Hiring for Culture Fit – My 3 Favorite Interview Questions

I often get asked how to determine cultural fit during an interview. My answer partially depends on how you define culture. If you want to determine if a candidate will be successful in your physical work environment you can ask them to describe the work environment or culture in which they believe they are most productive, or like the best. If you want to determine if they will fit in with a particular team, or work well with a certain manager, you can ask them about the teams they’ve worked with and to describe the best boss they ever had.

But if you define culture by “the way things are around here” or the company’s standards of behavior and the attitudes about what is really important inside, then you really need to dig into the things your candidates internalized long before they hit the traditional 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. What I want to learn about are the values they adopted as a result 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 fled though 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 this, my friends, 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.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

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