You know that job applicant has the right skills to fill your open position. But what about the right personality? Ignore cultural fit at your peril, for your new hire likely won't last long.
I'll always remember one of my co-workers at my first company. Although she did excellent work, she seemed to zig while the rest of us zagged. In a group of frumpy, often pudgy writers, she was an accomplished martial artist. Where many of us were just getting our feet wet in the business world, she had been around for a while and worked in some legendary places. Where we tended toward the silly-a plastic-encased slice of prosciutto once spent a week tacked to our department's bulletin board-she was deadly serious. Not surprisingly, she soon moved on to a job at a prestigious non-profit that was working hard to change the world.
Hiring someone who doesn't fit your company's personality can be a very costly mistake. To avoid making that mistake, make sure to interview job candidates for cultural fit, as well as job qualifications. That advice comes from Tara Kelly, CEO of customer experience software provider SPLICE Software.
Kelly makes sure to include a culture interview in the hiring process, and she says it's made a big difference. "It is important to understand employee values, motivators and interests," she explains. "Understanding what keeps employees fulfilled is a key element to build a truly successful team. Whereas regular job interviews focus on verifying qualifications, culture fit interviews focus on ensuring potential candidates fit the corporate culture and core values of the organization."
Given that every new hire is a big investment, it's worth taking the time and effort to interview for cultural fit as well as skills and experience. Here's how Kelly does it:
1. Define your company's culture.
You may not need to do this, and Kelly doesn't mention it, but if yours is a small or start-up companies, your culture may not be something you've given a lot of thought to. You should, though, because you definitely have one and a bad cultural hire will hurt you.
Your mission or vision statement is a good place to start-it won't define your culture, but it should identify the values that drive you and your employees to show up and work hard every day. Beyond that, take a look around and consider how your company compares to others in your industry. Ask your employees or colleagues for input, until you can come up with a sentence or two that captures your company's personality. Consider this example from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: "Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove we'll settle for intense."
2. Write job ads with culture in mind.
"Culture fit should be integrated into every aspect of recruitment," Kelly notes. That begins with your job ads, which should reflect both your company's brand and its culture. If yours is an informal, family friendly workplace, with child care on site, and where pets are welcomed, say so. If yours is an elegant workplace with a prestigious history, say that.
3. Include culture questions in regular interviews.
From your first conversations with a candidate, interviewers should be thinking about cultural fit, Kelly says. "Once applications are assessed, pre-screening interviews should occur over the phone to see what first impressions candidates make and gauge personality for a possible fit."
Candidates who pass this screening should be invited to an in-person interview with their potential department head. "The department head should also screen the applicant for culture by introducing a few less technical questions," she adds.
4. Know which questions to ask, and which not to.
"Ask questions that speak to the core values and culture of the organization, without directly asking about each value," Kelly advises. "For example, ask 'what is something you have accomplished this summer that you are really proud of?'" This type of question helps SPLICE find candidates who like to learn new things or improve their skills. "At SPLICE, we really value a love of learning and improving things," Kelly explains. "Our fundamental core value is, 'We believe it can be better.' So we like to see that not only in someone's work life but their personal life too."
It should go without saying that there's a difference between culture and bias, and you should be clear about that difference, especially when it comes to questions that could land your company in legal trouble. To say that your culture is fun-loving and risk-taking is fine; to say that all employees should participate in extreme sports means your workplace discriminates against disabled or older workers.
In Amazon's we'll-settle-for-intense culture, an employee who'd just had a miscarriage was told by her supervisor that the company was likely the wrong place for a woman looking to start a family. Not surprisingly, many labor lawyers have been contacted by current or past employees seeking to sue the company for attitudes like these. Someday, one of these suits will get filed.
4. Train employees to conduct culture interviews.
"Once it is verified that a candidate has all the necessary qualifications and has passed all the preliminary culture fit screenings, a culture fit interview should be introduced as the last phase of the process," Kelly says.
But you're not the one to conduct the culture fit interview-the candidate's potential co-workers are. That means they'll need some training about what to ask and what to listen for. "It's crucial to ensure the team is prepped on the purpose of a culture fit interview prior to participating," Kelly says.
In general, she says, you should select four to six employees from around your company to talk informally with the job candidate about hobbies and interest and how these things tie in with your company's personality. "Employees should be encouraged to ask questions that tie in to the organization's value system."
5. Gather feedback.
Employees who conduct a culture interview should fill out assessment afterwards that scores applicants on numerical scales of good-fit-to-bad-fit, and also ask for written comments. After you review those assessments, call the employees together for a quick debrief to make sure you understand their feedback and get a better sense of how the candidate might or might not fit with your company and its values. All of this input, together with the candidate's performance on your skills assessment, will put you in the best position to make the right choice.