Interviews are scary, right? Funnily, the questions that are asked during interviews are usually not very uncommon. You could almost list them out. I’ve seen many mid-managers at interview boards asking tricky questions with stone faces to puzzle candidates. But often we forget that these questions cannot really help us identify the soul behind the scared faces, and thus, we fail to discover whether the candidate is a ‘cultural fit’ for our organisation or not.
But What Really Is ‘Culture Fit’?
‘Culture Fit’ simply refers to the alignment and compatibility between an individual’s values, beliefs, behaviours, and work style, and those of a particular organisation. Every company has its own unique set of culture and values. At some organisations, having informal conversations after office hours, either at the office or at a nearby café with colleagues or bosses, is a trend. For some, leaving at 6:00 pm sharp is the practice. Many offices take weekends or holidays for arranging team building activities, whereas others might strictly maintain a ‘no work on holidays’ policy. Neither is wrong.
You are a cultural fit if you sync with those unique sets of practices and values. But the challenge is, how do you really figure out who is the right fit? And more importantly, how do you keep a balance so that you do not keep hiring the same ‘type’ of people and end up with a ‘vanilla squad’ with no variety?
To be honest, there is no clear standard set of rules or tools. So, let me share what I do, and I hope these tips will be effective for you too!
Prerequisite: Not an Interview, but Rather, Get To Know Each Other
For every candidate, interviews are nothing short of an examination! It is a lot of stress and anxiety, and sometimes can be very scary! But tell me, would you be able to do well in exams if you were tense? Of course not. So then why ask difficult questions and intimidate the candidate? Let us try to make the candidate feel welcomed and comfortable. We can start with chit-chats, about where they’re coming from, how lovely the attire is, or what mundane weather it is. Let it be a more collaborative, more human discussion.
You see, a good interview will assess the candidates through two-way communication. Instead of a series of questions, it’s a warmer discussion, so that s/he is able to answer candidly, eventually making it easier for us to assess their cultural fitness. Also, since these discussion-based interviews are more candid and realistic, there is little to no scope for fakeness.
Now, let’s explore some of the frequently asked interview questions to understand cultural fit.
Which three things do you value most in an organisation?
The answer can be anything from salary to career growth to environment to recognition to job safety, etc. Whatever the answer, it will help the interviewer understand whether the candidate’s priorities are aligned with those of the organisation.
Some may say salary, some may say recognition and rewards. They are all correct, but they are subtly different. Some will say work environment, others will say empowerment. Again, both correct, and you will know which would be the best fit for your organisation.
Tell me something about yourself that is not mentioned in your resume.
This question also doesn’t have a formulaic answer. Rather, what the candidate says in that right moment in that particular interview in front of the interview board would show what matters most to him/her. Some, for instance, might say that despite being a software engineer, his/her heart lies in designing. Some might instead mention things about himself/herself that are more suited for the software job. Neither is wrong. It shows that one candidate is going out of the box while the other one is sticking to the rules. The assessor needs to assess which one is more appropriate for the organisation.
Tell us one thing that made you very happy during the last couple of months.
Once again, no right or wrong answers here. I’ll share what one candidate told me and once I share the story, you’ll understand why it is so memorable to me. One evening, while returning to his hostel by a CNG-three-wheeler, he met a girl selling jasmine girdles at Bijoy Sarani signal. The girl kept on insisting on buying the flowers. Even though he had no one to gift it to, he bought the girdles just to make the girl happy. At the end of the ride, before getting down, he handed the flowers to his CNG driver and said, ‘Mamu, please take these for mami.’ I could see his eyes glowing while telling us this story. I could feel the warmth he had from reminiscing that moment.
The story (or, the answer) had nothing to do with the job he was being interviewed for. But it clearly told me a few things. Firstly, while he came from a well-off family, he was used to taking public transport. This shows adaptability. Secondly, it showed his empathy; he had humility in him. And thirdly, he achieved multiple outcomes from a single series of tasks. This showed his creativity.
Having said all of the above, let me also say this, you will not always get such good answers. In fact, most of the time, the answers might not meet your expectations. But you have to try to find the soul within the candidate so that you know s/he’ll stay with you longer.
You are a cultural fit if you sync with those unique sets of practices and values. But the challenge is, how do you really figure out who is the right fit?
TIPS FOR CANDIDATES
This write-up is intended for both the interviewers (especially the ones in mid-to-senior management sitting on interview boards) as well as for the candidates (especially those who are applying for experienced roles).
You might have more questions to understand cultural fits. For example, ‘Have you ever faced a situation where you had a different opinion from your colleagues or a situation where someone disregarded your correct decision? If yes, how did you handle it?’ In my opinion, the answer to such questions should be “Yes,” and should be articulated calmly with appropriate examples of previous jobs or university assignments. You need to demonstrate that you can step out of your comfort zone.
You might have excellent educational qualifications and skills with exceptional job experience, but still, some companies might reject you because you are not a cultural fit. And that’s okay! In fact, it is rather good for you in the long run because it might be really difficult for you to adapt to a different culture had you joined.
Every year millions of students are competing in the job war. But we are all stuck in the same maze – the organisations keep saying they can’t find the perfect (culture-fit) candidate, and the candidates keep saying that they cannot find their desired job. The solution is easy. Both parties have to come to a common ground. The candidates must give honest answers which are aligned with the job and the organisation, and the interviewers need to keep in mind that not all candidates will fit the job.
If you are the one taking the interview, remember, if the candidate is a (culture) fit, then you are a hit!