Ask HR Bartender: Determining Cultural Fit

by Sharlyn Lauby on July 12, 2011

A reader sent over a question about their interview process and cultural fit.

During the interview, candidates say “Yes, I’m committed, willing to do this, love to do that” and so on.  Then after they start, we realize they’re not a good cultural fit for our organization.  What are some good behavioral interviewing questions we can ask to see if a candidate really aligns with our organization’s mission and vision? And, any tips for our hiring team to get a better idea of how that candidate fits our culture?

First things first, let’s tackle the behavioral interview question part.  If you didn’t know, behavioral interview questions are those that ask the interview, corporate culture, behavioral interviewcandidate to talk about something they’ve done in the past.  The idea being that past performance is a good indicator of future behavior.

For example, let’s say your organization places a great value on customer service.  You will want to ask customer service related questions during the interview.  There are three different ways you can ask the question:

Do you have good customer service skills?  This is a closed-ended question.  And seriously, who’s gonna say, “My customer service skills stink.”

How would you handle an angry customer?  On the surface, a better question than the first one.  But a candidate can easily give a textbook answer.  It doesn’t tell you what the candidate has done.

Tell me about a time when you’ve solved a customer problem.  This is a behavioral question.  The candidate’s reply will tell you about a specific situation they’ve handled in the past.

Use this same concept to develop the rest of your interview questions related to organizational values.  For example:

Tell me the steps you take to monitor the quality of your work. (Quality)

Tell me about a time when you pitched in to help someone else finish a project even though it “wasn’t your job.”  What was the result? (Teamwork)

Describe the most creative thing you did in your last job. (Creativity)

Tell me about a time when you had to persuade a person to accept an idea that you knew they wouldn’t like.  (Persuasiveness)

You probably noticed most behavioral interview questions start with “Tell me about a time…”.  It’s a great tip for making sure you’re asking the candidate to share with you something they’ve done in the past.

Speaking of tips, the other thing I’ve learned over the years is not to shy away from getting other people involved in the interviewing process.  Many times only the hiring manager or HR handle the process.  But I’ve found having candidates talk with their future peers is a good thing.  It does take a little explaining on the front end – let candidates know what you’re doing – but the benefits are many:

  • It gives the candidate additional insight into the company.  They get to meet some of the people they will work with every day.  Chances are once they get hired, if they have a question, these are the people they will go to (before their manager or HR.)
  • The company gets additional support for the candidate.  If the peer group buys into the hire, they will show the new employee the ropes.

Asking the right questions and getting people involved in the hiring process can give the company more insight about the candidate and vice versa.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

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Emily Carter July 12, 2011 at 10:16 am

These are great tips for hiring managers and employers. It’s so important to consider culture fit when choosing a new hire — the way a person interacts with the team and completes tasks makes as big of an impact as the person’s qualifications.

We wrote a blog post about considering Culture Fit when bringing on a new hire. Another way to ensure culture fit is by considering temp-to-hire. This allows to company and employee to go through a trial period, to test the environment out and see what works and what doesn’t work. You can read our blog post at http://www.snellingnj.com/blog/bid/35057/Avoid-Employee-Terminations-Begin-With-The-End-In-Mind

Hope this helps any employers and hiring managers that are worried about culture fit!

Sharlyn Lauby July 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Thanks for sharing the resource Emily!

Vic Mahillon August 1, 2011 at 10:53 am

Hi Sharlyn,

What a great post – thank you so much for sharing. Cultural fit is absolutely in any hiring organization. Make the wrong hire and it will definitely cost your team a pretty penny. At OpenView, we also understand how critical it is to find the right fit for our portfolio companies. We did a bit of digging ourselves and put together this piece that you might find interesting!

http://labs.openviewpartners.com/7-behavioral-interviewing-questions/

Thanks!
Vic
Vic Mahillon recently posted..Company CEOs — Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Sean April 21, 2012 at 11:44 am

A great article! Behavioral questions are not only good for finding how an applicant will fit in the company culture, but they also gave a more accurate picture about how an applicant actually behaves. It is quite easy to know the “right” answer to typical interview questions,but behavioral interview questions require the proper thought process.
Sean recently posted..50 Questions to Ask During an Interview

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