How to Screen and Hire for Culture Fit

TSP • @myTSPnet


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” well-known management thinker Peter Drucker once said. Every leader knows what this means — the best thought-out business plan only works if we have the right people in the organization to execute. Do our people understand and buy into the vision of the business? Do they operate in an open, collaborative, and professional way? Do they feel confident enough to raise their ideas and questions, helping make the business more competitive? Are they here to win?

Along with how we develop our people already onboard, the hiring process has a major role to play in building the right culture for an organization.

Corporate culture is the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. There’s no single culture that works for all companies. It depends on the industry, size of the business, stage of development, the products and services, and the type of customers served.

Some companies have a competitive, numbers-driven culture. Others may emphasize collaboration, continual quality improvement or social values like contribution to community. Many times, especially in earlier stage growth companies, the values of the founders are going to permeate the culture, such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos in the tech world or Warren Buffet in finance.

As the company grows, the core values may remain but inevitably there will be change. With more people in the organization, however, it's even more important that the culture ties them together with a common way of solving problems and challenges.

Candidates, by definition, are coming from a different background. They don’t know your company, at least in depth, and the hiring manager may not know the candidates well, unless they worked together in the past. This creates a certain amount of risk that the person won’t be a good fit once on board. The remote and hybrid workplace only increases the difficulty of identifying the candidates that will fit. There are techniques, however, that can help bring the right people into the organization and reduce those risks.

  • Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes: More than half of employees prioritize workplace culture over salary. They are evaluating you as an employer while you are assessing them. What do you want candidates to know about your business and your culture, so you can attract great talent to the pool? Your social media feed, website and recruiting content can tell your story, especially through real-life employee stories. Put some of your best staff who exemplify your values on short videos that can be added to your talent acquisition emails and social media campaigns.

  • Look at like-minded companies to set your criteria: Let’s say that great customer service and building long-term customer relationships is a core aspect of your mission. Which companies are famous for that? In other words, who is the Dell or LL Bean in your field that is setting the gold standard? Are there examples from a completely different industry where that experience could carry across to your business? You can use those companies or industries as criteria for a LinkedIn paid ad campaign encouraging candidates to check out your open roles or advise your Talent Acquisition to focus on candidates with that background.

  • Learn behavioral interviewing: Unlike traditional interview questions, behavior interviewing lays out a specific situation or challenge to a candidate and asks them to walk through how they would handle it. Throw in a curve ball, like a second part to the problem, and see how they think on their feet. People’s natural tendencies, like working with a team vs. taking individual action, or getting real-world customer input to validate their thinking before making a major decision, will start to come out as they explain their rationale in solving potential difficult business problems.

  • Run the top candidates past multiple interviewers: Make sure that a range of personnel meet and assess the candidates who make it through your first screen. Preferably, your interviewer list includes people not only from the direct chain of command for the new role, but also people from related areas or virtual teams that the new hire will need to work with. For a sales candidate, consider including interviewers from marketing or customer s Ask them to assess not only the candidates’ hard skills and resume, but also the cultural fit with the organization. This is a major investment of management time, but the costs of a bad fit down the road justify a well-considered decision now.

Company culture isn’t set in stone. Any organization can become stagnant if it isn’t evolving and responding to a constantly changing market, technology, and customer environment. Does a candidate have the potential to make the company stronger with new ideas? Looking for diverse backgrounds and innovative thinking can help ensure this person is a great fit and someone who will move the organization forward.

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