How Are You Assessing Cultural Fit? 

A friend of mine was recently interviewing for a sales role at a hot tech company, and, in one of the interviews, a person who would be his peer looked him up and down, in his blazer, slacks and button down (aka the tech sales customer-facing uniform) and said this:

I mean, I have a beard, John over there is wearing flip flops….do you think you would fit in here?

Since when do we assess cultural fit on what someone is wearing? ESPECIALLY when they are dressed 100% appropriately? I mean, what would they have thought if he’d shown up to his interview with unkempt hair, flip flops, and a ripped t-shirt?

There are a lot of companies that are embracing a laid-back culture, but in that culture, they are looking at whether or not someone is “one of us” by what they are wearing, how old they are (yes, I said it), and how “cool” they are.

Which all begets the question, what defines a company culture?

Is it the ability to wear flip flops if you want to, or the ability to be who you are that’s important to your company? Do you want to be the kind of place where everyone is the same, or where everyone is celebrated for differences? Said in another way, does your company value what people wear, or who they are?

When it’s said that way, the beard and flip flops question above looks even worse, right?

So, how do we assess culture without coming across like a jerk?

  • Make sure that culture is well defined, and well executed.
    • Is one of your values work hard play hard? What is the metrics for each job? How many “fun” events do you have a year? Do you allow/celebrate work-life balance when it doesn’t involve the company softball team?
  • Keep culture rooted in personality traits, and interview directly for those traits.
    • Is your company project based? Then interview for teamwork skills and weed out those lone wolves that won’t be a cultural fit. Is your sales team all about closing? Then interview about how the person closes deals, tough deals they closed and how they got there. If your sales team takes more of an advisory approach, interview to that.
  • Remember there are layers of culture- company, group, team, make sure that you look at a new opening, see what the fit will be in all of these areas, and form your interview team around assessing each aspect that someone will need to be successful in the job, group, and company.

One of the most successful salespeople I’ve ever met wore a Hawaiian shirt every day- the louder, the better. His customers remembered him as the Hawaiian shirt guy, and he was the top-selling salesperson at his company because customers loved and trusted him, and he got deals closed because he was knowledgeable, personable, and organized. Wouldn’t it have been sad if he hadn’t gotten the job because of his shirt?

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Liz is the Owner/Principal Recruiter at Liz Bronson Consulting, specializing in teaching companies how to recruit with a more human-centric approach to finding talent. She and her team also augment company recruiting teams, finding them top business-side talent. 
Liz began her corporate career as an HR Generalist, and took those skills to recruiting, where her holistic approach to people management helped hiring managers build productive, cohesive teams. She spent 9 years at VMware predominantly focused on building out the product management and product marketing groups before helping companies such as SignalFx, Hortonworks, Greylock Partners and Evernote.
Outside of work, Liz is active in the Austin community, serving on the Board of Little Helping Hands- a non-profit dedicated to teaching young people the value of community service. She is often found with her family and 2 crazy dogs.


4 Comments on “How Are You Assessing Cultural Fit? 

  1. Sometimes I wish that we could give interviews with our eyes closed! People are always quick to judge a book by its cover, whether they mean to or not. This is a great guide and simple way of explaining how to truly hire for culture fit 🙂 Geckoboard is a real-life example of a company that hires for culture fit and then follows up to make sure it works:

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great article! Cultural fit can sometimes be see as a subjective way to interview, often based on the “beer test” (can I have a pint with this person), rather than solid predictors of performance in a role such as the pace of the environment, level of autonomy required, structure vs ambiguity, level of team collaboration etc. Lou Adler has some great views on this in his blog posts and books. Interviewing for “fit” often excludes people from backgrounds / experiences that are different from what teams already but who could add tremendous value because of this difference. The phrase Culture Fit tends not to work when building diverse teams. I prefer Culture Contribution, exploring what they can add, not how they fit.

  3. A great illustration of how easy it is to make snap judgments on people in interviews. Culture is such a difficult aspect to define and then recruit for. It is worth taking time to define company culture and values at all levels within an organisation ahead of the interview process. A very insightful piece!

  4. I agree Liz – it is so important to get the cultural fit right from the get go. Let’s say being part of a team is a key motivating factor. It will be vital for this person to work in an environment where they encourage socialising with colleagues. What if the salesperson prefers autonomy? The team environment would be an unnecessary waste of time.

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