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How to use culture interviews to build a better team

Sharon Florentine | Aug. 14, 2015
Companies ranging from big names like Pinterest to small startups are conducting culture interviews at every level to help build cohesive teams that click. Here's how to do it right while avoiding pitfalls and common mistakes.

The challenges

Emphasizing culture to this extent brings some challenges, among them a tendency to exclude structure and a quantitative analysis in favor of a gut feeling. That can be just as one-sided as not taking cultural fit into account at all. "We try to strike a balance between having a structure in place so we can make evidence-based decisions and being able to have natural, authentic conversations around this. We want to take into account not just skills and experience, but get to the person behind the resume, behind the suit," says Kelly.

You also should avoid mistaking a candidate's personality for their cultural appropriateness. It's easy to get them confused -- this is one of the biggest pitfalls of focusing on cultural fit. If there's not enough structure involved in the interview process and not enough emphasis on skills, experience and knowledge, you could exclude otherwise stellar candidates who just don't have the same personality traits as others in the firm.

"In general, I'm skeptical of attempts to figure out whether someone fits a given culture. In many cases you're just asking whether someone 'fits in,' and that starts moving further away from whether or not they can do a job or not. For example, if I swear like a sailor, and the culture is very proper, yeah, maybe I'm not a fit. On the contrary, if everyone in the company is a bunch of angry swearers, and I'm very proper and try to keep it clean, I could be incorrectly seen as passive, not strong, not tough-talking, and thus unable to get things done, even if it's not true. Trying to find someone who fits that culture can actually backfire by weeding out someone who would be a great employee," says Todd Raphael, editor in chief, ERE Media.

And remember that people are adaptable, Raphael adds, and can change their behavior or mask aspects of their personality that don't seem to be a fit. "Like in my swearing example, culture sometimes says more about a company than about what's missing from an individual," he says.

A foundation of trust

The most difficult part of emphasizing culture in the hiring process is the trust it requires at all levels of the organization. When asking hiring managers and a candidate's potential colleagues to interview and gauge a job seeker's fit with the organization, C-level execs are placing their trust in that staff's judgment and need to abide by what they decide. This can be tough for c-suite leaders to get used to. "The hardest thing we have struggled with is when, as a management team, we want to override the rest of the staff. We've done this twice in four years; one time it worked, the other time it didn't. What we learned from both experiences is that, by doing things this way, we're putting our trust and our belief in these managers and the staff," Kelly says. Committing to a cultural interview process forced her and her team to look at how much they really believe in their teams, and how much they trust and value their contributions and opinions.

 

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