How to Screen Candidates for Cultural Fit

Aleksandr Peterson
December 2015

When you hire a new employee, they need to have the necessary skills and expertise for the position. Most companies have that nailed down. But what about the other, less tangible qualities that affect how a candidate “fits” at your company?

How do they problem solve and interact with others? What do they value in a work environment? What drives them toward success? A lot of these qualities are wrapped up in the notion of company culture.

Image credit: Jeff Sheldon / Unsplash

Although company culture has become something of a buzzword in recent years, it has real effects on the success of your recruiting program. A candidate who is a good cultural fit is more likely to stick around for the longhaul, more likely to enjoy their job, and more likely to perform well. According to a study by the University of Warwick, happy employees are 12 percent more productive.

But how can you screen for cultural fit without over-complicating the recruiting process, which is already at a 15-year high for time-to-fill? How do you evaluate intangible qualities unique to each candidate, but keep the screening process objective and scalable?

First, you need to clearly define your company culture. Then, you need establish a repeatable process for comparing candidates with the qualities you deem most important. Let’s take a look.


1. Define Your Company Culture

That’s hard enough in itself. Anne Fisher, columnist and well-known business author, described the difficulty of culture for Fortune: “The trouble, of course, is that corporate culture is complicated, encompassing everything from office décor and dress code, to history and tradition, to a whole range of unwritten (and mostly unspoken) rules that add up to how work gets done day to day.”

Even so, there is great reward in having a clearly articulated and embraced company culture. A study by Columbia University found that the job turnover rate at companies with strong culture is only 14 percent, compared to 48 percent for companies with weak culture. You can start by answering some of these key questions:

  • What is your mission statement?
  • What are your core values (e.g., ambition, integrity, innovation)?
  • How do you define success as a company?
  • How do your employees interact and communicate?
  • How do employees share in and add to the company story?

Ask a few other stakeholders to share input, and document your answers. Then use your cultural profile as a template during the screening process.


2. Observe Candidates Outside of the Interview

Interviews can reveal a lot of information about job candidates, but they can also be stilted and misleading — not the best indicator of how a person would actually behave and perform at your company. So give them a chance to perform outside of the interview.

Many companies in technical or project-oriented industries will run final-stage candidates through a “test drive,” which gives them a day or so to actually work in the role and even start on a project. If you want to go the less formal route, you could simply invite the candidate to lunch, to a ball game, or invite them to play ping pong with your staff.

Whatever the case, pay attention to how they interact with others, approach unfamiliar scenarios, and evaluate their own performance.


3. Ask Offbeat Interview Questions

If you only ask candidates questions they’re expecting to hear and give textbook prompts — tell us about one of your strengths . . . tell us about a conflict you dealt with — you’ll get textbook answers. Try changing it up a bit. Asking the candidate an offbeat, unexpected question is a great way to get them out of their shell.

For example, you could ask them to talk about their life as it exists off-resume. What do their hobbies indicate about the kind of person they are? One CEO of a real estate investing platform asks his applicants to describe “the greatest workday of their life.”

Just be careful how loose you get. Humor isn’t a bad idea, but there’s no need to be ridiculous. If you could be any vegetable, which would you pick? is probably not a valuable question.


4. Give the Candidate a Personality Assessment

This is an easy step to incorporate into your application process. If you’re using applicant tracking software, you can set up by creating custom screening questions and add this data to the applicant profile. There are also a number of industry standard tests that can help you gauge the applicant’s work ethic, leadership style, and emotional disposition (e.g., the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the DISC Assessment).

These personality tests aren’t always scientifically accurate, but in the absence of a longstanding relationship, they can shed light on how candidates might mesh with your corporate culture.


5. Check Social Media Profiles

Although less conventional than some of the other methods, you can learn a lot about someone by looking at their public social media profile. Keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be creepy. You can even ask candidates upfront for links to their Twitter and LinkedIn profiles in the interest of full disclosure.

What kind of topics do they post about? Do their personal interests align with who they claim to be on their resume? Do they participate in online communities with other professionals?

According to a CareerBuilder study from last year, 43 percent of employers now look at social media profiles when researching candidates. Of that group, 51 percent have made discoveries that led them to turn down an applicant. 

Most of the time, if you consider all of these factors, it’ll be pretty easy to know when a candidate fits your cultural mold. They either seem right, or they don’t. Just make sure you don’t get hung up on the small stuff — like how they dress, their favorite movie, or their regional accent. Cultural fit is ultimately a matter of whether or not the candidate’s core values and interpersonal style align with what’s predominant at your company.


Aleksandr Peterson is a technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, CRMs, project management, human resources, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.