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How to Screen Candidates for Culture Fit

In Company Culture — by Erin Engstrom


Hiring for cultural fit has become a praised and controversial topic throughout the years. Some experts believe identifying candidates who share the same values and methods as the organization to be an essential hiring process. Others believe you should actively look for candidates who go against the grain. And still others question whether “culture” even exists. All of these philosophies have merits. Do keep in mind, though, that hiring for cultural fit needn’t – and shouldn’t – mean building a workforce of indistinguishable robots.

Entrepreneur magazine defines corporate culture as “a blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.” The development of corporate culture depends largely on a company’s employees. At small companies, employees have an outsized impact on corporate culture. Without a well-defined corporate culture, organizations lose unity and risk engagement. Low-level engagement can result in a 33 percent decrease in operating income, but high-level engagement is seen to have a 28 percent increase in earning growth. A highly engaged workforce can improve a business’ performance by 30 percent. A person’s values, beliefs, taboos and the like are frequently not immediately obvious – so how do you screen for cultural fit?

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Take time to know your organization

Hiring for a company without knowing its values and mission would be like taking the SATs without any schooling. No matter how well you think you know your organization, it’s never a bad idea to refresh yourself, and to identify how top-performers embody corporate culture.  Skills are important to any position, no doubt, but hiring managers also need to look for folks who share the organization’s mission, vision and approach.

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Screen before you interview

If you aren’t checking references, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Many resumes include a references section, and no candidate will be caught off guard if asked for a few during the application process. Taking the time to call or email these individuals may seem like a hassle. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s absolutely worth your while. A previous coworker or employer can really shed light on a candidate, and would you rather take a day to check references or be stuck with a mediocre employee for months or even years? If you’re still not sold on correspondence, references come in many shapes; LinkedIn endorsements and recommendations may be a viable substitute.

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Ask the right questions

If you ask a candidate how they fit corporate culture, you’re wasting your time. Sure, they can try to formulate an answer based on hearsay or what they’ve read on the website, but ultimately they have no first-hand knowledge so their answer really won’t tell you anything. Instead, approach the situation as you would any other skill set question. Ask about the atmosphere of previous offices. Encourage them to highlight what they liked and what they would have changed. When reflecting later on answers, consider what habits they may have picked up and what values they mentioned. Don’t be afraid to employ creative interview questions designed for cultural fit. Depending on the company, the answer to a question like “Who’s your favorite Muppet?” could provide a lot of insight. It may seem like a puzzle, but authenticity can be easier to glean from questions like these than through other methods. To wit: Last year, 58 percent of hiring managers reported spotting lies on resumes.

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Bring in the experts (AKA your team)

A collaborative hiring process allows for multiple people to take part in a huge way. Your employees will be working alongside your new hire, so don’t you want to get their thoughts on which candidate will help them do their best work? If they’re all invested in a candidate, they’ll be more apt to help with the onboarding process. Of course, involving employees doesn’t have to start at the interview process; it can go back as far as your sourcing, too. Employee referral programs are making a big splash and for good reason. Hires from ERPs are 20 percent less likely to quit their jobs and are more productive, to boot.

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Cultural fit has become a buzzword. Like most buzzwords, it’s hotly contested. Also like most buzzwords, there are merits to considering how it applies to your organization. Attitude and values are things everyone possesses, and things that can contribute to your company’s success or demise. Hiring is an exercise in curation – by identifying the right personality mix, you’ll help your company thrive.

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