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Companies are dispensing with the term “culture fit.” How can hiring managers shift to a culture add mindset? Learn strategies and questions you can ask to help understand how candidates will add to the culture and not just fit in.

Shifting from Culture Fit to Culture Add: As the Interviewer

When I began my career, I worked in a small department that had two professional staff and one administrative staff person. But within two years, the department was realigned with several other departments. I suddenly found myself working with new colleagues in an entirely different department culture than I had been hired to work in. And I failed.

What I didn’t fail in doing was my primary work.

I could deliver quality programming and advise students as if nothing had changed. But I failed in making connections in a new department. I couldn’t figure out what was expected from me and why I was excluded from the rest of the staff. While most of us had worked in different departments before the realignment, I was the only one who felt targeted and eventually pushed out.

I no longer fit within the culture of the department, even though my own work proved otherwise.

Like Conchetta, I tried to change myself to fit in. But ultimately, the department no longer welcomed me and it was time to go.

In many ways, the concept of ‘cultural fit’ worked against me, even though I was an employee thrown into developing a new department. Had I applied for my own job, which I had held for two years, I probably wouldn’t have been hired. That’s the power of hiring people who fit into an existing office culture.

And why employers should assess how they can move on from cultural fit to a cultural add perspective during the hiring process.

Last week, I wrote about shifting from a cultural fit perspective to a cultural add perspective as a candidate. This week, I’ll explore how employers can adopt the cultural add perspective when hiring new staff.


Why Ask Cultural Interview Questions?

All companies should be concerned about cultural and value alignment when hiring new staff. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, businesses that treat employees as “stakeholders of their future and the company’s future” enjoy improved performance and greater worker engagement. However, some companies believe their success relies on finding new staff who maintain the same type of success.

This type of cultural filter can unintentionally, or intentionally, filter out people from non-traditional backgrounds. People trying to re-career. Those with educational credentials that are outside the norm. Religious, gender, or sexual minorities within a region or in the company.

Instead of excluding people who aren’t a “culture fit,” companies can adjust their way of thinking and look for what candidates can bring to their existing culture. Overall, a culture-add mindset asks “What can this person bring to the business?” vs culture fit which asks “What is this candidate missing?” which may introduce bias into your hiring process.

So how can a department, company or organization still find value in cultural and value alignment and place value in the uniqueness of the candidate pool?

Switch up the strategies.

In order to make true changes to hiring, we need to mix up the strategies!

Cultural Add Strategies

Below are strategies suggested from across the internet. Some may require time and investment of resources, others may just require different interview questions and pool development.

Look Beyond the Resume

(HR Technologist) Trying to understand a candidate’s personality will help you determine whether they will be able to thrive in your work environment. For example, a person who works well at a startup may not enjoy the culture of a large company, and it’s important to identify that fit. At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that an introverted person in a world of extroverts could be extremely beneficial to your team, bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives that add to a discussion.

(Chart Hop) Like a values fit, hiring for culture add requires that your company dig deep to define what really matters to you and your existing workforce. Without knowing what you’re working for or toward, how can you identify talent that will help you get there?

Say your company develops software for restaurants. You’re eager to grow your product-design team, and you think the current team might benefit from new perspectives. You interview a candidate who has some design experience, but in getting to know them, you learn that they worked in the restaurant industry throughout college. They moved from bussing tables to the kitchen to shift lead. They know the industry. More importantly, they know the pain points and how restaurants use technology.

While this candidate may not have the years of experience that other team members do, their personal experience brings invaluable insight and knowledge that they can share with the team to help improve product design and user workflows.

Consider Transferrable Skills

(HR Technologist) It’s quite common for companies to have little to no training and onboarding for new hires. To overcome this, you can get creative with your sourcing strategy by looking for candidates with transferable skills for your open job opportunities. For example, an event coordinator could become a project manager as both positions require a strong attention to detail and organization.

Standardize the Interview Process

(SHRM) Once the ideal candidate is defined, the hiring team establishes a standardized interviewing process that evaluates the candidate on the explicit qualifications and traits that will make the candidate successful in his or her role.

(Kazoo HR) Ask the same questions, give the same assessments. And remember, this is not just to appease compliance laws or make people feel good. Rather, these habits help wear down your unconscious biases in order to create an excellent work environment for everyone.

(Washington Post) A rubric-based scoring system for candidates can be helpful in getting beyond the cultural fit roadblock. Because it defines the expectations with which each candidate will be assessed, a hiring rubric can help reduce bias in the hiring process.

Build a Diverse Hiring Team

(Kazoo HR) Make sure your interview panel represents the diversity you want to see. (Or at least knows to prioritize diversity).


Consider what candidates are capable of, not just what they’ve already done

One of the biggest shits for any hiring manager or committee is to be open to possibility. Maria Barrera, from Chart Hop, suggests that companies consider how a candidate might grow at your company and, as a result, drive change. She adds, “Hiring for potential means acknowledging everything a candidate brings to the table. Interests speak to goals and desires, passions become untapped talents, and backgrounds and outside experiences showcase once-hidden opportunities. When, as a hiring professional, you seek unlocked potential in candidates, you give them the chance to show parts of their identity previously checked at the office door.”

How to make this approach work for your company:

  • Know what potential means to your company. Like other hiring criteria, potential must be measured fairly across all candidates. That means giving all candidates the same opportunity to show their potential by using consistent questioning and interview assessments.
  • Take note of how candidates describe their experiences. You can learn a lot about a candidate’s passions and interests by paying attention to the words they choose when talking about their life and their past work experience.
  • Curiosity is a hallmark of potential. Be on the lookout for candidates who ask thoughtful questions about the role and about the company and the leadership throughout the interview process. Be wary of candidates who don’t ask any questions or who rely on run-of-the-mill questions they feel obligated to ask.

We should approach each candidate as if they have the potential to solve current issues and future ones we don’t know yet.


Ask the Right Question

I have sat on countless interview teams, more than I can count. Some have had incredible questions prepared to ask candidates. Others were asked in a haphazard way, as each person wanted without connection to outcomes. I was never a fan of the second approach. I know from this experience that preparing the right question can help do two things.

  1. It shows the candidate we are prepared for them. And it shows we know how to evaluate the candidate against a rubric.
  2. It allows the team to fairly assess the candidate without obvious bias.

While a cultural add perspective may help open the pool to diverse candidates, hiring teams will still need to determine if the person can work on the team. The Predictive Index believes that company cultures can be broken into four types:

  • Exploring (focused on innovation and agility)
  • Stabilizing (focused on process and precision)
  • Cultivating (focused on teamwork and relationships)
  • Producing (focused on results and discipline)

We can improve our hiring process by asking better questions about the culture of the organization and the person we’re trying to hire.

Asking questions that focus on the culture of the organization can help determine if the candidate could work! Plus focusing on the work allows the candidate to showcase their experiences

Cultivating:

  • Tell me about a time you had to go outside of your role to help another team member.
  • How do you like to interact with your co-workers?

Stabilizing:

  • What does high performance look like to you?
  • What’s your process for decision making?

Exploring:

  • Tell me about a time you had to change directions quickly. What was the outcome? 
  • Tell me about a time you took a calculated risk. What was the situation? What was the outcome?

Producing:

  • How do you go about planning your work?
  • How do you prioritize?

While a department or company should not use a cultural fit model as the only way to find new staff, these questions tell the candidate type of culture does exist. Then, they can determine if they can excel within it. For instance, in the story shared at the start of the post, I had established a cultivating office. But I found myself within a stabilizing and producing environment. I know, now, to ask about these culture indicators both as a candidate and as the hiring manger.


Want to Explore This Topic Further?

I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.

Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.

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Joseph Rios, EdD
leadershipandvaluesinaction@gmail.com
I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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