Hiring for Culture Fit: Are You Asking the Right Question?

Several times a month we have conversations with new clients looking to add contract training consultants to their staff to fulfill a short term need. One of the questions we ask is about their company culture to help determine a fit not only with skills and experience but with the ability to work effectively within their organization. Some answer by explaining they have a barista in the lobby, games in the break room, and snooze booths in the halls. Others attempt to describe their company values but values are hard to measure. Although the insights are a valuable peek into their world it doesn’t help a lot when assessing whether an outsider could navigate the chaos within the company. We obviously were not asking the right question.

What is the question that should be asked to help assess culture fit?

We started asking this question a decade ago when we’d send what we thought was the perfect consultant only to hear back, “not a fit”. Upon questioning what “fit” meant, we learned from the client things like the person doesn’t like games or the client thinks the consultant will be bored with the work. What we learned from this vague feedback is we missed something along the way because the client couldn’t articulate exactly why the consultant was not a fit. The “aha” moment came one day when speaking with a new client who dutifully answered all our questions thoroughly. “Before I let you go” the client began “let me tell you about our company culture which I believe is important for you to understand to be able to send us the right fit”. She went on to explain that in her company all the high performers across the company, regardless of job position, had certain traits in common. “If you send us consultants with most or all of these traits and the skills I require I am sure we’ll have a match” she explained. Those words struck like lightning. We were not asking the question with enough specificity for the hiring manager to give us what we needed to properly help.

If you are a recruiter, do you ask the hiring manager:
“What traits do all high performers share across all positions in your company?”

If you are a hiring manager:
Do you assess candidates in part for the traits that are exhibited by your high performers?

Whether you are hiring internally for an employee or for an external consultant, finding talent that can work effectively in your company is as important as skills.