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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Reverse Snooping on Potential Employers

Dear, Anita,

Once I land an interview, I check out the company website and LinkedIn. But if I don’t have any LinkedIn contacts that work there, how can I get the “inside story” about the culture?

Keyhole_Eye_SmallDear, Curious Kat,

Human Resource professionals often perform Google searches and check social media sites to see if a candidate is a good fit for their company culture. Job seekers desperately looking for work don’t often think to turn the tables. But the time spent on researching a company and its culture may prevent a disruptive blip in your career path.

The company website is a great place to start. Most businesses have an “About” tab at the top or link at the bottom of website. Read through it all, including the history and the bios of the management. Even for a business that doesn’t spell out the mission or core principles of its company culture, you’ll get a sense about the company’s personality based on the tone, photo style, and other subtle cues. This research will also pay off when your interviewer asks, “What do you know about our company?” and “Why do you want to work here?”

Next, Google the company name for which you are interviewing. Pass over the company sites you just reviewed and look for third-party sites. Wikipedia may contain additional information (some companies, however, are contributors to their own Wiki listing). On the Google search page, switch from “Web” and click “News” under the search field. While some of this news content may be derived from press releases provided by the business itself, you may be able to glean some insight into the company character or discover some potential red flags.

Glassdoor.com is a website that allows real employees to anonymously review current or former employers, giving the pros and cons of working at the company. You may even get a sneak peak at questions that could be asked during your interview.

Look at other business review sites, such as Yelp.com, YellowPages.com, or MerchantCircle.com. While businesses are reviewed by customers rather than employees, you may be able to intuit company values and business practices. Take these reviews with a grain of salt, however, as there are trolls on the Internet who take perverse pleasure in spreading negativity.

As you’ve found, LinkedIn is a great resource. I’m sure you’ve noticed the “How You’re Connected” sidebar whenever you check out a LinkedIn company profile. But have you ever clicked on “Advanced” to the right of the search box on the Home page bar? There, you can expand the relationships from 1st or 2nd to 3rd + Everyone Else. Under company, leave “Current or past” highlighted for the most hits. Once you perform your advanced search, check out the longer list of shared connections and message or connect with the individuals to see if they are willing to chat with you about their experience working at the company.

A little cyber sleuthing before accepting a position can prevent the whole frying pan/fire scenario.

Readers: How has researching a company affected your interview, or your decision to take a position offered?

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

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Onboarding New Employees

Dear, Anita,

We’ve had a lot of turnover in our company lately, a few in my own department (I manage IT). We try to get quality candidates who can hit the ground running. But it seems that there are always some fires to put out, so we tend to throw people in the deep end and hope they can swim. Many are sinking instead. I really don’t have time to keep training new people who turn around and leave. What can we do to improve our retention?

SONY DSCDear, Concerned Captain,

Voluntary turnover (or quits, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them) was on the rise in 2014 for private industries. With a tighter labor market (where there are more jobs than qualified workers), dissatisfied employees are more likely to jump ship. So let’s talk about how to get employees to stay at your company, or at least in your department.

Proper onboarding is important because turnover is costly – in time, recruiting costs, productivity loss, and morale. Onboarding is more than just filling out the HR forms and attending an orientation meeting. It’s the process of organizational socialization. You want to teach your new staffer about your company’s mission, values, and culture, as well as how he or she fits into your department and the organization as a whole.

To make an employee’s first day a less stressful experience, plan ahead for a smooth arrival. Since you’re in IT, I hope your business has a new hire portal that allows electronic completion of forms such as the W-4, I-9, etc. and access to the company’s policy handbook. Humanizing this portal with a welcome message from the manager as well as photos of teammates can go a long way toward easing the rookie’s mind.

Empty_Chair_iStock_000000515158_SmallYou don’t want your new hire to show up and have no place to sit or a cubicle without a workstation. It’s up to you to provide all the tools to do the assignments for which you’ve hired him. Job duties should be outlined in a detailed, clearly written manual, hopefully in an electronic version that is easily searchable. Video training is great for visual learners, assuming you have the resources. If the outgoing employee is available to train the new recruit, take advantage of the opportunity for job shadowing.

While the first day is important to make the employee feel welcomed and valued, effective onboarding lasts weeks or months. It can take up to a year for a new employee to become fully productive. Check in regularly with your freshman – not just in passing – with weekly or even daily meetings to ensure tasks are understood and completed and to gauge satisfaction of both parties.

Readers: What is your company’s best onboarding practice?

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

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Disclaimer

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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