How to hire compatible employees and avoid a culture clash

So you've started the recruiting process and received numerous candidates that appear to be qualified. But how do you really know if a prospective candidate is going to fit into your organizational or team culture?

Of course, one of the main purposes of a job interview is to enable managers or others on the interview team to assess the potential cultural fit of a job candidate. Interaction in the interview setting with a potential employee clearly factors into the selection process. The candidate must exhibit both the necessary qualifications to perform the job and the essential cultural fit needed to work effectively within the existing organization.

It's not always easy, however, to identify your company's culture. That's because when people are at work on a daily basis, many of the manifestations of culture become almost invisible.

Detective work

One way to observe your organization's culture is to walk around the building and look at some of the physical signs of culture. For example: What interaction between employees do you see? How much emotion is expressed during the interaction? How is the space allocated? Where are the offices located? What is posted on bulletin boards or displayed on walls? What is said in memos or emails? What is the tone of messages (formal or informal, pleasant or hostile, etc.)?  How often do people communicate with one another? Is all communication written, or do people communicate verbally?  

These are just a few of the questions to answer when assessing your organization's culture.

Another way to understand your organization's culture is to interview employees in small groups. During these interviews, it is just as important to observe the interaction between employees as it is to hear what they say about the culture. Since employees often have a hard time describing a company's culture, indirect questions often gain the most information. For example, you could ask:

  • What would you tell a friend about our company if he or she was about to start working here?
  • What is the one thing you would most like to change about this organization?
  • What kinds of people succeed or fail in this company?

Once you have some of these answers, you can better understand your culture and develop interview questions that provide insight into how compatible a candidate will be with your environment.

Question and answer

During the interview, you want to identify the environment in which a person is most effective. It also helps to identify how a candidate has approached a variety of work situations in the past. That should tell you whether the candidate's style and behavior is compatible with the style used successfully in your organization. For example, an employee who works well on a team and who appreciates the input of a variety of people is likely to work well in an organization that stresses team work. An employee who wants to work alone most of the time may not be a good cultural fit in a team-oriented workplace.

The bottom line here is that an employee who has a solid employment history and is a good cultural fit will usually work well in your existing workplace environment. Before you can adequately assess a potential employee, however, you need to understand and be able to verbalize your own workplace culture and values.

Ana McGary is president of PeopleFirst Enterprises, a human resources consulting company in Atlanta, Ga.

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