Is the Interview Enough to Determine a Candidate’s Cultural Fit?

by Anastasia C. Valentine on February 17, 2016



According to, a record 78% of hiring managers are planning to hire tech talent this year.  Currently, we’re under no delusions about just how competitive the market for IT professionals has become. Every industry and sector demands key technology players to keep their business ahead of the game. The right combination of skills and experience is non-negotiable, and the same is true for cultural fit.

We’ve discussed before why a candidate’s cultural fit is so essential to the strength of your workplace. A recent study by TINYpulse, an employee engagement firm, found that employees who look negatively on their workplace culture are 15% more likely to quit.  When demand and competition is already so high, can you really afford a higher turnover rate on top of that? If your answer, like ours, is no, then you know your hiring process needs to take cultural fit into account.

So Is the Interview Enough to Determine a Candidate’s Cultural Fit?

When a candidate prepares for an interview, they know their resume inside and out. They already know the answers to all the typical interview questions, and their main concern is impressing the interviewer while simultaneously overcoming any interview nerves.

So can the interview really peel back these layers to discover how this candidate behaves in real life and how well they’ll fit into your team dynamic and work environment?

With the right questions, yes. Once you’ve determined a strong technical fit, it’s time to switch your line of questioning to behavioral interviewing. These are the questions that will best predict future behavior based on a candidate’s past performance.

Questions like, “tell me about yourself” and “what are your strengths and weaknesses” simply won’t reveal the whole story. Not only will the answers most likely be rehearsed, they don’t tell you much about how the candidate’s qualities and traits will play out in your unique workplace.

What Questions Work Best?

Behavioral interviewing questions set up a scenario that may occur in your workplace and ask the candidate to describe how they handled similar situations in the past. Perhaps the scenario is a misunderstanding with a coworker, or a tight deadline with reduced resources, or a project that required skills outside their comfort zone.

The Society for Human Resource Management, a leading expert on behavioral interviewing, proposes that the interviewer should ask the main question and any follow up questions consistently for every candidate, in a way that guides the candidates towards a structured answer. An ideal answer would consist of the candidate describing the challenge, recounting their actions, and explaining the outcome. Equally important are the lessons they may have learned from the experience and evidence they were able to apply them to similar circumstances.

What you’re listening for in the candidate’s answer is two-fold. First, their actions should help reveal some of their personality traits that are most apparent within a typical workday. Are they action-oriented? Do they take charge independently or do they work best as part of a team? How do they handle stress and high pressure situations?

The second thing to pay attention to is their attitude while answering. When they’re describing the problem, does it appear that they are complaining? Or do they see the opportunity for growth and problem-solving? Are they negative about downfalls or do they take it in stride and welcome the challenge? When they explain the results, are they excited and enthusiastic?

Going the Extra Mile

Assessing a candidate’s cultural fit will only be successful if you have thoroughly evaluated the current culture within your company. Ensure that you have a solid understanding of the preferred communication style between teams and departments, how your mission statement is reflected in a typical workday, and the core values that your people embody. These types of factors can help you craft even more specific interview questions to determine a cultural fit.

Such questions might look like these:

  • Tell me about a time when there was communication breakdown within your team that impacted customer service. How did you react, adapt, and recover?
  • Have you ever worked for an employer where the established mission statement was not valued? How did this affect your role and how did you act in response?
  • We’ve found that some candidates aren’t suited to our open space work environment. Tell me about a time when your preferred way of working clashed with the work environment.

At the end of the day, cultural fit is a major factor in how an employee performs in your workplace. Skipping the time and effort to determine cultural fit at this stage in the hiring process will only cost you later with unhappy, unproductive staff members.

At Resource 1, we make regular practice of behavioral interviewing to ensure that a candidate is a great fit – both for our own internal employees and every candidate we place with a client. Let us know how we can help you by contacting us today.