your team:

  • Consider having the interview over coffee or lunch. An informal setting can help you get to know interviewees as people, not just prospective employees.
  • Give candidates a tour and introduce them not only to the relevant team or department, but receptionists, security guards, and other managers.
  • Later, ask everyone who interacted with a candidate for their honest opinion. Was the person polite to the receptionist? Arrogant with lower-ranking employees? Attentive to explanations from potential colleagues? These are telling signs.

Revive your recruitment efforts with one easy change

The HR department plays a critical and strategic role in a company’s success. And hiring the right people with the right skills and experience is where it all starts. But you can take it one step further – as many progressive companies have – by recruiting candidates who not only fit, but enhance your culture.

Learn how to make culture your next growth strategy. Get your free resources here.