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How Do We Elicit Cultural Insights From Job Candidates?

Dear In Need:

This answer may disappoint you, but a foolproof set of interview questions that accurately measures cultural fit doesn’t exist. It if did, the level of voluntary separations and terminations attributed to lack of fit would be much lower than it is. For example, a well-publicized study by Manchester Consulting notes that 40 percent of senior leaders fail within the first 18 months on the job.

What’s the reason behind my high degree of skepticism? First, to define a single corporate culture is difficult. Within one organization, the culture may vary widely from location to location and even from department to department, depending on that function’s utility to the company as a whole. For instance, sales teams are typically rewarded based on individual revenue goals. On the other hand, down the hallway, project teams in research and development departments are often rewarded based on how well they collaborate to develop new products. The cultures within two departments within the same company may be diametrically opposed—as they probably should be!

Secondly, consider another dimension of corporate culture: It’s often “aspirational” rather than a reflection of current reality. Pick a large corporation and take a look at the way its human resources function describes the culture. Then ask a friend who works there what it’s really like. Does the company’s description line up with reality?

There are exceptions, of course. Companies such as Zappos, Apple or Google lead with well-defined cultures and are able to attract a very specific type of candidate as a result. But even within those companies, it’s not uncommon to see deep cultural chasms between the “techies” and the “business folks.”

Having now set your expectations rather low on the certainty scale, there are certain behavioral interview questions you can ask to evaluate whether the individual is likely to be a fit—with an emphasis on “likely.” The questions should center on the candidate’s track record. Ask the candidate to describe what things have worked for him or her in the past: You will get a sense of the type of environment in which the individual can succeed. Asking situational questions (e.g., “What type of environment are you most comfortable working in?” “If you got to pick your next boss, what would he/she be like?”) enable you to learn a lot about the individual’s ability to fit in. Another great way to gauge fit is to watch the person interact with potential future colleagues during preliminary meetings around the office or over lunch.

SOURCE: J. James O’Malley, TalentRise, Chicago

LEARN MORE:Please read “Firms Tally the Value in Values-Based Recruiting.”

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.