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Is Your Candidate a Culture Fit?

Is Your Candidate a Culture Fit?

What makes a candidate a great addition to your team? How can you guarantee they’ll thrive in their new role? Beyond core skillsets, what are you looking for in your next hire?

These are all questions you should be asking when you think about recruiting. And while there are no guarantees, we think you’ll make significantly better hiring decisions if you consider questions like these and recruit for culture fit.

What is “culture fit?”  

Culture fit is the likelihood that someone will reflect and/or be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up your organization. For example, if you’re a small startup, you likely value people that are self-motivated, ambitious, and thrive amidst ambiguity. You need people that will be able to make something out of nothing and are comfortable managing their own time and priorities. If you interview someone that prefers to work in a very structured environment where their work is clearly laid out for them, you would assume that person likely won’t be a good fit for the role.

There is some debate that hiring for culture fit can lead to discrimination and a lack of diversity. It’s understandable that screening for culture fit could be misinterpreted as a way to validate a recruitment practice that promotes hiring people that are similar to you. However, when hiring for culture fit, you are looking for candidates that share the general mindset and values of the organization. These candidate can and should come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences.

Before you can recruit for culture fit, you need to ensure that your culture is clearly defined and that all stakeholders (employees, recruiters, hiring managers, etc) are aligned in how they understand and articulate it. While the process for defining culture can vary, it generally results in a statement similar in format to a mission statement, or a list of values that employees embrace. Either way, what’s important is that you’ve solidified the key tenants of your organization's culture and can ensure that all employees can identify the key characteristics that make a quality candidate.

How do you gauge culture fit?

 Now that you understand culture fit and how it’s communicated within an organization, we can talk about how you vet culture fit throughout the hiring process. Generally speaking, you need to and get to know someone on a personal level to determine how they’ll mesh with your company's culture. Try meeting with a candidate in a more relaxed environment and see how they behave. Grab coffee or have them to the office for lunch. This may help them let their guard down a bit and give you greater insight into what they’re like on a day-to-day basis.

Here are 4 questions that you can ask that may reveal a bit about the candidate's personality and working style.

1. What do you do in your spare time?

Beware: this is a trick question. No one wants to know if you spend all your free time watching TV or drinking beer with your friends. Ideally, you can speak to something you’re passionate about outside of work. Do you play on soccer team? Are you trying one new recipe each week? Are you an avid reader or a yogi? Share something personal that makes you interesting. No one wants a co-worker that doesn’t have anything interesting to bring to the table.

2. Why did you leave your last job? 

Everyone leaves a job at some point. Maybe you grew out of the role or got poached for a better opportunity. Maybe it wasn’t a good fit because it lacked mentorship or your time was spread too thin across multiple projects. Regardless of the exact circumstances of your departure, figure out a way to frame it in a positive light. It’s still true that speaking poorly about a past employer is frowned upon-- and it only serves to make you look bad. So focus on the positives that you’ll take away from past jobs and why you think this position could be a great next step in your career.

3. Tell me about a time you failed? 

People expect to talk their  successes, strengths, and weaknesses, but talking about your failures can be a curve ball. It’s an interview and you’re trying to prove how great you are, so talking about your failures may throw you off. This question illustrates how well you can own up to not meeting expectations. Furthermore, this question gives you the opportunity to show how you learn from your experiences. The best way to answer this question is to be honest. Talk about a real failure. What went wrong and why? What did you learn? What would you do differently if you could do it all over again? Don’t try to justify or minimize the situation. Everyone makes mistakes and experience failures; it’s what you take from those experiences that matters.

4. How do you like to be managed?

This is a great question and the answer can be extremely revealing about the individuals working style. You want to know if someone is a self-starter or if they’re going to need a very “hands-on” management style.

Let’s assume once again that you’re hiring for a small startup that values an entrepreneurial mindset. After considering this question, a candidate answers: “I like to have comfortable working relationship with my manager. I dislike being micro-managed, but want to know that my manager is there for support or guidance when I need it.” This is a great sign that they share your ethos and would be a good fit for your company.


Recruiting for culture fit decreases employee turnover and helps ensure that both the candidate and hiring company are happy with the outcome. It should come as no surprise that employees do their best work when they’re happy with their work environment. Clearly, recruiting for culture fit is in everyone's best interest.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Caroline da Cunha

Caroline da Cunha

Caroline is an Acquisition Manager at Happie. She's passionate about marketing backed by analytics and understanding the consumer decision making process. Outside of work, Caroline loves spending time at the beach, traveling, and spending time with her adorable nephews.

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