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Make Sure Your Next Hire Is a Culture Fit: 10 Tips
 

An inside look at how Zappos makes sure that each new employee complements the overall corporate culture.

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Editor's note: The following comes from Zappos Insights, an executive education training program. 

Have you seen the Zappos Family Core Values Interview Assessment and wondered how you could apply it to your recruiting efforts? Zappos Insights is glad to offer you these tips to complement the assessment. Of course, your core values may vary, but these tips can be applied to any organization’s core values. Before the tips, check out this brief run-through of the recruiting process.

How Many Interviews?

The qualified candidate can expect a three-stage process after applying for a position: a recruiting phone screen, a technical phone screen, and a 2-part onsite interview. These interviews and assessments allow the recruiter and hiring manager to be absolutely sure that the candidate has the skills needed to do the job, and is a culture fit for the team and company.  Both aspects are important, and here this is how the Zappos Family checks and rechecks for both:

The Recruiting Phone Screen 

 30 to 45 minutes 

Hosted by a recruiter

Primary objective: basic core values match and to discuss any deal breakers:  work history, career goals, salary requirements, and willingness to relocate.

Secondary objective: has the applicant done their homework?  

  • Does applicant have a sense of what it is like to work with the Zappos Family?  
  • Does applicant want to work with the Zappos Family, or just want a job?

The Technical Phone Screen 

30 to 45 minutes

Hosted by the hiring manager

Primary objective: assess technical fit at a high level 

Initial check for team and culture fit 

Next Stop: Onsite Interview

If the applicant passes both phone screens (and, in some cases, a Skype interview with the department director, and/or additional members of the hiring manager’s team), the recruiter will coordinate an onsite interview, which includes:

A Tour of the Zappos Family Offices

This is conducted by the recruiter or a member of the hiring manager’s team. This is an opportunity for the candidate to get a sense of the physical environment, experience the culture a bit, and learn about the history of the Zappos Family, including current ventures and organizational structure. It’s also a chance for the tour giver to gauge the applicant’s reaction to what they are seeing. The Zappos Family is not for everyone. And the interviewers pay attention to the types of questions the applicant asks during the tour. Is there genuine interest and excitement about what the applicant seeing? Or are all the questions, “me, me, me.”  

Basic Skills Assessments 

A recruiter will check for the skills relating to the position and to the call-center training program all new employees must complete: typing, grammar, and basic computer literacy.

Technical Interview

This is a 30-45 minute interview with the hiring manager and up to 6-8 other members of the team, in both one-on-one and group formats.  The primary objective of these meetings is to get an in-depth assessment of the applicant’s technical skills.  Depending on the role, the candidate may also meet with stakeholders across departments as well. 

Lunch with the Team 

In order to get candidates out of the interview room and interacting a bit more comfortably, there is often a casual off-site interview. This gives the team a chance to see if there is a culture match with the group, and a chance for the hiring manager to make sure that the candidate can socialize outside of work.

Core Value Interview

This lasts another 45 to 60 minutes. The goal is to ensure that the candidate understands the culture, and has specific examples to share that support how they’ve already exhibited qualities that reflect our Core Values in previous positions.  Read more on this below.

Moving forward in hiring a candidate has to be agreed upon by all interviewers.  If all team members and the recruiter back that candidate, any seeds of doubt that could grow later on and negatively affect the new member or the team are minimized.

But How Does Zappos.com, Inc. Use the Core Value Assessment?  

It’s Not a Pass/Fail System

Recruiters check for an overall fit with the Zappos Family culture, but there is not a hard passing or failing ranking. The basic idea is that the candidate must show a willingness to lead or at least participate in Zappos Family activities that enhance our culture, and prove to be naturally in line with our values. For example, people can be fun and weird in different ways. They may not want to lead a parade but they should like the idea of being in a team parade, or at least enjoy parades going by their desk from time to time.

But There is a Score

During a Core Values interview, the recruiter has the Core Values Assessment open on their laptop and chooses 2-5 questions from each of the 10 sections to ask the candidate (these sets of questions correspond to the Core Values).  The candidate’s responses are entered into the appropriate fields. The notes are submitted to the hiring manager along with a summary, and recommendation of whether or not the candidate is a culture match. The ideal answer rating is four; fives are nearly impossible to achieve because it means there is no room for improvement.  (5 = strongly agree, 1= strongly disagree)

Red Flags

Example of a deal breaker question: the applicant’s willingness to spend time with coworkers outside of work. The Zappos Family blurs the line between work and play, and everyone who works within the family needs to believe in this concept. This is just in keeping with our Core Value #7:  Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit. Employees are not expected attend every event, but the candidate should be comfortable with the fact that all employees interact regularly with peers, direct-reports, and managers alike; outside of the work environment and in social settings.

So without further adieu, here are the tips for you to take home to your company:

10 Tips to Make Sure Your Next New Hire Is a Culture Fit

1. Take Your Time

The Zappos Family has learned that hiring the wrong person can have disastrous results, especially if that person is put into a position where they make the next decision about who to hire. Employees who are not culture fits will not only continue to hire non-culture fits, but these people can be toxic to your organization. Those who disbelieve in the vision of your company or the value of the work done by their coworkers and themselves can spread negativity that is nearly impossible to combat. Take your time to find the right person for every position and for the values of your company.  

2. Open House  

When a candidate is brought onsite, tour them through the office. This allows them to see the work environment up close, and make the personal decision regarding whether or not they can work within your environment. Are they used to an office, a bullpen set-up, or the reverse? This way, there will be no surprises for a new hire when they start their new job, and prevent possible regrets.

3.  Did They Do Their Homework? 

Ask questions to see if the candidate is familiar with your company. Do they know anything about your history, mission, successes, challenges, etc.? If the candidate is excited about the prospect of working for your company and is familiar with these areas, it helps assure that they aren’t just looking for a “job,” but rather a long-time career opportunity.

4.  Make It A Team Effort

Essentially, if the whole team can back an applicant, failure on the new hire’s part becomes unbelievable because no one suspects that it will happen. The genuine belief in the new person will be reflected by the whole team, and helps set everyone up for success.

Also, to make sure that the applicant is not just putting their best foot forward for only the “important” people, our recruiting team asks for feedback from everyone who interacts with the candidate. This includes our shuttle drivers, facilities team, as well as receptionists, and makes sure that all opinions regarding the applicant are consistent.  

5. It’s As Much The Candidate’s Decision As It Is Yours

Be open and honest about what you expect, the work environment, and any potential challenges to the position (distractions, evolving processes, new systems, etc.). For example, within Zappos CLT, there is not a lot of flexibility with regards to scheduling, and this should not be a surprise when the new hire shows up to training on day one. It should also not be a surprise that the work environment within the Zappos Family is not quiet.

6. Find Out About Deal Breakers

The earlier you find out about any deal-breaking issues, the less time and resources you need to spend continuing the interviewing process. Three big deal breakers for the Zappos Family are: the applicant is not willing to relocate, socialize with coworkers, and compensation (bonus structure). All of these are discussed in the initial recruiting phone screen, at least in general terms.

7. Canned Questions = Canned Responses

Make sure that your questions are constructed to elicit actual examples of the candidate’s past behavior in the workplace. Although this is a commonly known technique (“behavioral interviewing”), the Zappos Family applies it to less concrete concepts relating to our Core

Values. As a result, there are unique questions that most candidates have not heard before, in addition to the more standard questions. This helps differentiate between the people who are simply good interviewers, and can say the “right” things, from those who have actually demonstrated the behaviors in previous positions that relate to our Core Values.  

8. Do They Get It

Does the candidate understand the importance of company core values? Have they had ideas to improve a previous company’s performance and culture, and have the drive to implement them? If you want your company to continue to grow, and the culture to continually improve, you need people with the urge to take themselves to the next level. The Zappos Family believes a company’s core values should influence every decision that the company makes, so it is important to employ people with ideas on how to leverage them in new and better ways.

9. No Cookie-Cutter, No Cult

Employees will interpret the core values differently. They will exhibit each one in different ways and to different degrees. Everyone needs to be adaptable to the different levels of energy, humor, humility, spontaneity, etc. that everyone else has. Adaptability and openness is key.  Don’t expect everyone to be stand up comedians, but look for individuals that are open to interacting within the team and across departments, and are able to genuinely articulate points of interest about the position and the company.

10.  Culture Fit Is Necessary, Technical Skills May Be Optional

Within the Zappos Family, and especially in Zappos CLT, there are many positions that people are hired for based on their personality, passion, and drive. Technical requirements are kept to a minimum because people can be trained on the technical side. For people who are not culture fits, there is not a lot that can be done on the part of your organization to “fix” that. Of course, many positions require technical skills to start, but the applicant still needs to be a culture fit if they are to be hired.

Reprinted with permission from Zappos. For more information, check out Zappos Insights

 

Last updated: Apr 28, 2010




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