How do you judge cultural fit?

To judge the cultural fit of a candidate you need to understand your own culture and you can define it by considering the following:

What does the company value?

  • Are you a sales at all cost or a service at any cost type of business?
  • Does the company have a formal reporting structure or is it an entirely collegiate approach?
  • Does the business need people to work all hours or does it expect people to deliver on their own volition?
  • Is the business heavily customer focused or is it a back room function that doesn’t interact with external customers?

What common language does the business use?

  • Does the business have a common language based on the industry / customer base / technology / history?
  • Are people encouraged to constantly communicate or does everyone wear headphones?
  • Is emotional language and response part and parcel of the day or is it frowned upon?

Where and how are decisions made in the business?

  • Does the boss make all the decisions or is everyone taken into account?
  • Does the company encourage input or does it actively discourage it?
  • Do individuals make crucial decisions within their own sphere of operations or are they made for them?
  • Do teams make decisions and are they implemented?
  • Does the leadership take total responsibility or does effective delegation exist?
  • Do people just execute or do they contribute to the wider aims of the business?

What are the defining “war stories” in the organisation?

  • Apart from the obvious about why a company was started or what the founder’s vision was back in the day a company has lots of stories that are analogous to its offering.
  • What was the defining product or deal or customer that made the company what it is?
  • What breakthroughs have happened, how did they happen, who made them happen?
  • What failures, what history, what moments illustrate the business as you know it?

How is work structured on a day-to-day basis?

  • Do you work 9-5 or are your hours flexible?
  • Does the company put being present as a key priority?
  • What does the business think about part time work or working from home etc.?
  • Does the team need to be together or does remote working lend itself to the culture?
  • Has any of this been done before?

Once you’ve gone through that exercise it’s probably easy to find people who will fit the culture, who are inspired by the example set, the ethos and values of the business. It’s those individuals that’ll be a cultural fit for you and your organisation and are far more likely to be highly effective as a consequence.

The benefits of a thorough process

So we’ll take it as read that a thorough recruitment process is much more likely to land an effective employee than one that is unplanned, unstructured and ad-hoc but there are other real tangible benefits to having a well thought through and structured process. For us, they are:

  • Its great personalised PR to others in your market. If you do a great job of hiring people, even those that are rejected at the end of it will be left with a positive impression and the likelihood is, they’ll know someone who you would like to hire, now or in the future.
  • It tells the market that you are a serious and professional business that takes care and interest in all that it does.
  • It’s a lot easier to effectively on-board a new employee when you know quite a lot about them. Tailoring the plan to the individual’s psychometric profile, added to the knowledge gleaned from the interview can work wonders in ensuring staff join happy and stay happy. Proper On-Boarding can be make or break for both the company and the individual.

Making offers and ensuring they are accepted

When making an offer, if you haven’t done the groundwork you’ll feel a bit blind. So, ask up front what the candidate’s current salary situation is. Don’t be fobbed off by generalist terms: “well it’s around £x in total.” What you want to know is: Basic salary? Bonus or commission (how is it made up? when is it paid? Is it realistic? What is the payment history like? How much depends on you and how much depends on the team / company / group etc.?) Pension? What do you pay and what does your employer pay? Health? Dental? Life Insurance? Car? Car Allowance? Holidays and any other benefits that the candidate values. You want to know it all and don’t pussy foot around – just ask.

Ask outright what the candidate’s expectations are and if they are wildly out of alignment, tell them that up front. They need to know and they may well be showing a number to open the negotiation. Challenge the salary expectation if appropriate and reset it below what you could offer and then when you make the offer come in above what they agreed to. People appreciate generosity even if it is a little managed.

What you really want to ensure is that what you have to offer in terms of a role is what your candidate wants first and foremost. You should probably expect to pay a premium to get someone to do a job they won’t see as development so bear that in mind when you’re drawing a job specification up.

Once you have all the information. Make the offer. If you’ve done the groundwork it’ll be accepted outright. The more you have to negotiate the less you’ve done up front. It’s a sign.

Reference Checking

Checking references should be straightforward but like a lot of aspects of hiring it’s conceptually easy and practically difficult. Some individuals will deliver references at the drop of a hat but an increasing amount won’t.

Obviously if the candidate has worked with companies you know then this could be straightforward but when they haven’t then dig in and try and dig deep. Taking references face to face is great though rarely practicable. Taking them by video call or telephone is the next best thing. For best effect speak to people above, below and equal to the individual being hired. Customers, Suppliers, Contacts could all be relevant depending on the role so don’t always think inside the business is the best place to pick up references. It’s often others that will give a more honest view.

Check dates and titles as par for the course and check facts gleaned in interview (without sounding like your hunting for issues) and leave it open for referee’s to give more than you’ve asked for.

Put confidentiality at the core of what you do in reference checking and remember you might just be getting opinion rather than objective insight. So if it doesn’t turn out quite as well as expected ask what the circumstances might be that made that happen. It’s not necessarily good but it’s not necessarily bad then either.

Conducting interviews

When you reach the stage of interviewing candidates it’s a good idea to remember that this is not code for interrogation. Ostensibly you, the interviewer are in control of the meeting but that responsibility needs to be tempered with the understanding that you’ll be judged on how attractive you and your company are on the basis of the meeting. Good candidates will always have options so if you put them off your business by adopting an interrogative style then there’ll be no going back. To add insult to injury, they’ll tell anyone else they know that the business wasn’t great at interviewing and that the interviewer was an arrogant so & so etc.

What we’re not saying is give the candidates an easy ride and don’t ask taxing questions. But before you do get stuck in, put the candidate at ease ask some light, social questions, get to know a little bit more about them and set a friendly and respectful tone. Both interviewer and interviewee will perform better if they are relaxed and feel comfortable with each other.

So to make the interview really work the key is:

  • Preparation – Understand your role in depth and in detail
  • Preparation – Read the candidates CV, check out their social network profiles and pick up informal references if you can.
  • Preparation – Create a suite of questions to create an understanding of skills match, culture fit and the candidate’s desire to join your business

…and what that means in practice is:

  • Prepare a thorough job specification with as much detail as is practical and necessary for the candidate to understand the role. Prepare to be questioned closely on detail points and other aspects. A well prepared and motivated candidate will ask questions (it’s a great sign)
  • Spend some time reviewing the candidates CV so that you can go directly to relevant points made and ask pertinent questions. If you shuffle about looking for information to allow you to ask questions then you’ll look unprofessional. The social network information will help in understanding broader interests, connections, viewpoints (good or bad) and attitudes, behaviours and values. No bad thing given what you want is an alignment in those for both the candidate and the business.
  • Spend time thinking about what it is you want to get from the candidate and prepare the questions. Using the same questions for each candidate will help you score them more effectively and ultimately build a profile that can be used for subsequent on boarding or objective setting etc.

Biographical Interviewing

Biographical interviewing whereby you interview a candidate on the timeline of the CV. “What were they doing and when?” essentially. From our own standpoint, this can be a good way to fact check in a CV and challenge where it’s obviously out of alignment. Candidates often make mistakes in their CV when they make changes to it and sometimes that means you find out more than the candidate intended.

When interviewing a candidate, we find it very useful to understand the context in which they performed their role. So understanding the company / division / team in terms of its purpose, its size (people numbers / revenues / projects etc) customers, and structure and physical bases. Leadership team make up and organogram. This will provide a useful backdrop on which to position a candidate in terms of the skills they’ve used and developed. It’s also worth understanding the culture of business as described by the candidate. If it sounds like yours and the candidate doesn’t like it you’ll hire a misfit.

So, the biographical interview has its place. It is best used in conjunction with a very well defined set of competency and behavioural questions.