Interviewing for Cultural Fit

What is cultural fit and how do we assess a candidate?

One of our Top Interview Tips from our LinkedIn video last week was to “Relax. Be yourself. You’ll land a job with an organisation where you’re suited to their culture.” A few people commented that they really liked this tip. This blog discusses what cultural fit actually means and how we assess whether a candidate is culturally aligned to our organisation.


It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing solely on skills and experience when reviewing applications, but for us the most important factor is finding people who are a good cultural fit with our business.  For example, we can teach people to recruit but we can’t teach them to align with Momentum Search and Selection’s cultural values.


Cultural fit may seem like a catch phrase but it’s not.  A candidate may be highly skilled with a solid track record on paper, but will they gel with your team? Do they share your company’s mission and values?  Will reporting staff respect them?  Is the way they view customers in line with the organisation’s expectations?  Is your workplace environment conducive to their productivity?


It’s possible to have a diverse workplace with employees from different backgrounds who possess different personal beliefs whilst having a team who are working towards a common goal with a positive outlook.


Questions to ask, depending on your existing culture and what’s important to your business could include:

  1. What did you enjoy most about your last place of employment?
  2. How would your colleagues describe you in the workplace, both professionally and as a person?
  3. Describe your ideal work environment where you would be both satisfied and productive.
  4. Describe a time when you felt you had exceeded the expectations of a customer/ manager.
  5. What motivates you most in the workplace?
  6. What three leadership attributes do you think make a good manager and why are they important to you?
  7. Do you prefer to work as a member of a team or as an individual and why?
  8. What role do you generally play when working on a team project? What role would you like to play in the future?
  9. If you were given a paid day off to do something for the community, what would it be?
  10. Do you enjoy socialising with colleagues? Is this something that is important to you?


How do we assess answers to these questions?

Looking at question 3, answers may vary from “I don’t like being chained to a desk”, “I prefer to be out meeting customers” or “I like sitting amongst my team so we can easily exchange ideas”.  Consider whether they like their own office space, how they feel about hot-desking or working in open plan offices.  Is your workplace going to contribute to their productivity or hinder it?


Let’s take question 10.

Candidate: “I really enjoy socialising after work” or “I like a buzzing office where everyone is friendly and we go for lunch together”.  Will this candidate fit into or remain in your workplace if it’s a quiet zone where everyone keeps to themselves and there is little out-of-office activity?

Candidate: “I prefer to keep social interaction with colleagues to a minimum” or “I have after hours commitments that prevent me from socialising with colleagues after work”. If this candidate is expected to attend weekly team lunches and regular after-hours social activities or team building weekends, they may feel out of their comfort zone, unenthusiastic or refuse to participate.


With question 5, listen to what the candidate says and ask yourself if your organisation provides or enables the main thing that motivates the candidate to succeed in the workplace.  It’s not always money.  It could be having their ideas listened to and respected, having a manager that trusts them to get on with the job, training and mentoring, opportunities for career advancement or a positive work environment.  Does their answer provide some food for thought or prompt an area for improvement in your organisation?


Candidates may feel they are expected to answer Question 7 in a particular way because they think they’re telling you what you want to hear.  By asking what role they play, you can assess their preference.  For example, “When I work on a team project, I usually take on the admin and research tasks and present my findings back to the rest of the team to assess and make a decision.  I like to have my own tasks that I’m responsible for.”  This candidate will contribute to a team project but in a way that they can work alone and probably prefers to work alone most of the time.


Asking questions about the type of work environment candidates enjoy, their preference to work alone or as part of a team and their approaches to situations in previous roles will give you an insight into whether they will be a good cultural fit for your workplace. There are no right or wrong answers; you’re trying to ascertain if the candidate is aligned to your organisation’s ethics, workplace environment and ways of working.


Of course, interviews are a two-way street.  We’re assessing candidates but they’re also assessing us so it’s important that we’re open and honest about our company’s culture to enable them to decide whether they want to work for us!


Clare Chittenden