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Q&A: Author Dave Carvajal on the Power of Hiring for Cultural Fit

Finding the right cultural fit in a candidate comes down to having a clear idea of exactly what defines your company's culture, including its values, quirks and goals.

Q&A: Author Dave Carvajal on the Power of Hiring for Cultural Fit

By: Anne Fisher

When he worked for a big New York City recruiting firm years ago, Dave Carvajal “discovered that if I put in a lot of hours, I could usually fill positions with qualified people,” he writes in Hire Smart from the Start: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Finding, Catching, and Keeping the Best Talent for Your Company

It was only when he co-founded career site HotJobs (sold to Yahoo in 2002 and later to Monster in 2010) that “I began gaining insight into what recruiting was all about.”

A big part of what he learned: Finding job candidates whose personal values, work styles, and personalities will fit in to the company culture requires that you have a clear idea of exactly what defines that culture—and it has to come from the top— regardless of the company size. 

“Many CEOs and other leaders are winging it,” says Carvajal. “They don’t articulate for themselves what they really appreciate in their employees, and what they’re looking for, when it comes to working with others and creating value for their customers.” 

Carvajal believes that matching candidates and culture requires that you take some time to spell out what makes your company tick, including its values, quirks and goals.  

“When you know what your company represents and where it’s going, you can offer candidates the opportunity to join an enterprise that seems tailor-made for them,” he says. ‘This can entice even the best people out of great jobs, since you’re offering them a chance to be better versions of themselves.”

As CEO of specialty recruiters Dave Partners, Carvajal says he has convinced top engineers from Google, Facebook, Uber and elsewhere to change jobs. In his experience, they’re most often won over by an employer’s ability to paint a clear, compelling picture of its culture. 

“They leave their jobs if the new offer resonates with them on a deeper level,” he says. 

That has big implications for any company—especially smaller businesses’ ability to attract top talent

Monster recently spoke with Carvajal about the subtleties of hiring for cultural fit

Q.  You recommend creating a “safe interview environment” for candidates. What do you mean by that?

A.  Don’t turn interviews into inquisitions. If a candidate feels like you’re skeptical and suspicious, or even that you’re relentless and indifferent to her feelings, she probably won’t respond honestly. Instead, create a dialogue that’s more like a conversation you’d have with a friend. 

When I first meet prospective candidates, I often postpone talking about business for as long as possible and focus instead on the things that interest them, based on my research about the person. This helps build rapport, makes them feel safe and comfortable and gives us as much common ground as possible.

Q. What specific questions do you ask?

A.  People reveal what drives them—their mission and values—not just when they talk about work, but when they talk about all aspects of their lives. So I like to ask questions that most people would consider unusually personal for a job interview. 

“What’s lighting you up these days?” is a great opener. Do they participate in philanthropic efforts? If so, why? Why did they choose this particular field or career? Did they have other aspirations when they were younger?

The point is, I want to understand the values that are important to them and how they relate to the organization, and to a given position, now or in the future. 

Q. There is a school of thought that hiring for cultural fit squelches diversity of thought, since you end up hiring people similar to the employees you already have. What do you say to that?

A.  Hiring people with values that match your culture doesn’t affect diversity of ideas and innovation. I’m defining values as how we choose to behave and what we decide to honor, practice, and reward. 

Again, this goes back to the leaders of the organization, who really determine 80% of the cultural climate. They have to clearly articulate the company’s three or four most important values—things like humility, transparency, mentorship, profit-maximizing, volunteerism, and resourcefulness. 

You can hire for cultural fit along these lines without losing diversity of thought, because values are intrinsic motivators that transcend other differences.

Q. Has the influx of Millennials and Gen Z into the workplace changed how you recruit for cultural fit?

A.  One definite trend we have seen is the fragmentation of attention spans, with social media as a major cause. Many Millennials and Gen Zers have difficulty sticking to one activity or project for long without their attention drifting to the notifications on their screens. 

This is a problem, since focus is crucial to solving complex problems. Interviewers can certainly keep an eye on what I call “engageability.” Is the candidate someone who fidgets and who can’t stay on topic? Or is this someone, regardless of age, who has a laser-like focus and can stay on point during the conversation? 

The biggest change young workers have brought is a rise in the liquidity of the labor market, or employee retention, so people joining companies assume they may not be there for long. 

But highly qualified employees who share your vision and beliefs about work—that is, who are a good fit your culture—are likely to stay with you for more than a year or two, or at least help you achieve your longer-term goals.

The process of hiring for cultural fit starts with a great match. With Monster’s Power Resume Search you instantly receive qualified candidate resumes that match your job requirements.