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Interviewing for Culture Fit

In Company Culture — by Dave Anderson

Hiring for most jobs attracts plenty of candidates who are perfectly qualified for the role. However, only some of them are suited to work for your specific organization. And within that small handful is one who is an ideal fit for your culture. 

Properly interviewing for culture fit is a challenge. It’s easy to ask clever questions and gravitate toward the candidates who give well-articulated answers. However, unless those questions are based on your culture, you could be zeroing in on the wrong people.

Even worse, the wrong approach allows biases to influence candidate assessments. In some cases, culture fit is unintentionally used to justify hiring someone who is a similar background as the people already employed.

All that said, if you value culture fit, you should make it part of your interview process. You just need to take the right approach and avoid the pitfalls so you hire people who truly enhance your culture. 

Define your culture and come up with the right questions

A lot of interviewers search the internet for culture-fit questions or repeat interesting ones they’ve heard before. That is why questions like, “How would your previous coworkers describe you?” and “What excites you about coming to work?” are so popular.

It’s not that these questions are bad. The problem is they don’t help you learn anything particularly interesting about candidates. They’re just filler questions that take up time when you could be having more productive conversations. 

If your organization has gone through the process of defining its culture, it should be easy to come up with thoughtful interview questions. The answers candidates give, and the ensuing conversation, will help you identify the people who share your values and can already see how they’ll integrate them into their work. 

If you feel you need to turn to Google to find culture-fit interview questions, maybe you’re not ready to make it part of your hiring process. Our helpful worksheet will help you define your culture so you can form the right questions. 

Ask for past examples related to your culture

Even if your organizational culture is defined, some people will struggle to express what it means to them. A candidate might share your values but have trouble putting that into words when answering your interview questions. And others can be a poor culture fit but still give you the answers you want to hear. 

You can overcome this challenge by mixing in behavioral interview questions. Let’s say “ownership” is one of your values. Instead of asking, “How will you take ownership in this role?” you can rephrase the question as, “Tell me about a time in a past job when you saw a problem or opportunity and took ownership of it.”

Asking for specific examples cuts through the noise and helps you discover how candidates have already integrated your values into their work. 

Let someone else assess culture

As you get deep into the hiring process, certain candidates will start to stand out. There will be people who have a track record of success in previous jobs or impressive skill sets that will benefit your organization.

Now it’s time to assess culture fit and you already have a preferred candidate in mind. In these situations, your opinion could be influenced by your previous interactions. Instead of objectively evaluating your preferred candidate, it’s easy to sign off on them as culture fit without giving it enough consideration.

Many organizations have their hiring team evaluate each candidate’s skills and background and call in someone from another department to assess culture fit. It’s completely fine if this person knows very little about the candidate’s qualifications. They can talk specifically about what it’s like to work for your organization and inform the hiring team if they believe the candidate would be an ideal addition. 

Make culture a small part of your hiring decision

While culture fit is important, it should be a secondary concern when hiring. You ultimately need to hire the best person for the job, not the person who best fits in with your team. If you overvalue culture, you run the risk of making hiring decisions based on the wrong factors.

We recommend using culture fit to supplement your candidate evaluations. First make sure candidates have the skills and know-how to do the job and then ask a colleague to have a conversation with them about what your organization values in its employees. If everyone agrees they’re the right person for the job, you’ll soon be welcoming a great all-around employee to your team.

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