How To Interview For Culture Fit

Through interacting with business owners and CEOs, I’ve seen that some of them struggle to test cultural fit when hiring new employees. People and culture are two extremely important elements. But it’s hard to tell whether someone will embrace and add up to your company’s culture or not.

I’ve seen this first-hand after running a business for 7+ years. But that’s something you have to get right –at least, as right as possible. 

Culture fit is not an exact science.

You never know how new employees will adapt. But you as the business owner still need to take steps to put yourself in the best position. At Jakt, we’ve developed a process to help us get there and increase our odds.

Here’s how we do it:

Jakt’s Culture Interview

Each company has its own specific hiring process.

We’ve added one last interview to the series. At this point, they’ve passed everything else and we intend to make them an offer if they pass this part.

(They don’t know that though – although maybe they will now if they read this 🙂 )

In this step, we don’t test them on hard skills. Or ask about previous working experience, etc. Nothing.

We want to finish this meeting answering the following question: does this person fit with the culture we have created at Jakt and will they add to it? That’s it.

Back when I used to run these interviews (now our Head of Department runs them), we didn’t tell them what the interview was about beforehand. We’d just say they were going to meet with me for a bit or something vague like that.

And that’s because we want to get them at the most real selves. We don’t want them to prepare or overthink anything. Just to show who they really are.

At that point, they’ve never met me and there’s no rapport.

So, here’s what we do:

All I say is this—

“We’re going to talk about culture and our values at Jakt today.

I’m going to ask you a question about each one. You can pull from either business or personal life examples, whichever you’d like. And anything you aren’t comfortable sharing, you don’t have to.”

Then, I dive into the first one.

For example, “be your word” is one of them. I go ahead and describe what the value means to me in a sentence or two.

And then, and here’s where it gets interesting:

We ask them to talk us through a moment in their life where they did something that goes AGAINST that value.

“Tell me about a time when you didn’t do something you said you were going to do and it negatively impacted the people around you.”

And what are we looking for here?

We don’t expect perfection. We don’t want them to tell us they’ve never “messed up.” I’m the CEO and I can tell you there have been times that I’ve acted in ways that aren’t 100% in line with our values. No one is perfect!

We’re looking for how they handled the situation, Listening to the language they use and listening to how they reacted. What they were thinking. How they felt. What they learned from it. Etc.

And we’re looking for red flags.

Was this time just a time when they didn’t live up to the value or is this a larger thing? Do they have the potential to live this value at Jakt?

Is this a value we don’t think they can live up to at all? Or might cause issues with the culture?

And we go through this for all seven core values. So yeah, it’s a long interview. About 60-90 min. And it’s tiring, for us and for them.

But it’s worth it.

And it’s also a great way for us to get to know them. And a great way for them to learn our core values and about our culture a bit.

It’s helped us get into much more deeper conversations than regular interviews do. And that puts you one step closer to figuring out whether they’ll be a good fit or not.

However, there’s something that you want to do first. And that is…

Prerequisite: Fostering a safe place

Look, I’m not going to lie to you. These type of interviews are not easy.

Yes, you have to pull this kind of shit from people because they are not easy questions to answer. Especially during an interview.

And surface level answers are not good enough in this type of exercise. You really want to get to the details of the story. And keep on going one layer deeper with your follow up questions until you fully understand what their actions and words were, etc,

The more specific the better.  

But I can’t emphasize this enough: it has to take place within a safe space.

We let them share as much or as little as they want. If they ask whether they should give a business or personal example, that’s their choice.

Providing an environment of trust and respect is actually what will help you get more raw and truthful answers.

People have cried before, but not because we browbeat them. These interviews are emotional, and you have to help them feel comfortable.

Seriously, don’t push from a place of cruelty. This is not an interrogation. But you are trying to get some good info so you can learn more before you let them into your culture.

Does it work?

Mostly. (if you were expecting a firm 100%, sorry not sorry)

The truth is, nothing works all the time when it comes to people. You just have to give yourself the highest chances. And I truly believe this cultural interview helps you get there.

So, on top of this cultural interview, there’s also all the other normal interview stuff going on. Intro interview, skills-based interview, etc… References. All that.

The way we use this interview is more to rule people OUT.

If you don’t pass this, you don’t get in.

But just because we are ruling people out, it doesn’t mean we could still have people in there who negatively affect the culture. This is only 90 mins and we can only learn so much.

Along the way, we constantly monitor culture fit, evaluate it, and fire based on it if we need to remove the negative influence.

You see…

If we find red flags or things that don’t feel right, we pass. No questions asked. Doesn’t matter how good you are at the skills portion of the interview.

Protecting our culture is more important.

And if the answer is “I think they could be a good fit, but there’s just something not right?”

In my experience, don’t hire them either. It’s never worked out well for us when we were on the verge between yes and no.

If no red flags and no bad feelings and they pass this test, we hire them.

It eventually might not work out. But this is a step we’ve added that has made a difference and helped us filter people out. It also has the added bonus of introducing new hires to our culture during the interview process.

It’s your job to be a guardian of the culture

Everyone who comes into a company influences the culture. Culture is not stagnant. It evolves with each new person that joins.

But you can choose which people come in and influence your culture.

And once they are there, you can also maintain the standard and the importance of the core values and living them every day.

There’s no way around that.

You, the business owner, are the guardian of your company’s culture. It’s your job and your responsibility to maintain it as you grow. It all starts at the top.

Culture Takeaways

  • Testing every potential new employee for their cultural fit is important. One option is to do this through a cultural interview where you ask for their actions against your core values.
  • You need to pry for in-depth answers since it’s human nature for people to stay at a surface level. At the same time, foster a safe space for them to be comfortable with sharing.
  • Your company’s culture needs to be protected. Do this by filtering out the people you hire and keep them accountable for the values over time once they are there.