What Questions Help Determine A Hire’s Cultural Fit?

Man and Woman Talk in Office

Finding the right employees has become a real challenge, especially in some industries. There are far fewer applicants on the employment market than at the turn of the millennium, and with demographic change and low unemployment rates in Germany, there is fierce competition for the remaining talent.

It has therefore become all the more important to identify the right person among the candidates applying for a job, as hiring the wrong one has become a more agonizing and expensive experience. Asking candidates the right questions can be very helpful in this context. Read on for concrete examples of questions you may wish to ask in a cultural fit interview.

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The Right Fit Is Important

But who is your Mr. or Ms. Right? At a fundamental level, the answer is simple: There must be a good fit between the candidate and company at two different levels: First, candidates must have the right qualifications and experience, but it is also important that they share the company’s values. Even the best of references won’t be much use if there is a wide gap in terms of expectations and beliefs. Considerable overlap between the culture and values of both applicant and company – the so-called cultural fit – is essential.

Invest time to research your target group: What do young talents want, and what do you have to offer them? Use candidate personas to design targeted recruitment campaigns and avoid inefficiencies.

How can you use an interview to find out whether the candidate’s values align with those of the company and vice versa? While relevant qualifications can be roughly assessed on the basis of references and resumes ahead of an interview, cultural fit is a very different story. When you get to an interview, you sit down with a stranger who may have graduated with honors, but that doesn’t mean that they are the best person for the job.

Asking the Right Questions

At this point, you’ll need two decisive tools: a well-chosen range of questions and empathy. When you select interview participants from your own company, you need to ensure that they bring relevant qualities to the table.

Your list of questions for your culture fit assessment is crucial. What sorts of questions should you ask, what sorts of questions is a potential employer allowed to ask candidates – and what questions are better left unasked? There are three basic groups of questions.

First, there are the standard questions that you can find in any guide for applicants and that virtually any candidate will know about. They’re useful for getting things going, but their effectiveness is doubtful, as applicants can prepare thoroughly for these questions and rehearse their answers. Questions such as “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” or “Tell me three strengths and three weaknesses of yours” are banal, and even applicants with little talent will be able to deliver standard answers in response. You’ll hardly gain any insights from this exercise.

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Interaction Rather Than Q&As

You’re better off with questions such as “What do you appreciate when working in a team – and what do you dislike about teamwork?” or “What is it that drives you?” These demand more differentiated answers and are a good springboard for launching into a discussion. It is generally important to keep the conversation flowing, as this allows you to learn more about an applicant and assess them better. Questions about candidates’ ability to work in teams are also interesting, for example “What do you like about the colleagues you are currently working with?” or “What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of teamwork?” These elicit candidates’ beliefs and show whether they truly enjoy working with others or not.

The second category of questions uses small talk to gain insights into candidates’ personalities. Small talk relaxes the atmosphere, for example when you follow up a series of drier questions by demonstrating interest in an applicant’s hobbies and private interests. It’s more difficult to prepare for this type of question, which is why they permit insights into how an applicant thinks. This category includes questions such as “What sort of situation do you find uncomfortable?” or “Tell me something you dislike intensely.” Ideally, the answers will show whether the candidate’s and company’s values are broadly aligned.

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Provocation Delivers Insights Into a Person’s Cultural Fit

Leave the best for last: Unusual questions that candidates aren’t expecting can be very effective. They give you a better picture of them as a person and invite them to be open.

A few examples: Ask candidates what their friends don’t like about them. Questions such as “Where on your resume have you lied or deliberately left something out?” or “Have you ever messed up a project?” can also be informative or perhaps even spark a laugh or two. If you prefer more abstract questions, ask applicants how important their jobs are in their lives.

Gut Feelings Can Be Wrong

It is essential to ask all applicants the same questions to ensure comparability. As already mentioned above, it makes sense to prepare a list of questions tailored to your company ahead of application rounds to give structure to interviews. Later on, you can draw on this list as excellent guidance for your decisions about candidates’ cultural fit. It’s superior to gut feelings and helps avoid costly mistakes when hiring new employees.

No candidate needs to be perfect, and each will have their own weaknesses. But there should be as much overlap as possible in terms of motivation for teamwork, shared values and principles, in addition to candidates having the required qualifications. This is essential if both company and candidate are to enjoy a successful, long-term relationship.

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