A few years ago I interviewed a candidate for a software engineering position. The candidate passed all my technical interview questions with flying colors.
As a result, we ended up hiring him.
After about a month, it was quite clear that the candidate was not gelling with the team. He wanted to work irregular hours, while most of the team worked a pretty standard day. He wanted to go out after work but many team members had families to get home to.
Quickly, these little things became actual issues with his work and ability to interact with other members of the team and we all decided it would be best to discontinue our working relationship.
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What he was looking for in his ideal work environment is completely fine, but we were not the right company to provide it. It was my fault for not taking the time to properly assess his cultural expectations and relay my own. We both ended up wasting our time.
If there isn’t a good match between what your company values are and what’s important to the candidate, then regardless of their experience, neither party is going to be happy in the long run. The most successful hires will have not only the skills you desire but also fit your culture.
Many of these responses focused on cultural fit.
Questions to Assess Cultural Fit
Below are the 7 best cultural fit interview questions from our survey.
1. What environment do you thrive in the most and what drives your passion? – Asked by Vbout
This question helps frame the conversation in terms of what the candidate wants rather than what you want. It’s open ended, so they have to think about their response.
The answer to this question may give you insight into how this candidate prefers to work alone uninterrupted or perhaps does best on a team.
There’s really no wrong answer. You just need to assess whether your company is an environment they will thrive in.
2. If you were starting a company from scratch, what would you want your company’s culture to be? – Asked by Paubox
This is a great opportunity to dig into what they think company culture is. Do they want pizza and beer or do they care most about a good work/life balance?
You should be thinking about whether their answer matches your company’s actual culture.
3. What does your ideal work day look like? – Asked by Pay By Group
I wish I had asked this question in the interview example I spoke of earlier. It may have saved me some time and money.
We all have different ideal days. I prefer silence while I work but others like to play music. You need to know whether you are a good match to provide the candidate’s ideal day.
4. What are your personal values and how are they aligned with the company’s values? – Asked by Verlocal
Here you can make sure the candidate understands what your company’s values are. They also have to justify how their values fit yours.
5. Describe your perfect job, company, and work environment. Whatever factors are most important to you. – Asked by Wealthminder, Parse.ly, and Hypr
This is similar to asking about the candidate’s ideal work day, but a little more specific.
It should give you some insights into what they value most in a job. It’s great to always follow up and ask for specific examples.
6. In your opinion, what is leadership? – Asked by Unleashed
I like this question because it can give you insight into what the candidate’s past experiences with being lead are. Since the question is framed in a very general way, you will get a more honest answer than if you ask them directly about their previous boss.
7. What is your leadership style? – Asked by Peerspace
This is a great follow up to the previous question. Once they describe their style, you can ask them to provide specific examples from their life where they demonstrated these leadership qualities.
Digging for Honesty
Behavioral interview questions like the ones above let you go beyond the candidate’s resume and figure out what the candidate is passionate about and what situations they will thrive in.
The environment that’s right for one person might be a complete disaster for another. Some people thrive in high-pressure environments where things change moment to moment while others do their best work where everything is organized and planned ahead of time.
They also challenge the candidate to be honest and think deeply about their response.
Many candidates will practice answering questions to get ready for an interview. There’s nothing wrong with this — it shows that they are making an effort to get the job. However, their responses to common interview questions are likely rehearsed. They may be telling you what they think you want to hear.
Job candidates are accustomed to giving canned responses to questions, so it’s important to ask a variety of cultural fit questions that prod into the candidate’s stated ambitions from different angles. This way you’ll be able to test how consistent their answers are and how much depth they have.
I’ve had a lot of personal success with starting the conversation by explaining that we care more about seeing if we are a fit for them than focusing solely on evaluating their skills for the given position. This helps put them at ease because it frames the conversation in terms of their own desires rather than yours.
It’s in the best interest of everyone involved that your company’s style in terms of environment and culture is communicated up front and that you, as the hiring manager, understand what is ideal for the candidate.
If you are not already asking questions related to cultural fit, then you should be. It will help save you from making a bad hiring decision like the one I made.
Finally, do you have a great question or tip not discussed here? Let us know in the comments.