This article was originally published on HireEffect.
I’m often asked how to determine cultural fit during an interview. My answer partially depends on how you define culture. If you want to determine whether a candidate will be successful in your physical work environment, you can ask him to describe the work environment or culture in which he believes he’s the most productive. If you want to determine whether he will fit in with a particular team or work well with a certain manager, you can ask him about the teams he’s worked with and the best boss he’s ever had.
But if you define culture by “the way things are around here” or the company’s standards of behavior and the attitudes about what’s really important inside, you really need to dig into the things your candidates internalized long before they hit the traditional workforce. While doing so may not be an exact science, here are my top three interview questions (and the thought processes behind them) to get at that culture fit:
- Tell me about the very first thing you did that you got paid for (your very first job)? Babysitting? A paper route? Walking dogs? Think back. What did you learn from that experience?Do I really care what his first job was? No. What I want to learn about are the values he adopted as a result of his experience. I’ll give you an example from my own past.The first job I ever had was babysitting when I was 12. I worked one evening a week for a single mom of two who taught swimming exercises to a group of mastectomy patients. They needed her for so many reasons. And she needed me. I was never late. I never called in sick. I was reliable and dependable at 12 because that’s what I had to be. Was every other sitter she ever hired the same way? Heck no. But those were the values I took away from that role. You know what? Thirty years later, I’m 100 percent positive that my clients would say that I’m reliable, dependable, and always get the job done.
I had a candidate recently tell me that his first job was house-sitting when his neighbors went on vacation. He would get the mail, feed the animals, water the plants, and clear the answering machine. I asked him what he learned from that. His answer wasn’t at all what I expected to hear. I would’ve guessed reliability or dependability based on my own experience. But no. He told me that he learned he could keep getting hired by not giving the homeowners messages from the other neighbor boys who wanted his job. He chuckled to himself as some memory went though his mind. He went on to say that he guessed he was still pretty competitive.
- I’m going to give you a list of five things. While they’re all important, tell me the one thing that’s most important to you in making your next career move. Is it money, recognition, stability, challenge, or environment? While any answer may be acceptable, understanding your company’s culture enough to know whether that answer will work for you is critical. If the candidate says “recognition” and your company has a recognition culture, you’re off to a great start. If the person says “money” and you know your organization traditionally pays at the lower end of the competitive scale, you know you have an issue to address.Another critical component to consider is how the answer fits in with what you already know about the candidate. If the person has been laid off repeatedly throughout his career, perhaps due to company closures or lack of work, it makes perfect sense for “stability” to be the response. If the person says “challenge” but has held the same level of responsibility for the past 10 years, you need to explore.
- Describe your ideal company culture. What five characteristics does it have? To really understand whether your candidate is a match for your internal culture using this question, you first need to know what five words actually describe your internal culture. Then, you need to see how closely your candidate’s answers are to your company’s reality. How to best accomplish this, my friends, is a whole new blog post.
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Jennifer Scott is the vice president of talent acquisition and strategy at SUM Innovation.
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