Improve your ‘cultural fit’ interviews
to make the right hires

Every business leader knows that hiring mistakes are expensive. They can also have a detrimental effect on your broader team and on your relationships with your clients. 

I am surprised by how often I meet leaders who have made hiring decisions that did not work out because the employee was not a ‘good fit’ with their business after all. Often this is followed by: “it’s odd because we all really liked them at interview”. 

Rightly, a cultural fit interview is part of the selection process for most consultancy firms. But it is often the least thought through aspect. Hiring Managers rely too much on gut feel, common interests, or randomly applied psychometric tests to make their decisions and are then surprised when it doesn’t work out.

So, what should your interviews involve to ensure you make the right hire every time?

Hold up the mirror

Every one of us is unique and every business has its own specific combination of proposition, values, aspirations and behaviours. Understanding whether an individual will thrive within your business first requires a level of self-awareness.

What is it really like to work within your organisation? What are the values and ambitions that you share as a team? What are the common behaviours and how do you communicate with each other? Don’t just think about your stated values, but also consider the lived experience for people within your organisation on a day to day basis; ask your relatively recent new joiners about their experience of joining your team. This is the basis for your evaluation of cultural fit.

It’s vital that you are honest with yourself. It’s unlikely that, as a small, growing business, everything about your culture is already perfect. That’s fine if you are open about where you are now, where you are trying to get to, and how you intend to do that. Remember too that culture evolves, it’s not a linear end destination. Great hires will make your culture even better over time.

If you need people who are comfortable with ambiguity at this stage of your growth journey, don’t be afraid of explaining to them exactly what that means. For the right candidates this will be appealing and a challenge to relish. Those who find this unappealing will appreciate your honesty and leave you to hire someone else.

What’s important to them?

You can’t be all things to all people. Use the cultural fit interview to really uncover what is important to the candidate and the characteristics of the culture in which they will succeed. Be transparent about your personal values and behaviours and invite candidates to do the same. Questions that encourage reflection can be very insightful e.g. “Tell me about a working culture that brought out the best in you? Why was that, and what did you learn about yourself as a result?”. 

Try to find out what the candidate doesn’t like doing, or cultures that they have not enjoyed. This is just as useful and should not be seen as negative. It is a chance to check that your environment will bring out the best in the candidate. If you can’t meet their aspirations, then tell them. Don’t mislead or overpromise as this is the surest route to a hiring mistake.

Give them first hand experience

You need to make sure that you assess candidates in a variety of situations that reflect the role you are hiring for. So, some elements of an interview process can be less formal and structured than others. 

The cultural fit interview is a great opportunity to not only talk about your culture, but also to demonstrate it. If you are relatively informal in your internal communications, then have this particular meeting over a coffee instead of in the boardroom. If you like to collaborate as a team, then bring along a colleague and demonstrate how that dynamic works in practice. 

A meeting with a potential peer can be another way to offer candidates the chance to find out for themselves what makes your firm a great place to work. Reassure them this is not a formally assessed step in the recruitment process and let them uncover their own ‘pull factors’ towards your firm. 

The more authentic you are, the more information candidates will glean from their experience of meeting you, and the better able they will be to decide whether your firm is a good fit for them. 

In summary, there is no short cut to making great hiring decisions, but proactively thinking through how this element of your recruitment process will identify long-standing employees for your firm is well worth the effort.

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Article | Recruitment

Written by

Caroline Boston

Managing Director

New Minds

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