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Testing Cultural Fit When Interviewing Candidates

July 25, 2017

testing cultural fit

Testing candidates for cultural fit during the job interview is essential for making good hires who are likely to have a long tenure at your company.

Unlike hard and soft skills, cultural fit isn’t something that can be trained after someone is hired. Forcing hires who don’t fit with your company culture to “fit in,” no matter how skilled they are, will rarely work out in the long run. While a high-performing, non-fitting hire may conform to your company’s culture, they will not experience the same level of job satisfaction as a high performer who experienced cultural fit right away.

A strong company culture is composed of many viewpoints, backgrounds and demographics, but a strong company culture is also based on the specific principles that drive your workplace. You shouldn’t hire someone just because their attitudes fit with your company’s culture, but you also shouldn’t under-estimate the value of a culturally aligned hire.

Think of it this way: even if a candidate is perfectly qualified for a job, is enjoying the work and is satisfied with the salary they’re getting, they are still likely to quit within a year if they don’t experience fit with your company’s culture. Everyone wants to work for a company where they can feel a sense of community and where they can feel at home at work.

Primary qualifications for a job should not be ignored, but neither should the importance of cultural fit. The right skills and the right fit are required for a candidate to be a success, and for a candidate to enjoy your open job, so you need to evaluate candidates equally in both of these areas to make good, long-lasting hires.

Defining Your Company Culture

To effectively evaluate candidates for fit with your company’s culture, you need to work with other people in your company to define this culture. This definition should be honest and detailed because you and other interviewers will be using this information as guidelines for evaluating candidate fit.

Additionally, it’s important to define your culture because candidates will be evaluating your company’s culture as surely as you’re evaluating them for cultural fit. If their impression differs from the information they’ve been presented with online or in the interview, candidates may become skeptical and have a harder time accepting your job as a good opportunity for them.

But, if your portrayal of your company’s culture is accurate, then sharing information about your company’s culture during the interview can help candidates decide that your company is a good fit.

Just be sure that you get input from a variety of sources within your company and especially from the department and team that the hire will be joining. 

Answering these questions will help you define your company culture:

  • What makes working at your company unique?
  • Who are some of the people who have a large, positive effect on the experience of working for your company?
  • What are the major perks (telecommuting, maternity/paternity leave, tuition re-imbursement, etc.) and benefits (Health/Dental/Life insurance, 401k, stock options, etc.) that you provide?
  • What are some of the little things (snacks, pet friendliness, nearby gym, etc.) that make your current employees love working for your company?
  • How is working for your company different than working for other companies in your industry?
  • Maybe there’s an “official” version of your company’s culture, but how does that stack up with the day-to-day experience of working for your company?

Testing for Cultural Fit During the Interview

Now that you’ve gotten the input from some people in your company about your culture and defined that culture, you’ve got the information you and other interviewers will use to evaluate candidates for cultural fit.

Interview essentials:

  1. A variety of employees/employee leaders involved in the process.

Your interview team should include some of the people who work in the department or on the team that the hire will be joining. When the managers co-workers and/or reporting employees who will work with the hire have a hand in picking them, the candidate chosen has a much better chance of being a good fit with their team and your company.

These interviewing employees should be using the same set of fit criteria that you are to evaluate candidates. They should also be engaged with candidates, evaluate them for fit objectively and keep the importance of diversity in mind.

  1. A well-defined set of criteria based on the company culture description you create with collaborating employees.

The criteria that interviewers use need to be based on the information you gathered from conversations with employees, especially those who will be working directly with the hire.

These criteria should be specific, accurate and reflective of the realities of your company culture. Rather than checking a box, (Team Spirit (yes)(no)), interviewers should take qualitative notes and keep a tally of how many times they see one of your company’s key cultural traits during the interview.

  1. Unbiased engagement when interviewing candidates and critical focus when scoring candidate fit against these criteria.

Before any candidates are interviewed, the interviewing team needs to have a meeting about the importance of unbiased decision making and the importance of diversity in a strong company culture.

When a company becomes too homogenous in one way or another, it limit’s its ability to attract talent and compete against companies with a diversity of backgrounds and experiences.

It’s important for everyone on the interview team to engage with candidates honestly and not to “pick favorites.” Once an interviewer “gets a feeling” about the fit of a candidate, their first reaction should be to challenge this assumption and remain objective. Candidates want the job, after all, and can be prone to projecting particular traits and attitudes during the interview, so everyone on the interview team needs to go into the interview with objective engagement as one of their primary goals.

Lastly, everyone on the interview team needs to engage with candidates who are visiting your company, as this will affect their ability to gage fit and candidate impressions of your company. These candidates may write a review about their experience interviewing for your company, and engagement from all interviewers will help to create a positive trend in these reviews.

VP of Marketing at Digital Astronauts Ronny Cheng is one of the Co-Founder's of Digital Astronauts and has helped drive lead generation in the software industry for organizations of all sizes -- from start-ups to Fortune 500's. He helped build one of the first online software review websites, specializing in CRM, ERP, and HR software. He's a nationally published author with extensive experience working with the HR/Recruiting industries largest brands. In his spare time, you can catch him on Instagram doing his best food blogger impersonation.
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