I’ve had the privilege of hiring a few teams in my professional life, and I can honestly say I am so proud of the work they do.

I typically lead sales and customer success teams, meaning our metrics are clear – money. It makes progress easy to track once the team is already there, but the interview process is really where the smallest error can lead to huge ramifications – and an unsuccessful team.

In my previous experience working as an HR consultant, I frequently heard recruiters talk about the need for culture fit and role fit. It’s an interesting topic that took the recruiting world by storm, but it has its flaws. Especially as companies aimed to diversify their organization – both in terms of explicit diversity (one’s gender, race, sexuality, ability, etc.) and implicit diversity (one’s life experiences, schooling, or geographic background outside of ethnicity), the notion of “culture fit” can be damaging. For more on what “culture fit” interviews can do to your diversity efforts, check out this great piece in Forbes on the subject.

So what’s a recruiter to do? If asking about culture is off the table (and asking about diversity can make candidates and companies alike cringe), how can a company assess whether a candidate is going to fit in with the organization?

In my experience, this line of questioning helps to assess role fit, organizational fit, and increase diversity. Try it out:

Ask how a candidate understands and lives your values, not culture fit

Let’s say your company has a value of creating a supportive team environment. This has been distilled through “culture” – the amalgamation of all employees’ personalities, wants, and social desires – to mean that you have team hangouts after work on Fridays.

In an interview, then, you don’t want to ask questions that will assess whether this candidate will happily join the Friday parties, but instead questions that will ascertain whether this person believes in a supportive team environment or if they prefer an environment of everybody-for-themselves.

When candidates are able to be more human in the interview, you can more easily assess whether they will be a good fit

This is not to say that you have to be best friends and super supportive of one another all the time to build a successful company – a lone-wolf approach to performance can draw out immense creativity – but if you want to get employees that live your values, you should ask about the values themselves, not the culture derived from them.

Try questions like these (and feel free to adjust for your company):

  • One of our values here is to build a supportive team environment. How do you understand that statement and what does it mean for you?
  • We have a corporate value here of transparency and brutal honesty. Can you tell me about a time you received critical, but necessary, feedback, and how you acted upon it? What about a time you had to deliver that critical, but necessary, feedback?
  • Our core value is clients come first. While we have decent working hours usually, sometimes we get late calls from panicked clients. Have you ever had to pass up a personal night out to serve an emergency client need? Tell me about it.

A candidate’s answer to these questions will signify a lot about how they see the world. First, you’ll get a gut reaction to the value itself, and second, you’ll get their beliefs on how that value should be lived. It doesn’t mean they should be crossed off the list if they don’t think Friday parties are a way to build supportive environments, though; these answers are just a way to get a more clear picture of the candidate in relation to all their other qualifications.

Ask questions that will determine if a candidate’s “managed” style fits with their would-be manager’s “management” style

Assuming for a second that your managers all have a management style congruous with your values (and, like culture has many iterations, there are multiple ways to “manage” someone that aligns with company values), figuring out if someone likes to be managed in the way your managers like to manage is crucial to bringing out the best in everyone.

If a manager’s style is laid back with only occasional touch points, then you’ll want to make sure your candidate is self motivated, ready to act, and able to make decisions with little oversight. Other companies are more hover-based management (valid when dealing with sensitive information, for instance). Regardless, you’ll want to make sure you’re bringing on people who thrive under whatever approach you use.

Try these questions:

  • What kind of management style do you work best under?
  • Do you prefer a manager who tells you precisely what to do for core steps (not every step along the way, of course) or a manager who tells you the end goal and then leaves you alone?
  • If you had an emergency client request that had to be dealt with but your manager was not available to help or give you feedback, what kind of steps would you take to solve the problem?

Speaking to scenarios that might happen in your organization and getting a better understanding of what the candidate feels is a good management style for them will be helpful in assessing whether a candidate is going to do their best work in your organization.

This is also where thought diversity can really make itself known. When a candidate tells you about how they work best – preferably with examples to match – they are painting a full picture of their background and their previous experiences. There’s no right or wrong way to answer these questions, either, so you can offer an up-front disclosure that you are just trying to get to know them, which helps bring their authentic selves into the room.

Clarify your understanding of candidate answers using direct needs from the job

Let’s say you’re in a conversation, and after you describe a bit about the role, the candidate responds that they are excited for the role. That they are hard working and will happily bring that work ethic to your organization if given the chance.

You’re excited – it’s great to feel heard by this candidate and get a positive response. But not so fast. Any good candidate can memorize a script of “I’m excited and hard working.”

Push a bit further. Try these questions:

  • I love that you said you’re a hard worker. We need that here. Just to clarify my understanding, when you say you’re a hard worker I hear that you are willing to do (insert difficult aspect of the job here). Does that sound right to you or did I misunderstand?
  • When you said you were excited for the role, can you explain a bit more about which part excited you the most? Do you have any reservations about taking this role?
  • I like the experience you shared with me about needing to complete (a similar task to what this job requires) – how would you have improved your outcome from that task, knowing what you know now?

When a candidate tells you about how they work best – preferably with examples to match – they are painting a full picture of their background and their previous experiences

How they respond to these questions will really help you understand if they are a good fit for you, for your needs, and for right now. You may need someone to stay late for the role on a regular basis – it doesn’t matter how brilliant someone is if they demand their evenings free 100% of the time. If that’s the case, they just won’t fit in your organization.

Bringing in diversity of thought comes in naturally at this stage, as different roles will require different beliefs and views on what a generic term like “hard working” really means. For sales, hard working might mean pounding the phones even when you’re tired. For customer success, it might mean being willing to travel across town to say hi to a client. For product, it might mean asking for 10 more customer interviews and then completing them… even ahead of huge time crunch.

It’s all about finding who is right:

  • For the role
  • For the team they’d be joining
  • For the company as a whole

It’s the recruiter’s job to figure all this out (with help from the teams themselves, of course). Asking these questions will help bring the candidate into the process, making the interview more of a conversation than a question-and-answer session.

When candidates are able to be more human in the interview, you can more easily assess whether they will be a good fit or whether they belong elsewhere in your organization/not in your organization at all.

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