By most estimates, we spend 50% of our waking hours at work. That’s a lot of time to spend with colleagues. When we form other pivotal relationships in our lives, with spouses or close friends, we spend an enormous amount of time making sure that the things we find important are important to them as well. Why should assembling a team that will spend so much time together be any different?
Making sure a potential employee fits into your company’s culture is just as important as making sure he or she has the proper job skills. Applicants that don’t fit into your company’s work environment will struggle terribly (at best) to work to their potential. We talked to nine different employment specialists and asked them how they avoid a cultural mismatch when bringing on a new employee.
1. Define Your Culture
Before you can find out if someone fits into your company culture, you should have a good handle on exactly what it is. Defining the culture will help you know what to look for as much as it will help your candidate know what to expect.
Jodi Chavez, Senior Vice President of Accounting Principals, notes that before you ask if there is a fit, you have to know what the size is.
“During the hiring process, hiring managers should ask themselves: “Do this candidate’s values align with the work-life balance, corporate mission, and cultural environment of this company?” To answer this question, the hiring manager should be able to clearly define the organization’s values and norms, and then examine the candidate’s values and experience, to see if a fit exists. By going through this process, the hiring manager will help ensure a smooth onboarding process for the new employee, and reduce the risk of employee turnover.”
2. Be Thorough
Perhaps it goes without saying, but the interview process should be exhaustive in terms of learning everything necessary about a candidate before hiring him. Lais Pontes, founder and president of The Pontes Group, designs her company’s interviews in a way that pays special attention to a candidate’s fit to company culture.
“At The Pontes Group we utilize a three-step interview process. We start with a phone interview to validate experience and professionalism, followed by an in-person interview used to evaluate technical skills. The final interview is for culture, and we typically take the candidate out for lunch or dinner. Based on how a potential new hire integrates with the current group and our environment, we will decide to extend a job offer or not. When a team has great synergy, amazing things can be done, therefore making company culture extremely important.”
Eden Elder, the Chief People Officer at FullContact, has learned in 20 years of HR experience to make sure that the potential candidate meets the rest of the team. Although it’s important to make him feel welcome, it’s also a good time to look for red flags.
“When a potential candidate makes it to the in-person interview, there will be many (very friendly) eyes on this candidate. We ask as many culture questions as technical or job specific questions. We let our candidates meet their potential team members as well. We take them out for drinks or dinners to socialize. There is a no-tolerance policy on arrogance and an, “I am better than you” mentality. At FullContact, we are a second family away from home and so candidates have to fit in.”
3. Look Deeper at Previous Employment
It’s easy to only bother with previous employment as it pertains to references and experience, but understanding the real reasons why your candidate is seeking new employment can be vital. Kevin Robson of Capable Consultants notes that if a potential new hire is leaving her current job because of a personality conflict or disagreement with management, it might be worth looking into.
“Candidates should be seen initially with an open mind. But it’s only fair, after all, that gaps in employment and job-hopping should require some explanation. Also, you should understand the reason why they are leaving their current jobs. Are they considering a fresh employer because have they an axe to grind? Worse still, do they have several axes to grind?”
4. Introduce Diversity
Although it’s important to see if candidates will fit into your existing culture, it’s wise to imagine what they might bring to it as well. Michelle Joseph, founder and CEO of PeopleFoundry, feels that diverse perspectives breed creativity, and may be exactly what your company’s culture needs.
“Diversity helps create a dynamic atmosphere and bring about different viewpoints. Innovation tends to stem from a new perspective. Having a mix of personalities will likely increase creativity in teams. Personality is not a quantifiable characteristic, but every business should strive to hire people who will be an asset to the company as well as the culture. Successful businesses are made up of all different personality types that balance each other and keep one another in check.”
5. Consider Personality Testing
Some may consider the efficacy of personality tests dubious, but if you can find one well suited to your culture, implementing it may be a great extra step to take. Paula Tompkins, CEO and founder of ChannelNet, says that Caliper’s personality test fits well with her company and provides crucial information.
“One of the main tools we use is a hiring assessment developed by Caliper. Tests like these give you the personal insights you need to make the right hiring decision. This is information you will never get from a reference. For example, the test measures leadership attributes such as urgency, risk-taking, energy, ego-drive, and assertiveness versus aggressiveness. For interpersonal dynamics it measures a candidate’s sociability, skepticism, gregariousness, empathy, and ego-strength. Our culture is fast-paced so we want people with a sense of urgency, that are risk takers, and we are very team-oriented so sociability and empathy are critical too.”
6. Ask Pointed Questions
Rather than telling a candidate about the culture he’ll have to jam himself into, ask questions that force the candidate to talk about his ideal company culture. Amber Hunter, Director of Employee Performance for A Plus Benefits, Inc., mentions that questions about what the applicant is after can reveal an easy fit, or a mismatch, with your company.
“We ask candidates to describe their ideal work environments. One question might be,’If you had a magic wand, and could create your perfect job and work environment, what would it look like?’ I then follow up with, ‘What are the three things you like best about your current job?’ By asking a couple of questions in the same vein, it’s easier to note themes and really determine what is important to the candidate. In my experience, their responses immediately highlight whether or not their ideals align with the company culture.”
What a younger generation may uncharitably call “stalking,” professionals often call due diligence. With so much information available on the internet, it’s almost careless not to take advantage of it.
Callum Beattie with the Honest Agency says combing a candidate’s credentials with an eye specifically on culture, rather than just skills and work ethic, can yield valuable information.
“Research your candidates. Creep their social media accounts, contact past work places, check their references. Do all the things you would normally do, but ask questions specific to those companies’ workplace cultures. ‘Did Jane fit in with your company? Why or why not? How would you describe your company culture?’”
8. Make Broad Considerations
Looking at details like an applicant’s hobbies and pastime activities can tell you a lot about how he may fit into your culture, but there are also some broad considerations worth making. Jackie Breslin is the Director of Human Capital Services for TriNet, says simply making sure a candidate has all the qualities of a good customer service specialist can be a great starting point in screening for a culture fit.
“Look for someone who is able to interact well with colleagues, respond to questions and feedback, take direction, and creatively solve problems. Look for similar qualities you’d look for in someone applying for a frontline customer service job. They may be a software engineer by title, but no matter what role, position, or level a candidate is being hired for, it will have a component of customer service to it, whether it’s internally or externally.”
The most important thing a company can do for its culture is be aware of it. Many businesses don’t spend much time cultivating their identity as a group of individuals, and it is to everyone’s detriment. Once a company has a good handle on who and what it is, beyond just what it does, hiring a candidate who fits in will be as easy as dropping an olive into a martini—and just as meant-to-be.