Hiring for Cultural Fit

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Jeff Gilden

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Psychology Today advises people to treat first dates the same way they would a job interview — consider it an exercise gathering information. Rather than interrogate our potential partners, the goal is to ask questions that reflect our own priorities. Just like relationship success, job success depends on so much more than technical qualifications. One can check all the right boxes, but still not make a meaningful connection.

So how can hiring managers and candidates determine if they’re a good match?

Look for the cultural fit. 

“We hear from hiring managers who have gotten frustrated looking for candidates because they get great resumes with the right skill set and then find out that people aren’t comfortable juggling a lot of responsibilities and being really hands-on like is required in so many small to mid-sized growing companies,” said Noelle Culler, a recruiter with Biotech Partners’ preclinical division. “That’s why we put a real focus on getting to know what’s important to the companies we work with beyond just the technical aspects.”

Once a candidate has landed an interview, use the conversation to ask questions that drive at company and the candidate’s mission, values, and interests. These questions tend to have more narrative answers and set the tone for a relaxed, personal interview.

Tell me about your first job and any lessons you learned that you still use today.
What sparked your interest in the field?
When did you know this line of work was right for you?
What do you hope to accomplish?
If you could change one thing about your current job or workplace, what would it be and how would that help you?
Tell me about a time when you needed to innovate a work-around or new process.
What productivity hacks do you use and how did you come up with them?
What do you like to do for fun?

These same questions provide excellent opportunities for candidates to ask for the same kind of information in return and build a rapport with their interviewer that sheds light on what it’s like to work for a company. Those who are a good match will find points that resonate and naturally lead to more conversation. When interviewer and interviewed are both engaged in the dialogue — using words of acknowledgement and agreement, body language that is open and attentive — chances are that both sides are thinking about how the “date” can turn into a “relationship.”

Interviews also should include a discussion about work environment and expectations. Details are important. Does a casual workplace mean jeans on Friday or the lack of a formal review process to determine advancement? Does a flexible work day mean arriving between 8 and 8:30 a.m. or are employees allowed to come and go as they please so long as the work gets done? Does the work require teams or lots of self-sufficiency? How are productivity and success defined? For the relationship to work, those involved must express what they need, what they want, and any compromises they’re willing (or not willing) to make.

Candidates who begin envisioning how they will function within the position, filling in the blanks, asking follow-up questions, and problem-solving during the interview process demonstrate genuine interest in being part of company culture. Hiring managers who recognize this enthusiasm will find that these candidates are the ones who contribute more to the company than what the job description requires.

Informational interviewing cultivates an environment of mutual discovery that, regardless of a job offer, leaves everyone feeling as though something was gained from the process and the time was well spent.

“When it’s done right, informational interviewing helps reinforce or redefine priorities,” Culler said.


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