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4 Steps to Hiring for Culture Fit

4 Steps to Hiring for Culture Fit

Hiring for culture fit is a top priority for most hiring teams, however most don’t have a clear definition of what this means. Without clarity on job-relevant character traits, hiring for “culture fit” can quickly take interviewers down the negative path of making discretionary decisions based on unconscious biases. 

Here are four ways you can help your team hire for culture fit while promoting inclusivity throughout the process:

1. Educate your team on what “culture fit” does not mean.

Culture fit does not mean this candidate “passes the beer test.” Whether or not you think you’ll enjoy going to happy hour with this person has nothing to do with assessing whether she or he has the competencies or character needed to excel in your company. In fact, making a decision on this criteria almost certainly leads you in the direction of not hiring the best person for the job. And don’t get me wrong, enjoying happy hour and hiring the best person are not necessarily mutually exclusive; the beer test just doesn’t have anything to do with indicating performance.

Culture fit cannot be determined by pedigree. Where someone went to school or worked previously does not prove whether they have the skills or capabilities needed, and any assumptions you make on a candidate’s character based on those factors are a perfect example of implicit bias.

Perhaps most importantly, culture fit can not be assessed based on gut instinct. “I’ll know it when I see it” is another example of allowing our unconscious to make decisions based on factors that do not correlate to successful outcomes. This type of decision-making is like playing roulette and most likely inhibits diversity and inclusion in your company.

2. Refer to your organization’s core values.

Hopefully, your organization has five to seven core values that represent the ideals your company holds in high regard. In the best case, these are celebrated, shared, and employees are recognized for exemplifying them. All too often, they are sitting on a shelf collecting dust. If that’s the case, it’s time to dust them off and breathe new life into them! 

Your company’s culture is defined by the shared beliefs and behaviors of the people in it.  These are your core values. Every company has a culture, and the most forward-thinking companies actively shape them, promote them, and find ways to deter negative beliefs or behaviors that creep in.

In his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, author Patrick Lencioni describes four types of values that exist inside companies: core values, permission-to-play values, accidental values, and aspirational values. The core values are the fundamental beliefs that every employee should be held accountable to. These are the ones we should be screening for to determine “culture fit.” The aspirational values are also worth considering at the hiring stage. These are the values the company hopes to achieve. Screening for candidates who demonstrate the traits of aspirational values can help you move the organization into the future.

3. Incorporate core values in your job post and interview process.

Including the core values of your company in the job post is like sending out a signal to attract candidates who are drawn to organizations that care about people and culture. If you ask a question on the application like, “What interests you in this opportunity?” you’ll find values-aligned candidates will quickly point to the core values or that they noticed this looks like a great place to work because they see the company has a focus on culture.

One way to incorporate core values in the interview process is to ask candidates to respond to a video question or submit a writing sample that relates the principle that resonates with them the most. My favorite question to include in a Spark Hire one-way video interview is, “What do you enjoy reading and/or listening to (books, podcasts, etc.)?” This is a great question to use when screening for alignment with a value that has to do with continuous learning, the pursuit of knowledge, or curiosity. 

For a writing sample prompt, I like to ask candidates to choose which of the core values they relate to the most and why in no more than a couple of paragraphs.

You can also come up with behavioral interview questions that help you explore if a candidate’s past behavior shows alignment with your company’s core values. Behavioral questions are the ones that begin with, “Tell me about a time when…” According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), behavioral questions are a validated method of structured interviewing, which means you are asking candidates the same questions so you can objectively compare them and you are planning ahead to include job-relevant questions, which lessons subjectivity.

4. Include core values on the candidate scorecard.

At each stage of an interview process, you should have a scorecard that interviewers fill out. Include each of your company’s core values on the scorecard and provide questions in advance to your interviewers to help draw out responses that provide helpful data. 

In most cases, there is no single “right answer” for identifying if a candidate exemplifies character traits that are consistent with core values, however you can pick up data across the series of interactions that occur during the whole interview process.

For example, if you are screening for a value such as “integrity,” observe over the course of your interactions if the person does what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it, if their responses to the behavioral questions indicate they made decisions based on doing the right thing (as opposed to doing what served them best), and listen closely to the responses from their references to validate what you observed. Any time you see a positive (or negative) trait, indicate it on the scorecard for that stage of the interview, or in the candidate summaries of the finalists.

About the Author

Hope Kahan is Founder and Owner of Trinity Park Talent. She is passionate about hiring right, the first time, every time. Hope works to develop effective sourcing strategies and expert interview techniques to achieve her goal. Working mostly with mid-level, professional roles, she offers clients the ability to interview more candidates, faster, and with less bias than other sourcing and staffing teams. She has more than 15 years of experience hiring and shaping culture for business growth in the investment industry (private equity and hedge funds) and hospitality.

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