Hire for Culture

Dear, Anita,

I am interviewing for a replacement member of our team and have narrowed it down to the two top applicants. They are equally qualified in almost every way. How do I decide between two really stellar candidates?

Dear, (Eenie, Meanie, Miney,) Moe,

Square Peg in a Round HoleWhat a great problem to have! I often hear complaints that there are not enough qualified applicants for open positions.

It sounds like you have thoroughly analyzed their hard skills, but what about their soft skills and interpersonal rapport? These traits can be harder to quantify. You want to make sure the potential hire is a good fit with your company’s culture – the tacit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of your organization’s management and employees.

If you haven’t already, invite both to interview with your manager, HR supervisor, or even the company president. (If you are the head honcho, schedule another informal interview in a more relaxed setting, such as a coffee shop, to get a different take.) Here are some sample questions used to determine cultural fit:

  • Tree_iStock_000021275060Describe the work environment and management style with which you are most productive and happy.
  • How would your coworkers describe your work style and role within the team?
  • What is most important to you in making your next career move – money, recognition, stability, challenge, or environment?
  • What motivates you to come to work every day?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What is your super power?

Try to avoid nebulous questions like Barbara Walters’ infamous, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” or just plain odd questions like Stanford University’s “Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” unless you work for Marvel or DC Comics.

After the interviews with other managers, confab to get their impressions of the two candidates. You don’t want to make a decision solely on the fact that one candidate likes the same football team as the rest of you, but the applicant who is sports-oriented may fit in to your company more readily than the equally-capable bookworm.

Arrange for each applicant to spend a few hours or a half day shadowing the employee they are replacing or attending a department meeting. While they’re bound to be a little nervous and may not be able participate fully, you’ll get valuable insight seeing them interact with your team. And they may self-select out once they see what it’s really like in the trenches! Cultural fit is a two-way street.

There is no clear-cut test for cultural congruence. When it comes down to it, you’ll need to make a gut decision between two awesome candidates. Chances are, either one will work out, but paying closer attention to the culture issue could make all the difference.

Readers: How does your company screen for a cultural fit?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hupfer
    Jul 21, 2015 @ 09:02:30

    Ultimately skill is second to the compatibility of the manager and the subordinate. Have you ever left a job because you were over skilled but loved your boss? If you did and the next position brought on a dominating control freak manager and you were spearheading great new projects, I would almost guarantee that it would de-energize you to the point of exhaustion.

    Compatibility factors can be obtained in many ways, Higher Alignment, Boulder, CO, Larry Byron (staffed the entire Macintosh company very successfully). Profiling through various tests, astrological positioning, Enneagram testing and so many more. It is worth the effort initially to avoid personality conflicts that erode the morale of almost each and every office, family, group in human existence. There are many books on Nature vs. Collaboration, it may well be the best effort any company can make in creating a sustainable healthy environment that would have people lining up at the door to work for you company and continue to be committed to the mission, team and long term goals of the company.


  2. Moonstone Mary
    Jul 21, 2015 @ 08:50:08

    What a good post. I worked for a recruiting company but was 2nd choice. The first had worked in their database but the owner told me that her gut told her I would be a better fit. But they went with the other candidate (who also had a degree – I don’t). So three weeks later, first choice was out and I was in. Best job I’ve had and they say I was the best Admin Asst they ever had.


    • anitaclew
      Jul 21, 2015 @ 09:59:16

      It is harder for hiring managers to back up a “gut” decision, but intuition is often correct, as your previous boss discovered.


  3. Tracey Brown
    Jul 21, 2015 @ 08:38:00


    Do you know of any legitimate work from home jobs. Like typing, etc.

    Thank you


    • anitaclew
      Jul 21, 2015 @ 09:54:51

      Tracey, There are work-at-home jobs on the up and up. But beware of scams; research the companies well. To find legitimate opportunities, add the keyword “telecommute” to “remote” to your job search to find jobs where you can work off-site.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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