Determining a cultural fit isn’t as simple as describing your work environment and then asking the candidate for a thumbs up. In fact, you don’t want to offer details about your culture until near the end of your interview process. Don’t tip your hand by giving information that will coach them on how to answer your initial questions.
Here are my top five techniques to determine if a candidate fits your culture:
- Ask “What was the worst company culture you worked in?” I love hiring people who had a genuinely awful work experience. I know that might sound odd, but it gives the candidate the appropriate perspective of a truly difficult work environment. For example, Josh told me during an interview that the five brothers who owned the company he worked for frequently squabbled. I’m not sure if punches were ever thrown, but they swore and yelled at each other before storming out of meetings. One brother would give Josh direction, then another brother would stop by Josh’s desk and say, “Forget him. Do this instead.” How would you like to deal with that every day? Josh has been a strong employee of ours for 11 years now. His job isn’t easy, but he appreciates that our culture encourages cooperation. Candidates who haven’t experienced a poor work environment may feel the grass is greener at another employer when your job gets hard.
- Be skeptical of the candidate’s answer. Determine if the candidate’s past work culture was problematic or if the candidate is overreacting. One sales candidate I talked with said he was miserable at his current company, but when I pressed for details his main complaint was that his manager required him to complete monthly reports. An operations candidate was angry at her employer because she was required to make deadlines. My company requires sales reps to turn in paperwork weekly and hinges operations employees’ bonuses on deadlines. These candidates were clearly not a fit for our company, but I didn’t learn that until holding out for details of their “terrible” work environment.
- Ask “How did you cope in that culture?” This question will provide insight into several character traits of the candidate. Did they persevere through the tough times or quickly bail? Did they stay enthusiastic or did their attitude sour and harm their co-workers? When describing the experience, do they exhibit kindness? Are they overly bitter or are they mature enough to realize they learned something from the experience?
- Near the end of your interview process, detail your company culture. Put it in writing. Prior to the final interview (where we discuss our aversions of the candidate and they detail their aversions of my organization), we give candidates documents that detail our company’s culture plus an introductory letter from the company president. Here’s a passage from that letter: “If you ever feel we are not adhering to the concepts outlined here with you or anyone else, we would truly appreciate you making us aware of it. If you don’t understand the reason behind an action or policy, or you don’t believe appropriate changes are being made — and your supervisor is not able to adequately make changes that align with our principles or help you to understand why we are doing what we do — please let me know. We are striving to make this a fair and safe work environment where high-character, self-governing, independent-thinking people thrive — both at work and in life.”
- Set them up for future reference on your company culture. The communication technique of Set Them Up For Future Reference — I convert it to the fun acronym STUFFR — consists of identifying and understanding a potential problem and discussing it with the candidate in advance. You also need to note the candidate’s (and your own) exact words and commitment to not failing. My company doesn’t care if someone generates a zillion dollars in new revenue. If that person doesn’t treat co-workers right, we don’t want that person on our team. Here’s what I say to candidates: “You can take what I’m about to say to you two ways. You can take it as me wagging my finger in your face saying, ‘We have a bunch of good, honest, kind, hard-working people here. Don’t screw it up. I’ll throw you out of here because I don’t want one person ruining it for us.’ Or you can take what I’m saying as our company making a commitment to you that you don’t have to tolerate anyone screaming, yelling, swearing, or belittling you. If someone breaks the Golden Rule, let me know and we’ll put a stop to it. Are you OK with that?”
Finding candidates who fit your company doesn’t have to be a mystery or guessing game. If you execute the above questions and conversations during your interview process, you’ll hire employees who will enhance your organization’s culture.