How Can you Assess Cultural Fit

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How can you assess cultural fit?

Whether you’re the interview candidate or the employer, determining cultural fit is a crucial part of the interview process

By Bob McIndoe

It’s always been the case, but over the past two decades or so it’s become an even clearer part of the HR handbook: technical qualifications are only one piece of the puzzle.

Equally – or even more important – is the elusive, intangible factor of cultural fit.

It’s a common refrain that skills can be learned, but cultural fit cannot. Many employers and hiring managers are more than willing to train for some of the technical skills of the job, provided the individual is an excellent fit for their team and organization.

It’s for that reason that key questions in the recruiter’s mind often center on that issue of fit. How will the individual fit in with the organization? Are they in alignment with its values? How will they get along with other members of their potential new team? Is their personality well-matched to the operating environment?

Culture is a tricky enough thing to quantify in and of itself, but figuring out how someone new will fit within it is even more challenging. So how can employers make sure they’re hiring someone who fill fit well? And how can job-seekers determine whether the organization is a fit for them?

Job-seekers

A non-negotiable part of your preparation and research before an interview should be examining what the company is all about. Do they have an “About Us” or “Careers” page on their website? Many organizations will explicitly list their corporate values right on these pages. Some even include “values” directly in the job posting. It’s important to pay attention to this and honestly examine whether you align with those values. If so, highlight that to the hiring manager. You can make mention in your cover letter and in the interview that you admire the company’s values and feel you would be a good fit.

However, culture and values are about much more than a list of aspirations on the company website. It’s also a good idea to investigate a bit further. Check to see if the company has a Glassdoor profile – if so, you can get an idea of the experiences some other employees have had of what it’s like to work there. It’s also a good idea to ask your interviewer. Questions like “what is the culture like here?” or “what has your day-to-day experience been like working here?” could give you some further insight.

One more thing to keep in mind: cultural fit isn’t just about inspirational one-liners. It’s also about the practical realities of working for the organization. Are you looking for a job with work-life balance that will allow you to be home for dinner with your kids? Find out whether the workplace expects a lot of late evening hours or after-work events. It’s best to find out as much as possible about the practical realities before you spend time and energy pursuing the job.  

Employers

Employers are in a uniquely challenging position in assessing cultural fit, because you are limited in what kinds of questions you can ask in an interview environment. While it is, of course, very important to determine cultural fit before making a hiring decision (and it can save you a bundle by helping you choose someone who will work out well and not turn over quickly), you need to be careful about what you ask a candidate.

As an employer (or employer’s representative), it’s paramount that you remain in compliance with the relevant human rights legislation in your jurisdiction. Asking questions such as those surrounding family status or family situation could potentially open you up to a human rights complaint in Ontario, so it’s best to avoid delving into a candidate’s family situation altogether.

Instead of asking such questions, I’d recommend focusing on the job at hand and its bona fide occupational requirements. Instead of asking, “do you have children?” you could perhaps say, “this role sometimes requires some late evening work hours. Would that work for you?”

By honestly laying out the realities and requirements of the job, you can have pave the way for an authentic discussion with your candidates about how well-matched they are for the role and the organization. And really, that’s a win-win for everyone. 

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