Interview questions to help during hiring for culture add

What are some of the best cultural fit/cultural add questions you’ve found in interviewing new candidates?

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I’m going to answer this, not by the questions the interviewer asks, but by the questions the candidate asks. The candidate’s questions are probably one of the biggest signals available but unfortunately there is often little time given to them to ask, and there’s a stigma around a candidate asking tough questions depending upon the level of the role. Many times the hard questions are asked by a candidate in an informal setting or via out of band methods like email but should really IMHO be during interviews. Here’s an example of some really good and tough questions that a candidate might and perhaps should ask (which also speak to psychological safety in teams as per Project Aristotle:

The questions below are gathered from interactions across multiple Slacks and are borrowed e.g. not mine:

  • Who was the last person to get promoted from this position?
  • What’s the reason for the opening in this role?
  • What specific training/education opportunities are available in this role? Are there incentives for certifications, etc.?
  • How does time off work? When was the last time someone in this role took some personal time off?
  • How is compensation determined? Is it based on performance? Tenure?
  • What was the last major human-caused outage? How did you deal with the person or people who caused it?
  • Is there an on-call expectation? If so, what does on-call look like for this role? How often would I be in the rotation? What sorts of issues would I be expected to support?
  • How do you document your network? What tools/methods do you use? How do you ensure documentation is kept up to date?
  • What’s the biggest problem you, as a manager, want to see solved with this role? What can I do to be most effective?
  • How often do you have one-on-one meetings with your direct reports?
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I like to ask the interviewee why we (the company) would be a good fit for them. This helps me learn how much they might know about us and can help feel out if there is actual, genuine interest.

If your culture is feedback-rich, ask them what the most difficult criticism they’ve received in any job has been. Ask them what their first reaction to receiving criticism tends to be.

Most companies embody a culture of helping, whether it be internal support, external clients, our customers. I really enjoy asking interviewees to walk me through a time they helped someone (usually outside of work is most interesting). Kind of goes back to how someone treats a waiter can tell a lot about that person. I love when interviewees answer with something as simple as “I always hold the door for people,” or “I randomly helped someone out in a grocery store even though I don’t work there.”

Hope these help!

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Hiring for culture is tricky because you might end up introducing bias into the process. Some interviewers and hiring managers might misinterpret “culture fit” as a coded intention to create a homogenous workforce where everyone looks, acts, and thinks the same. With that said, if you do intend to hire for culture fit, make sure the questions you ask fulfill dual purposes:

  • Tied back to things that are likely to be predictive of actual performance in the role.
  • And indicative of a cultural fit
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My name is Craig Forman and I am a People Scientist here at Culture Amp. I went ahead and recorded a short video to share my thoughts on questions to help identify the “culture add” of a candidate during the interview process. The three that I added are:

  1. Talk about a time when you have pushed against the status quo to best support your organizations culture.

  2. Talk about a time when you had a positive impact on your organizations culture.

  3. How do you define organizational culture and talk about how culture has impacted your career.

To learn a bit more about why I choose these three, please watch this short video of me discussing my answer.

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I want to suggest that the most important step in determining culture fit is first defining your culture. Culture is made up of the opinions of employees, and each company’s culture is different. So while there are certainly questions that any company could ask to get a sense of culture fit, I think it’s more effective to start by defining your culture, and then to build your questions around that. It’s not dissimilar to creating a job description and then building your questions around that. The qualities you want for a candidate to be happy and successful in your culture will depend on what that culture is, both positives and negatives. Is your organization large or small, and what are the cultural elements that come with that? Do they need to be patient and comfortable with bureaucratic processes? Do they need to be collaborative and interested in others?

As anonymous9 mentioned, hiring for “culture fit” can easily turn into biased hiring, hiring on gut feelings or looking for people “like us,” homogeneity. But just as you can minimize bias by basing your interview questions around the competencies and qualifications expressed in your job post, you can minimize bias in hiring for culture by defining your culture and basing your culture fit questions in that definition. You can then use behavioral interview questions to learn about past experiences in which candidates exemplified - or did not exemplify - the qualities that would make them a fit for your culture.

Lastly be sure to check yourself periodically - and encourage other interviewers to do the same - and think about whether your culture questions are leading to homogenous hires.

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I always ask them to articulate their values, as well as asking them what their non-negotiables are when it comes to a company they’re interested in working for, because these (regardless of whether they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘reasonable’ or ‘unreasonable’, it comes down to compatibility and whether each person is going to feel safe, comfortable and set up for success. It’s important, like Craig said, to ask about how they define culture / what it means to them and an example of how they have had a positive impact on company culture. I also ask what they’re passionate about, both personally and professionally.

As Emma and anonymous9 have touched on, I never talk about a ‘culture fit’, but a ‘culture add’, as you initially wrote Michael. I’m not interested in adding people to our team that are identical to others, as our strength comes from diversity. Couldn’t agree more in regards to the importance in your company’s definition of culture and values, this underpins absolutely everything.