One of the most important but intanCultural_Fit copygible factors in recruiting and hiring job candidates is the often-misunderstood concept of “cultural fit.”

Simply put: you want to make sure you get the right person for the right job, and you also want to make sure that the new hire fits in with the overall surroundings, mission, values and personality of the hiring company.

Credentials, experience and skills are all very important – but even the most talented people can struggle or fail if they’re not quite the right fit for the culture of your company.

Company culture is a complex concept that is hard to quantify, but generally speaking, “culture” can be defined as the shared set of values and assumptions about proper behavior and demeanor.

Company culture helps set the tone for how employees are expected to work and how they’re trained to collaborate, communicate and do things “the right way” as defined by the leadership.

How To Build A Successful Company Culture

company-culture-cartoonThere are many different ways to build a successful company culture. Even within the technology industry (where I work), there is a wide diversity of company cultures. Some companies are more conservative and buttoned-down, full of people working quietly at their desks; some companies pride themselves on being creative, lively work environments where employees have a lot of flexibility and freedom over how they work. Some companies have a highly entrepreneurial culture where every employee is encouraged to continually reinvent their own job description and spearhead their own favorite projects; other companies are more hierarchical with clearer delineations of responsibility and power. Some companies prize independent work and function almost more like a collection of independent contractors than a single entity; other companies have a deeply ingrained culture of teamwork and camaraderie where no one is allowed to eat lunch alone at their desks.

Putting an employee into the wrong cultural fit – even if that new hire seems like a really promising candidate with great credentials and experience – can be a disappointing missed opportunity; and worse, it can also damage your overall organization. If a new hire doesn’t work out, not only does your company lose out on the potential revenue and new growth that you had hoped that the new hire would deliver, but you also run the risk of undermining morale for the rest of your employees. If a new person just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the company culture, it can cause confusion, communication failures, and lower productivity for the rest of the team.

Perhaps most importantly in tech startups, where employees often are expected to work incredibly hard with a shared sense of mission and identity, determining cultural fit also involves such questions as how people like to spend their leisure time. Employers aren’t just hiring for technical skills, they’re hiring for personality, social skills, and potential to be friends.

9 Culture Fit Questions Every Recruiter Should Ask

culturefitA study of hiring practices at professional services firms published in the December 2012 American Sociological Review found that “employers hire in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners than how one might expect employers to select new workers.”

If you’re trying to assess culture fit and find the candidates who will be most likely to fit in socially and succeed at building relationships within the company, there are several key questions to ask:

  1. What excites you about the mission of our company? The best candidates won’t just be interested in the compensation or the job title or the perks; they will know and understand your company’s unique mission and will have ideas to share about what appeals to them about your company’s approach to the industry.
  1. How would you describe your work style? Does the candidate like to start early, stay late, or both? Do they like to collaborate and have a regular buzz of activity around them, or do they prefer more solitary work with a lot of autonomy? Does the candidate like to work remotely via mobile devices, or do they enjoy the consistency of being in-person at the office – or both? Make sure your candidate’s expectations are in line with the way things are done at your company.
  1. Who are your favorite co-workers at your current job, and what do you like about them? Get a sense for how the candidate builds relationships. Of course it’s great to hire competitive, high-achieving people, but ideally you also want people to understand that the real competition is outside the company – you want to build a cohesive team where people enjoy spending time together and can draw upon each other’s ideas and personal strengths.
  1. Who was the best boss or mentor that you ever had, and why? Get a sense for the candidate’s learning style and “big lessons” that they’ve learned in their career. Hopefully they’ll show an appreciation for the knowledge they’ve gained from the more experienced leaders and managers who have mentored them along the way.
  1. What would you like to do more of everyday at work? (See if the candidate is feeling underutilized or if they have some unfulfilled ambitions at their present job – maybe they’re not being allowed to do what they do best, and that’s part of the reason why they’re looking for a new position. Maybe you can help them realize more of their potential.)
  1. What’s your definition of a “good” day at work? Ask the candidate to elaborate on what makes them feel productive and successful. This question also helps you find out how the candidate likes to structure their day and how they measure their own performance.
  1. Where you do like to go on vacation? It helps to learn more about the candidate’s personal interests outside of work – but without asking illegal/discriminatory “personal” questions, of course. You might find out that the candidate loves biking, or hiking, or scuba diving – this is a way to find common interests between the candidate and the rest of the team.
  1. What makes you uncomfortable? In addition to learning more about the positive aspects of the candidate’s work style, it’s also good to get the candidate to open up about what takes them out of their comfort zone. For example, if the candidate says that he/she is uncomfortable with confrontation, and your company is known for its boisterous debates and loud personalities, then this might be a bad cultural fit.
  1. If you could choose one actor to play you in a movie, who would it be? This question tests the candidate’s imagination and helps you learn more about the candidate’s self-perception. And it’s another way to see if the candidate has interests in common with the rest of their future colleagues.

Cultural fit is hard to define, and sometimes you know it when you see it. But hiring the right people is more than a matter of evaluating skills and experience; it’s about figuring out who will be most likely to get along well and make friends with their colleagues, who will be the kind of person that you want to hang out with and go out for dinner with and stay up late with during hectic times at the office, and who you feel comfortable with in building rapport and sharing a sense of mutual understanding and ease of collaboration.

Cultural fit is not just about making a good hire – it’s about building a strong team for the long-term.

2015-03-17_09-08-53About the Author: Carolyn Betts is the Founder & CEO of Betts Recruiting, a global recruiting firm. Carolyn is a sixth generation Bay Area native and is actively involved in the community, serving as a board member of the UCSF Partners in Care, an officer of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, and a member of Young Presidents Organization.

Betts Recruiting focuses on fast growing, innovative tech companies to build out revenue generating talent roles to include sales, marketing and customer success at all levels. Betts has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Women-Owned Businesses, and was named one of the Best Places to Work and Fastest Growing Companies in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times.  Betts Recruiting has office locations in San Francisco, New York, Austin, and Dublin, Ireland.

Follow Carolyn Betts on Twitter @BettsCEO her on LinkedIn.