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Cultural Fit Assessment: How to Interview Potential Hires for Culture Compatibility

What is a cultural fit assessment, and how can it help you choose the best candidate for the job...

Tania Doshko
HR and Career-building Content Creator
September 1, 2022
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A company's corporate culture is made up of how people interact, the company's goals and values, the atmosphere in the workplace, and the practical ways in which employees collaborate.

How much does this matter? According to Glassdoor, employees who give their companies a 2-star rating for culture are also twice as likely to apply for a new position that same week, compared to employees who give 5-star ratings. Drilling down into this data, company culture is just as likely to impact applications as overall satisfaction. Research also found that 46% of job applicants consider corporate culture to be an important factor in deciding where they work.

Your organization’s culture has a huge impact on job satisfaction, retention, and employee productivity, so it's important to do your best to create a culture that matches the nature and needs of your business. Trouble is, knowing whether your top candidate will be a good culture fit is very difficult. In fact, without a tested process to establish culture fit potential, it's a short in the dark.

We've unpacked effective interviewing and testing methodologies that can help you hire for effective culture, as well as the signs that will tell you when you've found the right candidate.

In This Article

What is Culture Fit?

Cultural fit happens when an employee's beliefs, values, and behaviors match part or all of the company's beliefs, values, and behaviors. It is a sense of aligned belonging employees feel when interacting with their work and colleagues.

For a more detailed understanding of organizational culture, and the types of culture most companies exhibit, we recommend reading our Guide on Organizational Culture.

The 4 types of organizational culture

The Importance of Culture Fit in an Organization

Recruiting professionals find culture fit to be a vital element of successful talent acquisition. Culture fit creates engagement.

Metrics indicate that motivated and engaged employees perform better than their disengaged counterparts. They stay with an employer for longer and have more job satisfaction. On the other hand, employees who do not fit into the corporate culture of an organization can quickly burn out, contribute to the burnout of colleagues, and damage the team.

Besides morale, a company’s culture affects the bottom line. A strong organizational culture has even proven to lead to a 400% increase in income growth. By developing a culture that attracts top talent, you can increase revenue by 33%.Research also shows that nearly 70% of Americans place more importance on corporate culture than on pay. This means retaining your top talent is nearly impossible if your company lacks a healthy corporate culture.

How to Determine the Culture Fit Before Hiring

Below are four best practices to help managers with hiring candidates that are aligned with the company’s culture.

Determine the Company’s Brand Values

Take the time to clearly define the values of the company. Write these values down, refer to them often, and make them public for employees to look up to. The goal is to hire only candidates who share the values of your organization.

Employees follow the example of the founders and old-timers of the company. It is therefore essential that these values are not just what is written down, but also the attitude and culture embodied in the organization's day-to-day operations.

Be Upfront About Your Organization’s Culture

People want to find a job that suits them. Therefore, a lack of information or transparency about the company culture is not beneficial to you or our potential hire. In fact, vagueness in this regard can end up costing you dearly in time and resources, because you’ll be interviewing candidates who are just not right.

Employers should be clear and upfront about their company's corporate culture to find candidates who will fit in. Preferably, this should be done high up in the hiring funnel, before the jobseeker converts into an applicant. For example, lots of companies add a section on company culture in their job ads.

The recruitment funnel and applicant conversion point

Ask Culture Fit Interview Questions

Culture fit interview questions highlight a candidate’s mutual compatibility with the company. These questions measure an interviewee’s attitude, work ethic, values, and priorities.

The core insights managers should aim to gain are:

  • Will the candidate get along with existing team members?
  • Will they interact well with customers?
  • How will they respond to the style of the company?
  • Do they share the values of the company?
  • Will they contribute to the company’s growth?

The exact questions you should ask to gain these insights depend greatly on the company’s workings, and the role you’re hiring for. To better understand candidates, it's worth asking about their work history, their career path, what they liked or disliked in previous jobs, and what their career aspirations are.

Use SHL tests

Nowadays, there are many tools that help to identify candidates who are well suited for the company culture, as well as a specific position.

SHL tests (created by Saville and Holdsworth Limited) are psychometric and aptitude tests that specifically determine whether a candidate's personality and demeanor are suited to the role you’re hiring for. These tests assess factors that are difficult to determine from a resume, interview, and skills assessment. These include factors such as deductive reasoning, situational judgment, and working preferences.

Do Your Own Culture Fit Assessment

Create a questionnaire in-house or with the help of a consultant that requires the candidate to describe their preferred working environment. A practical way of doing so is to have them answer questions with a score out of 5. Where 1 would be disagreeing, and 5 would mean they agree completely.

The questions can be indicative of what they’ll experience if they were hired. For example, “I prefer to work remotely.” or “I believe a team effort is more effective than solving problems on my own.” Comparing the candidate's answers with the day-to-day realities of the position will give a clear indication of their fit.

The performance-culture matrix for hiring

Interviewing for Culture fit

When interviewing specifically for culture fit, recruiters or managers may ask various questions to determine the alignment of the candidate's values ​​with the company's values.

According to Christina Moran, Ph.D., the VP of Organizational Development and Learning at MarshBerry, the key to this is basing the questions on your values.

"...create structured and behavioral interview questions based on [the company] values. Then, determine key criteria that should be present in candidates' answers to determine whether they should move forward or not in the interview process (in conjunction with all other hiring data you've received about the individual at that point)."

These questions can be roughly divided into three segments:

Standard Questions

Standard interview questions cover information familiar to candidates, so they know how to answer them correctly. Such questions are unfortunately not very effective in assessing cultural fit, although they help candidates feel comfortable during the interview.

Example: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Interactive Questions

Questions like these require more nuanced answers and can help gauge the cultural fit of candidates by starting a broader discussion. For hiring managers to learn more about the candidate, it is important to keep the conversation going and to get a clear picture of their candidate’s personality. The objective of these questions is to allow candidates to be themselves.

Example: What do you value most about working in a team?

Non-standard Questions

These are questions candidates don't expect to hear in an interview, so they can be very revealing and effective. They give a clearer personality picture by revealing a candidate’s inherent personality as opposed to a poised composure. Candidates very often talk exclusively about their positive qualities in an interview, and highlight what they have achieved in a prepared fashion. With the help of non-standard questions, managers can get a glimpse of a candidate’s natural responses and triggers.

Example: Where on your resume did you lie or leave something out on purpose?

Pro-tip: You increase your odds of making a great hire by interviewing multiple candidates, but your recruiters also have limited capacity. You can significantly streamline your hiring process by using HR software. We recommend looking at our list of Applicant Tracking Systems and Video Interviewing Software for best-in-class, time-saving solutions.

Markers in Hiring for Culture Fit

Hiring for cultural fit does not mean hiring the same type of people multiple times. In fact, hiring culturally appropriate people results in a workforce whose members contribute to the company in various ways. Diversity should always be preserved, as it is vital to both the employees' professional development and the company's growth. So what should you strive for?

Compliance

The importance of corporate compliance cannot be overstated. Compliance of employees with the corporate culture of your company will allow you to create, execute and scale successful projects and processes, increase profitability and maintain business continuity. Employees who comply with what the company expects in terms of process and methods will also increase employee engagement, ensure a pleasant customer and stakeholder experience, and increase overall satisfaction.

Aligned Attitude

When hiring, culture should be prioritized over skill. According to TeamStage, 94% of entrepreneurs and 88% of job seekers say a healthy work culture is vital to success. If you find people whose attitudes inherently fit the company's corporate culture, they are more likely to be motivated to work and succeed with minimal supervision from the manager.

On the other hand, allowing toxic attitudes and behavior to spread within a workplace will undermine the organization's goals.

Employee Retention

Your employee retention strategy and company culture are in lockstep. Employees who are satisfied with their jobs, believe in what they do, and feel connected to their place of work are likely to stay. Employees who interact poorly with the team lose loyalty, which can cost the company dearly.

Productivity and Performance

Happy, engaged, and productive teams that live and breathe the company's core values achieve the best results. Also, companies with a positive workplace culture outperform their competitors financially.

Cohesion

The team that works best is the one that is guided by the same core values and focused on the same goals. A team with conflicting priorities simply can’t achieve the same results. This is not to say a healthy corporate culture is one where all employees agree 100% on every point. After all, you want your company’s challenges to be assessed from multiple angles by people with varying insight and skills.

However, differences of opinion are positive in a team where employees share a sense of camaraderie, tolerance, and understanding. A healthy corporate culture makes room for differences of opinion without it leading to unproductive competition.

Pitfalls of Culture Fit Hiring

While taking culture fit into consideration while hiring new employees is never bad in its essence, extreme concentration on this factor can bring negative effects. Thus, there is a range of pitfalls to be aware of:

A Homogeneous Workforce

Hiring for culture fit to a degree that you’re only employing one type of person hurts workforce diversity. This means you’re missing out on the retention, innovation, and other benefits proven to coalign with a diverse workforce.

Misalignment

Unfortunately, what companies sell as their corporate culture can often be vastly different from their reality. An example would be calling your organization well-balanced while, in reality, employees are expected to work under high pressure for long hours. Such misalignment can lead to high employee turnover, since the people you hire may have accepted a job offer based on an entirely different expectation.

Formula to calculate early employee turnover in the company

Unconscious bias

Repeatedly hiring similar people can reinforce the original unconscious biases that contributed to previous hiring decisions. To eliminate bias in selecting the right candidates, collecting more diverse data about candidates and sticking to numbers and facts is very important. If you want to hire only the best talent, you should take an objective approach to each hire.

According to Moran, avoiding bias in hiring is also about retrospective learning. "While there are some things that can be done to mitigate bias on the front-end of the hiring process, it is important to also "look back" on data to assess for the impact of biases and personal characteristics."

Identifying a Good Candidate for Culture Fit

Understanding a company's corporate culture is the first step in ensuring that all new employees will fit in and develop within the company. Here are a few ways employers can decide whether a candidate is a cultural fit or not:

Identify the Qualities a Candidate Needs

In advance of meeting candidates, draw up a list of qualities your ideal candidate would possess. You can include their personality qualities and work ethic, as well as the skills and experience required for the job.

For example, is this role better suited for a diligent introvert who works well independently? Or do you need someone who is more outspoken and collaborative?

Pay Attention to Their Interactions

The candidate may get along with your recruiters, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will blend in with the rest of the team. To better understand how they will fit into the company, the managers they would report to should also talk to the candidates and observe how they interact.

Candidates can also be introduced to the rest of the team - especially the people they would be working with directly. The recruiters can then extrapolate input from multiple peer reviews about a candidate when it comes to making a hiring decision. Take into consideration if they communicated well, were courteous to junior and senior employees alike, and seemed interested in the company’s operations.

Compare Candidates with Existing Staff

Think of the company's best employees as your benchmark. What are their qualities, and characteristics? You can then use this as a model for the ideal candidate, but not to the extent that you’re looking for a duplicate. Different people can come up with different ideas after all.

The same goes for any troubled employees who have worked for the company in the past. Did something go wrong that made them abrasive? If it was a clash of personalities, someone with a similar temperament could cause similar issues.

Putting Culture First

Corporate culture is a complex notion, and it takes a lot of effort to maintain it properly. However, to achieve the industry advantage, strong development and growth, increased revenue, and leadership recognition you want, the company must develop and maintain a culture in which this can transpire.

Hiring employees is difficult because the competition for top talent is fierce. That's why managers can't afford to make mistakes like hiring candidates based solely on their technical ability. Instead, a profound interviewing process and cultural fit assessment will help ensure that you hire the right candidates who will become happy and productive employees, bringing benefits to your company.

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Tania Doshko

Tania Doshko is an avid writer and content creator for career-building experts, WikiJob. She writes predominantly about business management, HR, and career growth. Tania believes in the power of quality research for business success and finds her inspiration in careful observations and amazement with the developing world of Saas and business tech.

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