8 Interview Questions To Help You Assess Cultural Fit

What does 'hiring for cultural fit'� actually mean? Is it the right thing to do? Or is it simply an overused buzz phrase, used to surreptitiously discriminate against other people? Find out everything you need to know, in this week's blog post.

June 20, 2023

“Hiring for cultural fit” has become a real buzz phrase over the last few years.

Why? Probably because many companies have become almost obsessed with the idea of building a great, productive and unique working "culture" that boosts staff happiness and (ultimately) profits (happy staff = happy bank account).

And obviously a huge part of that is having a team of people who work exceptionally well together and who thrive in that particular environment - people who are a 'cultural fit.'

But how on earth do we, as Hiring Managers, go about assessing candidates for this intangible quality?

Let’s have a look…

First things first…

What does ‘company culture’ really mean?

Essentially, it’s the way you choose to do things – your company mission, your values, shared beliefs, behaviours and ‘personality.’

For example: Zappos (renowned for hiring based on cultural fit) clearly state and communicate their core values for all to see, including to: “Deliver WOW Through Service, Embrace and Drive Change and Create Fun and A Little Weirdness.” Click here to read the rest.

It's important to remember there is no "right" culture.

Different companies do things in different ways and succeed – but one thing is clear – those companies with a strong, focussed, clear culture are often more successful than those without one.

(Just look at the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple).

What is your company culture?

Obviously, if you're going to ‘hire for cultural fit,’ you need to define exactly what your company culture is.

Easier said than done - but basically it comes down to asking yourself and your staff questions like…

  • Why does your company exist?
  • What is your mission?
  • What skills do your staff need to have to get their job done?
  • What's great about your company?
  • What skills really benefit your business?
  • What are your core values?
  • How do you communicate successfully?
  • What is the organisational structure like?

Having all of these written down (like Zappos) and communicated effectively throughout your business will not only help you make hiring decisions but it will also help your staff to understand the business better and feel more involved, engaged and loyal to it.

Recruiter Pro Tip Please, please, please don’t try to force your corporate culture. Communicate your actual values, rather than what you would like them to be or what you think others would be impressed by. If you’re not happy with the current culture, you should work on that before you start hiring for cultural fit, not the other way round.
Click on the above links for some great tips on this.

Remember, there’s no point asking an interview question when you have no idea what kind of answer you’re looking for!

8 Interview Questions to Assess Cultural Fit

1. Tell me something I don’t already know about you.

A candidate’s CV can only tell part of the story (the part that they want you to see).

So asking this, slightly more unpredictable question is a great way to find out something a bit different about their personality and values.

Then use their answer to predict how well they’ll fit in with your team.

Do they have similar interests to other team members? Are their values reflective of the company’s (for example, altruistic, environmentally friendly, creative)?

Warning – because this is quite an open question, you might receive some pretty strange answers.

We’ve had candidates admit to previous drug addictions, affairs with the boss and hand-cuff collecting as a hobby.

Try not to write anyone off too quickly. It’s better to be odd than boring, surely?

2. What type of culture do you think you could thrive in?

This will help you to work out two things…

  • How well do they actually understand your culture?

A savvy job candidate is hardly going to admit that they’d prefer a corporate culture at odds with your own.

Using online sources like Glassdoor, social media and your website, they should be able to figure out what kind of company you are and thus, adapt their answer to show how well they'd fit in.

(They might say they’re quite flexible and fit into all kinds of businesses, at which point you could pose the question – “ok, but what type of environment do you work best in.”)

So, have they done their research? Do they ‘get’ your business? If they don’t, is it really the right role for them?

  • Could they fit in with that culture?

Hopefully, your candidate will reveal specific details of when they worked at another company with a similar environment (you can ask probing questions if not) and thus, reveal how well they could fit into yours.

If not, don't write them off immediately, just make a mental note that it could need further consideration, after the interview.

3. How would you go about doing X,Y or Z?

This is a real toughie.

Describe a scenario that your company recently went through (you can make it up if you like, but it will be more realistic/illuminating if you describe something that actually happened) and ask your candidate to describe how they would approach the situation.

For example:
  • We recently decided to recruit 5 new salespeople for the business. Give us a general idea of how you would go about doing this whilst saving as much money as possible? (HR position).
  • We reviewed our social media strategy recently and though we’ve never used it before, we decided to try out Twitter; what would you post/ do on day one? (Social media position).
  • Recently, a member of staff received an abusive and threatening phone call from one of our long-term customers. How would you have gone about resolving the situation? (Customer service position).

Candidates may ask for clarification on some of the points raised - which is great - it shows that they are thoroughly considering the situation and don't just make snap decisions.

You simply get to assess their answers, considering the following…

Would/did you and your team do the same/ similar things? Are the candidate’s ideas actually better than your own? Did they display some sort of understanding of your corporate structure? Or did they completely go against your own values, rules and procedures?

4. Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a team.

I know, I know; this question is so simple and predictable!

But before you can consider whether a candidate will fit in with your particular team, you need to work out whether they can fit in with a team, full-stop.

And it doesn’t matter if most of their work will be completed independently – you really don't want to hire someone who winds people up the whole time.

You’re looking for answers that reflect fairness, honesty and respect for other people.

I know, you’re probably thinking ‘well most candidates will just fib anyway…’

That’s where your gut instincts (does something seem a bit too generic and/or fishy?) and further probing questions come into play.

Click here to check out some of the easiest ways to spot a liar.

5. How do you like to be managed?

It’s unlikely that your candidate will or would even be able to prepare themselves for this question (how would they know?) so you should get the truth out of them.

Do they prefer hands-on management with regular feedback or to go it alone? Do they prefer structure or winging it? Strict or laid back?

Then you must decide (realistically) whether they could be effectively managed at your company.

Recruiter Pro Tip Perhaps in certain circumstances you would be willing to change your management technique – for the right employee. But remember, you’re not going to be able to do that for every new person that comes along, so try not to make it a habit. A great employee will adapt their work approach for you.

This could be a deal-breaker.

6. What’s your biggest pet hate at work?

So simple, but incredibly revealing – you’re basically asking your candidate ‘are you going to fit in with the specific personalities in our office?’

If they mention something that occurs a lot at your company, then you’ll have to assess how serious they are about the problem and whether it would be difficult for them to actually get on with work.

For example:
  • “Ooh I’m not really a fan of smelly food in the office” is not a major issue.
  • “Loads of pointless meetings” might be.

If they go off on a rant about all of the things they dislike about their current team, then not only is that pretty unprofessional (badmouthing co-workers is never a good thing) but it also shows that they’re probably not that great at working with others!

7. What do you want from life? Why are you here?

I got asked this question when I first started out on my career and honestly, I was stumped.

I knew that I really wanted that job and that I’d like to “be successful” but beyond that, I hadn’t really given it much thought.

Thing is, many of us ‘want to be successful’ but we often find it difficult to articulate what that ‘success’ means to us – especially when people start to probe deeper.

“Ok, so you want to be successful, what does that mean to you? What position would you eventually like to get to? Why? What’s the end game here?”

This question will reveal some great insight into what the candidate is hoping to achieve, whether they’re likely to stick around for the long haul, where their passions lie and whether they actually have a long term plan (I didn’t).

You’ll also discover whether you have the capacity to actually offer them what they want.

There’s no point taking someone on if you think they’ll have to leave within a few months, due to lack of opportunities, training and/or salary issues.

8. Tell me one thing you believe, that most people don’t.

I love this one!

It’s a great way to find out whether your candidate can think freely and creatively (without following the crowd) and is confident enough to bring more ‘out-there’ ideas and opinions to the table.

This question will often reveal something quite personal and quirky about your candidate…

  • “I believe in ghosts.”
  • “I don’t believe in dinosaurs.”
  • “I believe that every human person has the potential to be ‘good.’”

Above are some of the things we’ve heard in our time and as you can imagine, they open up a really honest and interesting conversation with the interviewee.

(Be careful though, these debates could go off on a tangent and you may end up missing your next appointment!)

One final tip…

Another great way to assess a candidate’s cultural fit is to let them loose in your office for a while.

Introduce them to the rest of the team, allow them to ‘explore’ and see, first-hand how well they might fit in!

Recruiter Pro Tip If you’re going to do this, you need to warn your current employees and make sure they’re on their best behaviour. Remember, recruitment is a two-way street and you need to impress your candidates and ensure that they actually end up wanting to work for your company. If everyone is dead busy and they don’t have any time to say hi, it’ll just become awkward and your candidate will feel unwelcome.

You could even invite them to a social event, although only something small like lunch or a drink, else it might be a little too intense.

At the end of the day, it’s just great to get feedback from your current employees – do they like the candidate? Do they think they’d fit in? Or are they unsure?

The downside!

People often criticise ‘hiring for cultural fit’ for two reasons…

  • It could be used as an excuse to discriminate against certain groups of people.
  • It leads to a lack of diversity in the workplace.

That’s NOT what company culture should be about – in fact ‘diversity’ is a huge advantage, if not an essential part of a happy, successful working environment.

Lack of diversity will limit ideas, creativity and different perspectives, necessary for innovation.

Encouraging diversity will make the workplace more interesting, fun and will seriously boost the development of knowledge within your team.

So what now?

Of course, we wouldn’t recommend only using cultural questions to assess your staff.

It’s important to have a variety of different questions ready that reveal different things, including…

Click on the respective links to check them out or click here to browse the rest of our ‘Assessing Applicants’ blog.

Alternatively, if you’d like to subscribe to receive weekly updates on interviewing, recruitment and HR in general, feel free to subscribe to this blog HERE.

Good luck.

Coburg Banks - Multi-Sector Recruitment Agency
We help great people get brilliant jobs in top companies.