7 Interviewing Tips to Improve Cultural Fit

Today I searched #culture on LinkedIn, and there were over 450 results posted in the last 24 hours. This is not at all surprising; it’s a hot topic right now, and for good reason. In an Employer Branding Study published in July 2020 by Hinge Research Institute, 57% of job seekers across career levels consider culture as important as pay when considering job opportunities. Additionally, 75% of recruiters said that cultural fit is more important than work history and experience in the hiring process. I’m not here to convince you that culture is important; there are 450+ people on LinkedIn who can help with that. I’m here to offer ideas for determining cultural fit, both for job seekers and for organizational teams.

I recently sat on the company side of several interviews for a position our team needed to fill. Multiple candidates asked about the company culture – describe it, what do you like about it, what’s the best thing about it, etc. As I gave my 47 cents about People Element’s culture, a few things occurred to me:

  • I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for the culture we have as I was describing it to people outside the company.
  • If employees believe a company has a toxic culture, no one will actually admit to it during an interview.
  • A company’s culture doesn’t have to be toxic for it to be a poor fit for the wrong candidate.

From these thoughts came a few questions:

  • If you are the interviewee, you probably know you’ll hear nothing but positive responses to “tell me about your culture” questions no matter what the reality of is. So how on EARTH are you supposed to find a good cultural fit from the outside?
  • If you are the interviewer, you also know how important it is to hire someone who will be a cultural fit for your team. How can you find out if someone will be a cultural fit during the interview process? And how do you hire for cultural fit AND hire for diverse backgrounds, thoughts, and experiences?

Cultural Fit Tips for Interviewees

  • Know what you’re looking for
    • You can’t know how you’ll fit with an organization’s culture if you’re unsure what aspects of a culture are important to you. A great way to do this is by first identifying your top personal values.
    • Not sure where to start? I recommend taking this free life values inventory. The report provided will give you great insight into your own personal values.
  • Do your research online
    • Check the company’s employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. If you see things that are concerning, don’t be afraid to bring them up in an interview.
    • Pay close attention to company communications on their website and social media platforms. You can learn a lot about a company’s values, priorities, and culture based on what they put out into the digital world.
  • Ask the right questions
    • “What do you like best about the culture” isn’t likely to get you insight into what employees perceive as the negative parts of company culture. Instead, consider asking “What aspects of your company culture do you struggle with the most?”
    • Instead of asking outright about the culture, ask specific questions about things that are important to your values system. For example, creativity is important to me. If I were interviewing for a job, I would ask something like “Tell me about opportunities for creativity in this role or on this team.”

Cultural Fit Tips for Interviewers

  • Understand your current culture
    • If you have the ability to review employee feedback, definitely do that. Knowing what all employees have to say about the culture (not just how you personally experience it) will help you understand the big picture and answer interviewee questions well.
    • If your company doesn’t ask for employee feedback on culture, consider changing that. We can help you utilize technology to streamline the process of learning if your employees are having the cultural experiences you want them to have, and get a good feel for what values and attributes will really fit with your current culture.
  • Know what you need from a new hire
    • You know what skills you need, but do you know what kind of values or attributes you want someone new to bring to the team? Get crystal clear on the values or attributes that will support the position and add value to the team. For example, if you’re hiring for a brand new position where you know there will be role ambiguity and a need for innovation to develop new processes, stay focused on looking for someone who values innovation and who is comfortable working in grey areas.
  • Recognize your bias
    • Hiring for cultural fit is a tricky path to navigate since human beings tend to equate similar interests/backgrounds/life experiences with “fit.” Be aware of this human tendency during the hiring process. If a candidate grew up in the same area you did or has a family like yours, your subconscious wants to equate that with “good fit for the team.” But these things have NOTHING to do with the ability to innovate or work well with ambiguity.
    • Stay laser focused on job and team-related needs and remember that your brain is looking to trick you sometimes.
  • Ask the right questions
    • Take the attributes you’ve identified for the position and ask questions about how a candidate has demonstrated competency in those areas.
    • Behavioral questions are fantastic for identifying if a candidate has what you need. Do you want to learn about a person’s ability to solve problems and work with ambiguity? Use a question like “Tell me about a time you had to figure out something new with little to no direction.”

Cultural fit is important, and these tips will help you get it right on both sides of the interview table. If you are looking for ways to better understand your organization’s culture and identify the actions that will positively impact your culture and employee engagement, People Element is happy to talk with you and understand your needs.

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