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Interview Questions to Measure Culture Fit

Lead consultant at Test Partnership, Ben Schwencke, explains why Culture Fit is worth measuring.

1:28 Quickly understand why Culture Fit is worth measuring.

In organisations with a well-established, thought-out, and palpably consistent organisational culture, the issue of culture fit is often a primary recruitment concern. Misfit to the organisational culture dooms new hires to a lower level of engagement and satisfaction, with a greater risk of employee attrition. Candidates who do fit the organisational culture, however, are substantially more likely to stay, feeling comfortable and at home within this organisation.

However, interviewing specifically for culture fit presents several unique challenges. Unlike interviewing for a generic set of competencies, culture is organisation-specific, precluding the use of generic interview questions.

To help interview specifically for organisational culture fit, here are four tips designed to help structure, conduct, and get the most from culture-fit interviewing:

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Map out your organisational culture

It goes without saying that you need a firm understanding of your organisational culture before you can interview for culture fit. Most organisations have a tacit understanding of their organisational culture, but fewer have a formal set of values which they can directly assess for. Moreover, different teams or departments may hold different opinions on what constitutes the organisational culture, resulting in inconsistent hiring practices. This approach not only reduces the effectiveness of the interview itself when assessing culture fit, but it also introduces significant potential for discrimination, as interviewers will be making decisions based purely on their own unconscious biases.

The first step to mapping out your organisational culture is to agree on shared values. Ideally, these conversations would include senior management and long-standing employees who are acutely in tune with the organisational culture. During these sessions, you need to agree on what the indicators of culture fit actually are, not what you hope them to be. It can be tempting to choose values and cultural indicators which are nice to have, but not actually represented in the organisation's culture. Fidelity to the organisational culture will be paramount here, otherwise, you will simply be interviewing for the wrong characteristics.

Once this has been completed, you can begin the process of crafting interview questions that directly measure your chosen values. We strongly advise that you formalize this process and create a set of structured interview questions, and avoid relying on unstructured interviews. Research clearly shows that structured interviews are significantly more predictive of performance in the workplace than unstructured interviews, mostly because they are far more consistent and reliable. Moreover, having a consistent set of questions allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of interviews over time, and can help diagnose issues moving forward.

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Include future-orientated questions

The majority of culture-fit questions should focus on future-oriented or hypothetical questions, rather than past-oriented questions. Although still useful, past-oriented questions involve problems and scenarios which occurred outside your organisation, limiting their ecological validity. Naturally, when using past-oriented questions, candidates will have addressed problems in line with their current or previous employers’ culture, which could be markedly different from how your organisation addresses problems. Consequently, candidates from organisations that are culturally very similar may have an unfair advantage over candidates from very different organisations, regardless of actual culture fit.

Future or hypothetical scenarios are, therefore, a more reliable way to gauge culture fit in most cases. You can frame questions around common problems and situations that occur in your organisation, ensuring real-world applicability. This also makes questions far easier to score and mark from a structured interview perspective, as hiring managers will be acutely aware of how things are typically handled within the organisation. This added context can make all the difference between assessing a candidate's fit to the organisational culture, without any potential interference from other organisations' cultures in their responses.

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Avoid asking about culture-fit in previous roles

A lazy, but surprisingly common attempt at evaluating culture fit is to ask interview questions along the lines of, “Tell me how you have tried to fit in with the organisational culture in previous organisations.” Not only does this not actually evaluate a person's fit to your specific organisation's culture, but it is in fact measuring a person’s propensity to ignore organisational culture and work anyway. Questions like this treat culture fit like a skill that can be learned, rather than an innate compatibility which should feel natural, representing a fundamental misunderstanding of how organisational culture works.

Although some employees can put up with organisational culture misfit for a while, it isn’t something sustainable long term. Eventually, this sense of misfit will begin to feel abrasive, both for the employee and the wider organisation. Candidates who are a strong fit, however, will find working for the organisation inherently rejuvenating, feeling completely at home. For these employees, working for their employing organisation will feel smooth and comfortable, allowing them to devote their full abilities to the role itself. Only by evaluating fit to your specific organisational culture can this be achieved; evaluating a person’s propensity to ignore organisational culture will set candidates up for failure.

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Reserve culture fit for the end of the process

Although culture fit is an essential consideration in the recruitment process, it probably shouldn’t be assessed via interview until the final stages of the recruitment process. Role fit must be ascertained before culture fit is established, otherwise you will inevitably end up hiring unqualified employees. This is particularly true if you are using behavioural assessments early in the recruitment process, as these assessments allow you to evaluate culture fit and role fit simultaneously. In this instance, evaluating culture fit via interview may be entirely redundant anyway, as behavioural assessments are, in many ways, more reliable indicators of culture fit than interviews.

Instead, reserve culture-fit based questions for the final interview, using culture fit as the final decider for choosing between a small group of highly qualified candidates. Culture fit can also be used in a tie-break situation, where two or more candidates are equally qualified and skilled. By hiring the employee with the greatest potential for culture fit, you avoid compromising on other priorities in the recruitment process, while still hiring people with staying power. Ultimately, culture fit should be considered a part of the recruitment process, not the entire process. Other priorities should also be strongly considered, and the interview questions, assessments, and overall structure of the recruitment process should reflect this.

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Although hiring for culture fit is often attempted, rarely is it done effectively or with any degree of structure. When done badly, interviewing for culture fit often devolves into hiring randomly, removing the efficacy from the selection process. However, when done well, interviewing for culture fit can greatly improve performance, retention, and employee engagement. However, when it comes to evaluating culture fit more generally, behavioural assessments such as personality questionnaires typically do a better job of evaluating culture fit than interviews. Interviews are significantly more susceptible to the personal opinions and dispositions of interviewers, making them less reliable tools. To find out more about our behavioural assessments, please contact us directly or register for a free trial.