Are you sure this candidate is the right cultural fit for you?

Is Cultural fit a key element of interviews

Acquiring good people is never easy, especially when there is a skills crisis and businesses are competing in a war for talent. A candidate’s cultural fit is just as, if not more, important than their qualifications and experience, however it is also much more difficult to assess. It is important therefore to take advantage of the interview time, but not feel constrained by it, inviting the candidate back for follow up meetings to give you and them every opportunity to get to know one another before committing.

I’d like to say that there is a tried and tested formula for assessing the right cultural fit, but sadly there isn’t. Ultimately, you cannot guarantee if someone will fit into the culture you have so lovingly nurtured. However there are fundamentally three points you should take into consideration when assessing someone’s cultural fit and a multitude of questions you can ask to get there. Watching their body language and reading between the lines will help you assess their thought processes and understand whether they are the type of person who would embrace your company culture.

  1. Do they understand your culture and core values?

Ultimately the candidate’s values will govern their behavior and what you need to find out is if their values are aligned with that of your company.  First of all, make sure your core values are clear and visible, on your website and other public materials, before the candidate gets to the interview. This will hopefully whittle out those who simply don’t share them. Of course some will still come and you can assess how they will fit in by asking them to provide examples of how they would behave in specific circumstances. For example, how they’d deal with a crisis, how they would meet a deadline, or deal with an internal dispute in the team. This will help you understand how they handle pressure, how they communicate to others and how they solve problems.

You could also ask questions like “what would your desk look like if I walked passed it at 5:30pm? They might say, “I’m long gone”, “I’ll work as long as I’m needed”” “at 5:30pm I’m preparing my desk for tomorrow” or “I’m heading home but will be online.” Any one of these answers will help you understand if they will fit in. You could also ask them what their ideal day at work would look like? Their answer will tell if they just want to do their job and go home, want to grow in the company, be part of the company’s success and even partake in the company’s non-business activities like the charity or social committees.

  1. Are they passionate about your company or just looking for a job?

Clearly every candidate will appear enthusiastic, but unless they are an Oscar-winning actor, it would be difficult to feign genuine passion. Ask them questions such as “what was their happiest day and proudest moment at work?” You aren’t necessarily looking for the grandest projects, but rather your aim is to decipher what makes this person tick. Was it when they came up with a solution for a complex problem or helped a colleague, or when a client thanked them for their work? Was it when they found themselves in a situation where they had to unexpectedly take leadership? Or was it when they got their hands dirty in order to meet a deadline? All of these answers will help you understand what drives this person and why they want to work for your company.

  1. Are they a team player?

If values are aligned, then there is a higher probability that people will get on – there should be a cultural fit. However, there can still be personality clashes and these can be difficult to ascertain during the interview process. Instead of doing the interview on your own, ask a colleague to come along, someone who will manage or be managed by them. Invite the candidate to an informal meeting with your team. They are the ones who will have to work closely with them. Also, informal reference checks will be helpful here, just make sure you get the candidate’s blanket permission, in writing or by email, to do reference checks.

Much of finding your ideal candidate will come down to chemistry. Do you like them? Are they energetic, enthusiastic, flexible, helpful, a team player, will they have a positive effect on their team members, do they have a good sense of humor, are they loyal and trustworthy? Don’t ignore their hobbies and out of work activities, these can say a lot about a person. Also, don’t be afraid to ask wild questions, there are no right or wrong answers. Peter Thiel, Facebook co-founder asks candidates to “Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on” because he likes the conversation it leads to and the responses show originality in thinking.


It is only natural that employers hire candidates they have something in common with. However, be careful not to hire in your own image. This is one of the biggest mistakes an employer can make and creates an imbalanced workforce who are likely to share your limitations. Research from McKinsey has proven that diverse businesses deliver 35% better results than non-diverse businesses.


Finally, as well as hiring someone you get on with, you need to be clear on what attributes you are looking for. For example, you may have a team of amazing creative thinkers and need an organizer, or a team of dominant personalities and need a mediator.  It is imperative that you decide what tasks you want your ideal candidate to accomplish; and what soft skills and personality traits they will need to fit into the team to bring out the best in themselves and others.

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