Assessing Culture Fit: 3 Tips to Build a Unified & Cohesive Team

Lately, there’s been a particularly large push, especially within the startup community, to assess job candidates based on culture fit rather than solely on job skills. While there are several reasons for this new approach, the most important factor definitely centers around building a unified and aligned workforce. After all, when hurdles come up — and they will — a unified team is better able to weather the storm.

Building a more culturally aligned team is definitely appealing, but for many startups, assessing candidates based on culture fit (while also screening for the appropriate technical skills) can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Identify Your Company’s Culture

One of the more challenging aspects of incorporating a culture assessment into your interviewing process is actually being able to accurately identify your company’s culture in the first place. Culture fit is not something that can be taught or instilled in a candidate; it should be ingrained in the character of the individual.

To evaluate and identify your company’s culture, examine your company from an outsider’s perspective. Do people eat and hang out together after work? Are the majority of your colleagues “Type A”? Do your colleagues have similar passions when it comes to giving back and participating in the community?

These questions can be telling indicators of your company’s culture and the subsequent message that is sent and received both within your own workforce and among outsiders. Company culture, from its inception, is driven and maintained by the people at your company, so any new hires should fully embody your culture if you plan to keep it intact in the long run.

Evaluate a Candidate’s Potential Impact

Valuing company culture and hiring candidates who match that culture does not mean you should go out and hire all of your friends. Culture is much deeper than interpersonal relationships and fully encapsulates mission, vision, values and other core competencies of your company. You should always strive to hire candidates who are not only great culture fits, but who also possess the right skill set for any given role. The challenge comes when you’re not able to find someone who fits the bill in both areas.

Let’s examine the following: You have two finalists for one role and you need to make a decision quickly. One candidate would be classified as a strong cultural fit with mid-level competence while the other has a high level of competency, but is only a mid-level culture fit. Which candidate would you select?

I’d recommend putting your vote behind the strong culture fit and planning a small ramp for the responsibilities of the position. If you lean the other way, the candidate will hit the ground running, but you run the risk of bringing in someone who might not mesh well with the team, which won’t lead to long-term success for either the candidate or your company.

Implement Screening for Culture into Your Interview Process

An effective way to roll culture into your interview process is to highlight the new push with your team, who will be able to screen for culture fit, core competencies and value through the course of the normal interview process.

To make the importance of culture fit clear to interviewers, break down your company values into targeted groups and then assign those value groups to individuals, who can then delve deeper into the values with candidates.

An added benefit of approaching the interview this way is the process it forms around interviewing. Traditional interviewing tends to be ambiguous and repetitive. Most interviewers rely on their own experience to direct interviews, which is scary considering many non-recruiters have little if any formal interview training. Giving individual interviewers their own points of focus (company values) will remove the repetitiveness often associated with interviewing and surface the information around culture fit you need to make an informed hiring decision.

Brandon DeWitt
Brandon DeWitt

Brandon DeWitt is a Talent Acquisition Manager at Criteo Criteo. Prior to that, Brandon was a Talent Specialist at OpenView, focused on recruiting engineering candidates, and also previously served as a contract recruiter for CVS Caremark where he sourced candidates in a variety of functional areas nationwide.
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