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How to Interview Candidates for Passion and Cultural Fit

How to Interview Candidates for Passion and Cultural Fit

By: Sharon Waldrop

A resume sums up a job candidate’s experience, but it takes an interview to truly gauge a candidate’s cultural fit

As a recruiter, my first verbal interactions with candidates is often by telephone. While the first impression is often  lasting, there have been times when the beginning of a phone interview doesn’t grab me. But, as a candidate and I get to know each other, I’m often singing a different tune at the end of the call.

That’s because we already have one common denominator -- the company. I want to hire the best person to do the job. The applicant wants to join the team. We both speak the same language, regardless of age, gender, national origin, or the holidays -- if any -- we celebrate in December. 

Here’s how you can conduct an interview to assess whether the candidate will be a good fit for your company’s culture and has the passion of your top performer.

A Basic Aptitude for Working with Others
It’s during the interview process when a hiring manager can predict if an applicant is a cultural fit within an organization on a very basic level. An employer wants everybody to get along, feel comfortable with each other, share mutual work ethics, and be on the same page, according to Tony Beshara, Ph.D, president of Babich & Associates, a placement and recruitment firm in Dallas.

Beshara says that this is when an applicant’s personality, values, and energy shows through. It’s a time to ask yourself whether or not he or she is likely to see things in the same way as others within the company. 

“The truth is, this is work, and it’s amazing how people in different generations can get along and do well in their work without wanting to go to happy hour together,” says Beshara. 

The answers to interview questions are clues to an applicant’s cultural fit within a company. 

To assess whether someone has an aptitude for working with others, Beshara recommends starting with a simple question, such as, “Give us an example of someone you worked well with.” Applicants should give specific instances – not generalizations. 

Finding Passion and Cultural Fit is Key
Sourcing the right candidate is an important element of putting your business plan into place.

Identifying the candidate’s cultural fit and passion for the industry during the interview is a key factor in the long term success of a company, says Anisha Vinjamuri, CEO and Founder of InnovationsIQ, a management consulting firm in Seattle. “You can teach technology skills, but you can never teach the type of personality that would be most ideal to a company,” says Vinjamuri. 

A sincere passion for the job is an important as the right cultural fit.

“While you are hiring for culture, a good practice is to evaluate if your candidate is also passionate about the role, and the industry in general,” says Vinjamuri. Pay attention to whether or not he or she shows great interest, emotion, and enthusiasm when describing situations in the workplace. 

“A best practice is to make a note of the areas of a conversation when the interviewee shows increased enthusiasm,” says Vinjamuri.

Great services and products are built on the right foundation of people, so it’s very important to follow a process that enables success, according to Vinjamuri. She suggests first identifying your company’s core DNA, then defining a recruiting strategy to identify the right fit.

Lastly, divide the interview process into two parts; in the first, focus on technical capabilities; the second half should focus on cultural fit by asking:

Interview Question: What attributes do you look for in a company when you want to apply for a position?  

Your Analysis – Are the candidate’s personal core values in alignment with the company?

Interview Question: What does your ideal role looks like? Elaborate on the type of environment in which you would function with enthusiasm and contribute positively to our team. 

Your Analysis – Will the team and environment suit the candidate’s needs?

Interview Question: Describe a challenging situation you have faced recently at work, and how you tackled it.

Your Analysis – This question clarifies the candidate’s performance style under pressure and their soft skills.

Interview Question: Share a hypothetical situation with a current similar challenge in your organization what was the best solution?

Your Analysis – Reveals the candidate’s thought process, and how it aligns with your company’s current management style. 

Interviewing for Current and Future Fit
Keep in mind that new employees can maintain or modify a company’s culture.

Look at both your current and desired organizational cultures, says Michael Fritsch, president of Confoe, a consulting firm in Austin, TX. “Often, organizations have not taken a deliberate look at culture prior to starting the hiring process,” says Fritsch. 

If you current culture is exactly where you want it to be, then hire for that, says Fritsch. “If not, then your hiring decision can be part of moving your culture forward.”

For example, if your current culture is too risk-averse and you want to be more risk taking, you would hire candidates who display those traits, says Fritsch. Ask a situational or behavioral interview question, such as “Give me a specific example where you had to take risks in your job.”

Fritsch recommends asking the candidate about past positions from a culture aspect: “In your job as XYZ, how did the organization look at risk-taking?  Was it better to take risks or follow the rules?” 

Finally, don’t forget about sub-cultures. “The sub-culture of the quality department is likely different than that of sales or marketing,” says Fritsch. Make sure at least a few of your interview questions reflect the subculture of the department that the job will reside in. 

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