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How to Interview for a Culture Fit

Excited young workers put their hands together over a work table symbolizing teamwork

By now you’re fully aware that culture fit among your job candidates is critically important. In fact, it could be the single biggest factor in determining employee retention. But do you know how to effectively screen for culture fit? The following three key areas can help you put together a plan for success.

1. Know thyself first.

If you don’t have a definitive corporate culture established, you’ll be spinning your wheels trying to identify employees who can embrace it. Go through the effort of identifying your corporate culture, create core values (like we recently did), communicate them openly to all stakeholders (including current employees), and THEN use them to interview for a culture fit. If you find your culture isn’t what you’d like it to be, it’s possible to turn the tide with your new hires, but it’s important to be strategic.

Michael Fritsch, president of Confoe, an Austin-based project management consulting firm, cautions that departments can have their own subcultures, too, so don’t forget to assess those. “The subculture of the quality department is likely different than that of sales or marketing,” he says, which means interviews should be tailored to cover each subculture as well. An employee who fits one area may be a terrible fit in another area.

2. Don’t look for sameness.

Navy SEAL combat veteran Brent Gleeson shares this point as he talks about the elite group’s recruiting practices. “Every member of the [Navy SEAL] team has to fit our culture and share our beliefs,” he explains. “That’s not to say that all SEALs are cut from the same mold. We have an extremely high level of diversity. Culture fit doesn’t mean that an organization is recruiting the same kind of people with the same backgrounds and experiences. Or at least they shouldn’t be.”

Harvard Business Review further explains, using the core value of collaboration as an example. “People who have a genuine, authentic belief in the value of collaborative work will be a stronger culture fit than those who are more comfortable as individual contributors,” the article reveals. “This doesn’t mean that only people who come from one particular background or have one particular set of experiences are collaborative. A savvy hiring manager knows that a deep-rooted belief in collaboration could just as easily be found in a candidate with a corporate background as a candidate who has worked in the nonprofit sector or a candidate who has spent most of her career in the military.”

3. Ask great questions.

Now that you have your corporate culture in mind and are aware of the traits your diverse pool of candidates should exhibit, it’s time to prepare your interview questions. Here are some resources that can help:

Finally, remember that candidates are likely calculating their own culture fit within your organization during the interview process. Top talent can be savvy, so you can expect them to pick up on warning signs your culture may not be what you say it is. Be open to their questions (just as you expect them to be open to yours) and be honest with your answers.

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