How Can You Interview for Culture Fit Without Knowing Your Culture?

Bob Wiesner | November 21, 2017

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It’s nearly a cliche’, but ignore at your peril: Companies hire for the experience they want. They fire when the person with that experience doesn’t fit the company’s culture.

We’ve known this for years. As a result, there’s been increased emphasis on changing interviewing strategies and tactics. One that has gained traction is the use of “behavior-based” questions. No doubt you’ve used them, or others have tried them on you.

Behavior-based interviewing is less about the candidate’s background and experience. Much more about how the candidate would behave in circumstances that might be encountered at the hiring company. (Though in some interviews those circumstances can seem rare, even bizarre.)

For example:

  • Tell me about a time you came up with a creative or innovative approach to overcoming an obstacle.
  • What was last big mistake you made, and how did you resolve it?
  • Give an example of a time when you successfully motivated your colleagues to accomplish a shared goal.
  • Have you ever had to make a decision that was unpopular with your coworkers? How did you defend your position?

The questions are from an Inc article with insights in how to avoid bad hires. It makes sense. As a C-Level exec, I’ve used questions like this often. But they’re not foolproof. In fact, they can make the hiring process more difficult. Here’s why.

The questions are designed to determine how the candidate would behave. Cool. But is there agreement among your interviewers as to which behaviors actually fit your culture?

Know What You’re Looking For

I’ve had countless debates with colleagues over the years when reviewing candidates. In some interviews, I think I’m hearing the “wrong answer” for our culture. Another interviewer loves the answer. (And someone else thinks the whole thing is bullshit.)

If you’re going to hire the best candidates, you need to hire for fit in your culture. That means that all involved need to agree on what that culture is. And they need to agree on what behaviors are expected in that culture. Observable behaviors, not just smart answers to clever questions.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Include clear, behavioral statements of culture and fit in the job description
  2. Meet with interviewers before the search starts to get everyone on the same cultural page
  3. Have a sense of the behaviors that would fit and those that won’t

There are right and wrong answers (or more-right-than-wrong answers) to behavioral interview questions based on your understanding of the company culture.  If you can’t agree on these culturally appropriate behaviors, you might have bigger issues that won’t be resolved with a good hire – if you can even pull that off.

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