How to Assess Your Candidate's Cultural Fit

Team asking interview questions to assess the cultural fit of the candidate.
••• Abel Mitja Varela/E+/Getty Images

Job candidates are hard to differentiate these days. Most of them have impressive resumes and interview reasonably well. Also, it’s difficult to obtain revealing information from reference checks. In today’s talent pool, there is often a disconnect between hard and soft skills. A combination of both is usually needed for a team member to become a valuable asset to an organization.

During the pre-employment process, employers do a good job assessing a candidate's experience and skills. But, they are less thorough when it comes to assessing cultural fit. That’s because it is much more difficult to analyze the things about a candidate that are less tangible.

Yet, when seemingly good hires don’t work out, cultural fit is a significant factor in most cases, especially for hires at the management and executive levels. When this happens, time, money, and momentum are all wasted or lost.

2 Step Process for Assessing Cultural Fit

Following is a process that your organization can follow to better assess cultural fit and hire effective employees who will be with you for the long haul. It consists of two steps:

  1. Identify the core elements of your organization’s culture.
  2. Incorporate these core elements into a structured interviewing guide.

A straightforward way to identify the core elements of your company culture is available. You can conduct interviews, tailored surveys, or focus groups with non-management employees. This will help you get an accurate view of your company from a job candidate’s perspective.

You can use sample questions for the interviews, surveys or focus groups:

  • Are there inconsistencies between what our leaders say they value and what they actually do?
  • What are the things that management really pays attention to in this organization?
  • If one of your best friends joined this organization from outside the company, what honest advice would you give him/her regarding what it takes to be successful here?
  • What aspects of the work are most emphasized by leaders in this organization?
  • If you could make any improvements in the way work is done in this organization, what are the one or two things you would change first?

    Once you have completed the interviews or focus groups, the next step is to identify 10-15 descriptive adjectives from the results that capture the core aspects of your culture. Then, have two groups of employees rate the list of adjectives on a three-point scale (low, medium, high), followed by selecting the top five that they believe are the truly “core” aspects of your culture.

    For example, employees may have identified assertiveness as one of the adjectives that best describes a core aspect of your company culture. Does assertiveness have a low, medium, or high rank on your scale? Let’s assume that it ranks high.

    Since it ranks on the high end of your scale, you should acknowledge assertiveness as one of the top five core aspects of your culture out of the 10 - 15. Similarly, a sense of urgency, for example, may rank on the high end of your scale. Often times, things like structure and risk-taking will round out this top five.

    Other examples of cultural adjectives that can either rank low, medium, or high on your scale are curiosity, candor, attention to detail, and thoroughness. Are those medium or high priorities for your employees?

    Several key points that are less obvious, but of equal importance, include the frequency of healthy debate, the prevalence of logic and analytics and/or the frequency of innovation and change within your company.

    Once you complete this assessment, take the top five attributes and define them in detail. Describe specific behaviors and examples of what this attribute looks like in an actual work scenario to employees.

    The final step is to convert these top five elements into behavioral interview questions. Here are two sample interview questions for assessing a candidate’s sense of urgency. 

    • Tell me about a time when you had to work more quickly than you are generally comfortable with in order to achieve a goal. What did you do to make the process manageable?
    • Describe a situation in which you had to make a decision quickly. What did you do? What would have been the consequences if you picked other options?

    Find additional sample behavioral interview questions to consider.

    An Alternative to Interviews and Focus Groups

    If you don’t have the time or resources to do interviews, surveys or focus groups, you can use the attributes and adjectives listed above as a starter set for assessing your organization’s culture, You can also pick from other companies' values and attributes to add additional ones that describe your own culture.

    Then, ask a group of non-management employees to complete the rating/ranking exercise. Once they have completed that exercise, they can provide behavioral examples for the top five attributes.

    Tailoring your interview questions based on your company culture can help you hire the right people for your unique business, and no longer mistake simply the most skilled or experienced person as the perfect fit. This process helps you gain a holistic view of every job candidate who walks through your door.

    Furthermore, the discovery process when you survey your employees can give you new information that can lead to other breakthroughs in your business. Assessing cultural fit can help you make the right new hires. But, it can also help you reinvigorate your existing employees and turn around poor practices or policies that you have not addressed.