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Three Tips to Interview Candidates for Organizational Culture

Have you ever had an employee that was great at their job, but drove all of their colleagues crazy?  Perhaps it was a negative attitude, someone who tended to always "cry wolf," or someone who had the "that's not my job" syndrome.  When companies are focused only on interviewing for a skill set, perspective on the greater organizational team can be lost and unanticipated turnover can rise.  Having employees who are good at their job but do not fit within the culture of your organization can have a ripple effect of negativity throughout your team. Often times small businesses will lose other high quality employees as a result which can cause significant losses to your team, your clients, and your bottom line.  Hiring for organizational culture fit begins with the recruiting process.   


Recruiting and interviewing candidates for positions can be challenging, especially when trying to determine how they fit within your company. How do you ascertain whether someone is just good at interviewing because they are essentially…. professional interviewers? (i.e. they have learned how to give all the right answers).  Perhaps they demonstrate skill sets that match those of the job description and then you bring them in the door only to find out they have no interest in lifting a finger beyond their specific job?  Or perhaps they are so friendly and outgoing that they disrupt everyone else's concentration causing productivity to drop?  


 While there is no magic formula to identify whether someone is a culture fit within your company, here are a three ideas to help you begin the culture screening process:


1. Request a video response to three questions to serve as the initial interview.  Often times people raise an eyebrow at me when I suggest video responses, but it is amazing how much you can learn about a person in a 90-second video, especially for positions that require client interactions.  Video responses can tell you a lot about a candidate in 90 seconds and help you identify the strongest candidates to invite back for a second interview.  (Tip: This also saves hours of time of initial in-person interviews). The questions do not need to be skill specific, but rather crafted in a way that allows the candidate to demonstrate their personality through their response.  Example questions you may ask them to respond to include:

  • Tell us why you believe you are the best candidate for this position.

  • What do you see as the future of <your industry/profession>?

  • What factors are most important to you in finding a successful fit for your next position?


Some key things to watch for when you receive the video responses include:

  • personality (do they show their personality/character in it?)

  • creativity (are they creative with their responses to show their personality?)

  • problem solving (were they able to create and send a video to you?)


You will be amazed how much you can learn about a candidate from this process - and save yourself hours of interview time too.


2. Random placement of questions during in-person interviews.  During your in-person interviews, periodically toss in a random question that has nothing to do with the job description.  For example, "What do you like to do for fun?" or "What did you do last weekend?"   Other questions could include "What is the most recent book you have read?" or "What is your favorite childhood memory?" The purpose of these questions is two-fold:  First, you obtain some insight into their personality and how they might fit into your culture based on their ability to embrace the questions; and second, their reaction to your randomly placed, non-job related questions will tell you a lot about their ability to adapt to the unexpected (i.e. change).  (For a list of non-traditional, fun  questions you can ask during an interview, email me and I'll be happy to send you a list of 50 questions). 


3. Request historical examples to determine motivations.  Often times candidates have learned what employers want to hear in interviews and are prepared with all the "right" answers.  One way to learn more about behaviors of the candidate beyond the typical canned answers is to ask questions where they give you an example of how they have behaved in a specific situation in the past.  For example, asking the question, "Looking back on your career, what is one accomplishment you are most proud of and why?"  The candidate's response to this question will provide insight into what drives their passion and motivates them to succeed. Was it a target metric they met that resulted in a raise? This would show they are most likely motivated by compensation.  Was it successfully leading a team through a challenge or problem? This would show they are likely motivated by being challenged, problem solving, and providing leadership.  Understanding candidate's internal motivations can greatly aide in providing insight into the person's cultural fit within your company.


To learn more about strategies to interview potential employees for organizational culture, connect with me on LinkedIn and request a consultation here.


Jaime Nolan is founder of Skip Rock Consulting and an advisor with AdvisoryCloud consulting with small businesses on organizational development, employee recruitment and retention, and team development. Prior to becoming a consultant, Jaime was Founder & CEO of Minneapolis-based IntrinXec Management Inc., an accredited association management company, which was named a Top 100 Best Places to Work in Minnesota for six years in a row.

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