Unlocking the ability to gauge culture fit in interviews is crucial, considering the complexity of evaluating candidates in the competitive landscape of modern recruitment. From asking about a candidate’s preferred work environment to understanding their interaction preference with managers, these tips will guide you in asking the right questions.

Ask About Preferred Work Environment

“Can you describe a work environment or team dynamic in which you’ve thrived the most? What aspects of that environment brought out your best performance?”

This question allows the candidate to share their preferred work environment and the elements that contribute to their success. It helps gauge whether their values, preferences and working style align well with our school’s culture.

Antoinette Leblanc
Hiring and Benefits Manager, Jefferson RISE Charter School

Inquire About Handling Stressful Situations

“Describe a stressful workplace situation you have faced in the past, and how you handled it.”

Knowing how an employee reacts to stressful circumstances can help assess their personality and provide insight into their potential for fitting in with your team. With the high-stress that accompanies business crises, it’s wise to hire people who thrive under pressure.

As a recruiter, expecting honest answers to this question is not always realistic, but there have been some memorable responses that provided more perspective on whether those candidates would be good choices for their respective positions.

For instance, if the position mandates some degree of micromanagement and the candidate describes how they followed their manager’s instructions during a difficult time, they might just be a great fit.

Anjela Mangrum
President, Mangrum Career Solutions

Focus on Values Alignment

Instead of “culture fit,” I encourage teams to assess candidates for values alignment.

Many “culture fit” questions focus on whether someone will “fit in” with the current employees. Values alignment interview questions assess whether candidates will embody the company values in their actions and decision-making.

For example, if one of your values is “Take Ownership,” you could ask candidates, “Tell me about a time when you took ownership of an unresolved issue. What was the situation, and how did you address it?”

Since there are many ways to answer this question, you can still hire people with the critical skills you need while keeping an open mind about the candidate profile.

Alex Lahmeyer
Founder and DEI Consultant, Boundless Arc

Discover Expectations for Next Role

“What are you looking for in your next role?” While interviewers are aware of the type of role the candidate is looking for, this question goes beyond that. Aside from role responsibilities of XYZ, “What are you looking for in your next role?” is a good question to ask because it is broad, and therefore, the candidate’s answer can go in any direction.

As a hiring manager, I’ve found that how the candidate answers this question says a lot about what is important to them. The hiring team can then take that information to understand how it aligns (or doesn’t align) with the organizational culture. This question is open-ended, not leading and not a yes/no answer, which tends to elicit an authentic response.

Megan Dias
Career Services Coach, Parsity

Evaluate Impressions of Previous Interviewers

I typically conduct the culture-fit interviews at the end of the interview process, so that the candidates have had a chance to meet other employees at the company.

I usually like to ask them how they enjoyed the previous interviewers and what they liked about them. This gives a good sense of whether they can work well with the people who interviewed them. If all they can say is that the interviewers were nice, then that’s not a great signal.

For example, a good response would be, “I think I would work well with <Interviewer 2> because they gave me a chance to struggle with answering a tough question before helping me out or nudging me in the right direction.” Your mileage may vary, though, depending on the role and the size of the company. However, this approach seems to work very well with startups with fewer than 150 employees.

GEM Recruiting AI

Michael Ning
Founder and CTO, Smobi

Use Hypothetical Scenario-Based Questions

In assessing culture fit in candidates, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all question because it should align with the unique aspects of your company culture. Culture isn’t just about predefined core values; it’s often the subtle, unspoken norms that define how things work within an organization. One effective approach I consistently employ is presenting candidates with a situational scenario that embodies a critical element of our culture.

For example, at Leena AI, self-reliance is a fundamental aspect of our culture, where employees must often find solutions independently. Rather than asking generic questions like, “Are you a go-getter?” which tend to get superficial responses, I often pose a hypothetical situation where candidates must navigate a scenario without direct guidance or hand-holding. This approach allows us to gauge whether a candidate naturally aligns with our culture or if it’s a challenge for them to adapt.

Sanya Nagpal
Head, Human Resources, Leena A

Probe Recent Energizing Experiences

“What is the one thing that you did recently that energized you?”

This question enables you to move away from the job role and get to the heart of what drives and motivates that person. It gives permission for someone to be vulnerable and bring their whole self, which is what you want to understand when hiring.

This question moves you away from skills and competencies and into behaviors and mindsets. So, be brave, and why not think about this question yourself? How would you answer it?

Charlie Southwell
Marketing Director at HR Consultancy, Let’s Talk Talent

Assess Teamwork and Collaboration Skills

One interview question to ask a candidate to help assess culture fit is, “Can you tell me about a time when you worked collaboratively with a team to achieve a common goal?” This question can help you assess the candidate’s ability to work effectively with others, as well as their communication and problem-solving skills.

It can also provide insights into their work style and how they approach teamwork and collaboration. By asking this question, you can gain a better understanding of whether the candidate is a good fit for your company culture and values.

Kristina Ramos
Reverse Recruiter, Find My Profession

Uncover Excitement About the Job

Amid the array of inquiries you can pose during interviews, one particular question emerges as a revealing litmus test: “What excites you about this job?” This seemingly simple query harbors a profound insight into a candidate’s compatibility with your organization.

When you delve into a potential candidate’s excitement about the role, you glean a unique vantage point into their mindset and aspirations. Beyond the rehearsed responses and polished resumes, this question uncovers genuine enthusiasm and alignment.

Consider this: a candidate investing time to meticulously prepare for an interview likely envisions themselves not just as a peripheral member, but as a vital cog within the team and the organization. Their response offers a window into their genuine interest, dedication and their vision of how they can contribute meaningfully.

By posing this question, you’re not merely probing for skill-sets or qualifications; you’re unlocking a deeper connection to the role’s purpose.

TK Morga
Founder and Visionary, Tuesday At 1030

Understand Candidate-Manager Interaction Preference

When trying to understand a candidate’s cultural fit, I often ask, “How do you best like to work with your manager?” Typically, this will help me see how independently driven they are, how they collaborate with others and what they’d expect from their leader.

I’ll then follow up and ask about specific instances, which puts their description to the test. It’s not a perfect question, but it absolutely gives me deeper insights about how they will work within my team.

Logan Mallory
Vice President of Marketing, Motivosity