Hiring For Cultural Fit: The Right Questions To Ask

Business owners often ask about how to determine cultural fit during an interview. The real question here is, how do you define culture?

Are you looking to see if they will be successful in your physical work environment? You can ask them to describe what work environment or culture they believe they will be productive in or like the best.

Do you want to see how they will fit with a certain team or manager? Ask them about teams they have worked with in the past, or to describe the best boss they ever had.

Do you want to know if they will fit in with “the way things are around here”? Meaning the company’s standards of behavior and the attitudes about what is important inside? Then you may need to dig deeper with your questions to find your answer. You are looking for things your candidates internalized long before they hit the workforce.

While doing so may not be an exact science, I thought I’d share my top three interview questions (and the thought process behind them) to get at that culture fit.

1. Tell me about the very first thing you did that you ever got paid for (your very first job.) Babysitting? A paper route? Walking dogs? Think back – what did you learn from that experience?

Do I really care what their first job was? No.

I want to learn about the values they adopted because of their experience. I’ll give you an example from my own past.

The very first job I ever had was babysitting when I was 12. I worked one evening a week for a single mom of 2 who taught swimming exercises to a group of mastectomy patients. They needed her for so many reasons and she needed me. I was never late. I never called out sick. I was reliable and dependable at 12 because that’s what I had to be.

Was every other sitter she ever hired the same way? Heck no. But those were the values I took away from that role. You know what? 30 some-odd years later I am 100% positive that any of my clients will say that I am reliable and dependable, and I always get the job done.

I had a candidate recently tell me that as his very first job he house-sat when his neighbors went on vacation. He would get the mail, feed the animals, water the plants, and clear the answering machine. I asked him what he learned from that.

His answer was not at all what I expected to hear. I would have guessed at reliability/dependability, just based on my own experience. But no. He told me that he learned he could keep getting hired by not giving the homeowners messages from the other neighbor boys who wanted his job. He chuckled to himself as some memory crossed his mind. He went on to say that he guessed he was still pretty competitive.

2. I’m going to give you a list of five things. While they’re all important, tell me the one thing that is most important to you in making your next career move. Is it money, recognition, stability, challenge, or environment?

While any answer may be acceptable, understanding your company’s culture enough to know if that answer will work for you is critical. If the candidate says “recognition” and your company has a recognition culture, you’re off to a great start. If the person says “money” is the most important, and you know your organization traditionally pays at the lower end of the competitive scale, you know you have an issue to address.

Another critical component to consider is how the answer fits in with what you already know about the candidate. If the person has been laid off repeatedly throughout his or her career, perhaps due to company closures or lack of work, it makes perfect sense for “stability” to be the response. If the person says “challenge” but has held the same level of responsibility for the last 10 years, you need to explore.

3. Describe your ideal company culture. What five characteristics does it have?

To really understand if your candidate is a match for your internal culture using this question, you first need to know what five words actually describe your internal culture. Then you need to see how closely your candidate’s answers are to your company’s reality. How to best accomplish that, my friend, is a whole new blog post.

Want additional insight into interviewing? Here are some ways you can rework your recruiting approach. You can also download our whitepaper.

What are your favorite questions that help you get at culture fit? Let us know in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *