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How to Assess Candidates for Culture fit

Published: 02 July 2018

Author: Julie Robinson

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Hiring trends among clients spread like wildfire, some will be extinguished in a short period but others continue to spread from client to client, job ad to job ad until we are physically cringing at the mention of it. We are talking about the elusive and vague ‘culture fit’.

Put your hand up if you’ve heard your clients use the words culture and fit as a top ranked priority when assessing your candidates. Put your other hand up if they have a hard time articulating (in an original way) what exactly their culture is! Now shake them all about if you want some helpful suggestions on how to present candidates based on this mysterious culture fit that everyone seems to be talking about…

But first,

What is a Workplace Culture?

Every organisation has their own workplace culture, and their differences do not make them better or worse from each other - it is rather a matter of chemistry. Culture can manifest itself in an organisations language, decision making structure and daily work practices.

For example one employee might benefit from unstructured work hours because they have small children or prefer to work from home where another candidate may find the loose structure distracting or difficult to manage.

Assess it for Yourself

Don’t take your clients word for it, get involved and visit your clients office space to observe for yourself and consider some or all of the following to get a feel and flavour of the environment and culture that exists.

How is the space allocated? Lots of offices with closed doors? or open concept? Where are the managers or senior folks relative to the team? What kind of art or messages cover the walls? Are there common areas? What kind of things do people do on their break? What do you hear? Furious computer tapping and sales chatter or is it so quiet you could hear a pin drop? Is there an office dog or is the radio playing? Dress code - casual or suited and booted?

These are a few simple ways to dig for clues about the type of environment you are hiring for and therefore what kind of questions to ask candidates who wish to apply.

If you can’t visit your clients, then you’ll need to get a sense of the culture through your client contact, so it’s totally ok and you should ask the all the questions you will need to try to figure out the best fit.

Assessing Candidate Responses

Culture fit is usually observed in the interview process through face to face meet and greets as well as scenario-based interview questions. Asking questions that reveal how a candidate responds to what your client values most will help you weed out any potential misfits. A great line of questioning could be around, which organisations have they been most successful at in the past and what was the culture like there. Replicating what’s worked well and a culture that no doubt has contributed to their success is surely something that should be replicated or at least considered in their next role.

Gauge by Their Questions

What kind of questions do the candidates have about the company or job they are applying for? If they are a bit desperate for a job, they may ask none at all and seem really keen to take on the position without knowing more information about culture and that is a red flag.

In a lot of cases the best culture fit tends to happen when candidates are well-informed of the company and there is an openness about the conditions that they thrive in. Whether they have given this any consideration is quite telling in itself as there is a level of self-awareness that is necessary to succeed in most any team environments or workplace.

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