Avoid rough waters: Make a cultural interview part of your hiring process

Even when recruits are experts in their field, if their values and working style clash with the rest of the organization, conflict can derail productivity, no one will be happy, and course corrections will be costly. A cultural interview can literally prevent disaster. But before we get into how to conduct one, let’s clarify what culture means in this context.

If a candidate's values and working style clash with the rest of your organization, course corrections can be costly. A cultural interview can help you avoid rough waters.

First, what does cultural fit not mean?

It does not refer to things like race, gender, and age. Those are all protected by law, meaning they cannot be considered in hiring.  Neither does it mean lockstep thought. Diversity of perspective enriches any organization.

What does it mean? Why should your business put emphasis on a cultural interview? The culture of a workplace is made up of the “values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and behaviors shared by employees in your organization, from management down to entry-level workers,” as defined by Susan Heathfield in her “Cultural Fit Assessment” article for The Balance Careers. Each workplace has one, and each is unique. Hiring success requires finding talented individuals who share enough of these characteristics to work well with others.

Some businesses have spent time defining their culture. Others have not. It’s a key step, though, because you can’t hire for it if you don’t understand it. “Take time to identify the values and behaviors that create your workplace’s culture,” advises Heathfield. “This includes analyzing your own behavior, as well as that of your employees. Executives and managers shape workplace culture by modeling and rewarding the behaviors that they want to see in employees.”

4 important components for a successful cultural interview

There is no magic way to word cultural interview questions that will elicit the right insights into your candidates. Interviewers often rightly ask about formality, competitiveness, and personal values, specifically how candidates see their values aligning with those of the employer. However, Lou Adler, recruiting consultant, suggests focusing on four crucial themes in a cultural interview. “Collectively, these factors define at least 70-80% of a company’s culture,” he says.

How the candidate sees leadership

Ask about the best and worst manager they ever worked for, then evaluate their answers considering who they will be reporting to in your organization. If they are interviewing for a leadership role, the question still applies, but also ask it in the other direction: What are some specific situations in which they’ve experienced positive results and productive working relationships with direct reports, and how did they achieve that as a leader?

How the candidate relates within a team

Don’t make assumptions here based on first impressions of introversion or extroversion, cautions Adler. Instead, “have the candidate describe the teams he or she has worked on in detail and observe the growth in size of these teams over time and the person’s role.” You might also consider asking about a negative experience they have had on a team and listen for what they identify as dysfunction and how they handled it.

How the candidate responds to pressure

What is the pace within your company? Startups move fast, legacy corporations are more methodical. Recruits who “thrive in rapid growth situations will wilt waiting for simple decisions to be made,” says Adler. Assess at what pace candidates thrive by asking about specific accomplishments and how much urgency was involved in each. “Some candidates are able to adapt to different situations, but most aren’t, so you need to get this part right,” Adler adds.

How the candidate relates to structure

Depending on your business’ stage of development, it may be highly structured or not. Some employees function best with tight structure, while others might feel suffocated by it and would flourish in a more fluid environment where they can even participate in formulating procedures and teams. Consider asking how an organization can best encourage them to use their discretionary thinking or time.

A cultural interview increases your odds for success

Recruits prepare for interviews by anticipating questions. Interviewers should prepare to probe beyond canned answers, as well as keenly observe nonverbal responses and interactions. When your hiring team formulates questions aligned with these four cultural interview topics as they relate to your specific job openings, you’ll increase the possibilities of finding someone who has great synergy with your staff.

As your recruiting partner, we are always aware of the need to consider cultural fit in locating talented individuals for your next hire. When you contact us, let’s talk about what that means for your company. Contact us today!

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