Interview Questions and Strategies to Gauge a Candidate's Cultural Fit

It takes more than your average, run-of-the-mill interview questions to determine whether a potential hire will fit well into your middle market company's culture. Going beyond canned questions and prepackaged answers increases the likelihood of bringing aboard someone who meshes well with your current team. Obviously, talent and experience go a long way, but it's all for naught if a new hire can't get along with everyone else.

To ensure candidates will fit into the culture at your middle market company, try following these steps:

  • Clearly define your company culture. What are the most important values and behaviors that contribute to results? If you don't understand what makes your company tick, sit down with your best people to get a grasp on how they're driving your business forward. Keep in mind factors such as collaboration, evaluation, communication and decision making, and have written values ready to show prospects.
  • Ask situational questions that test alignment. Past behavior is a good indication of values and future behavior, so ask interview questions that underline how a candidate thinks about attributes important to your company culture. For example, if your business environment is highly collaborative, ask candidates how they've managed to collaborate with co-workers who worked differently from them. How did they respond to disagreements? How much value do they place on collaboration, and what have they gained from it at prior jobs? The answers to these questions should help.
  • Expose the candidate to different people and situations. Cross-check information and perceptions among your team, and make sure the candidate talks to both people in leadership positions and employees at a lower level. Take note if the candidate offers different answers to different interviewers. You also want a candidate to display the same level of respect and earnestness to people of lesser importance as they do to a director or manager. Another good way to test candidates' cultural fit is to invite them to a more casual setting, such as out for coffee or lunch with the team, where they get a chance to show their general sociability and how they might get along with the group as a whole.
  • Get references from a candidate's peers, not just their managers. It can be illuminating to learn the opinions of co-workers who are at a similar level to the candidate. People are often much less formal when they're not interacting with management, so the perspective of someone who worked with the candidate on a regular basis can show a lot.

It's a lot of work to assess cultural fit, but because of how important your people and culture are to the success of your middle market business, investing time and effort in this regard is critical. At midmarket companies, where personnel numbers are fewer than at your average enterprise business, you don't want to invest in a new hire that makes waves in a negative sense. When you add new employees to a smaller mix of people, picking the right personalities is critical. A new person who shares your company's values means you'll have a trusted ally who quickly builds meaningful relationships with your existing employees, ensuring everybody works toward a common goal.

Is it beneficial to have multiple people interview a candidate at once? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.


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