I was never trained how to interview candidates when I was a new manager. There are high costs of a cultural mismatch for organizations. The financial cost is estimated to be about one and half times the person’s salary.
As a first-time manager in an advertising agency, I had hired “Pete” three months prior. His impact inside the agency and with our clients was lukewarm at best. I coached him, but his performance wasn’t improving and I couldn’t quite figure out why.
This was a new industry for him—packaged foods. I was surprised he wasn’t more curious and did not attempt to fully immerse himself. He was quiet during team meetings and chose not to join us for lunch or drinks after work. He wasn’t fully engaged. I went to a mentor inside the agency for counsel. After a lengthy discussion, she concluded, “Pete is just not a match for us. He doesn’t embody our core values and this is likely why he hasn’t gelled with the team or our clients. He has the skills and I suspect he will do very well at another agency.”
In a sit down with Pete, he said, “I don’t know if this agency is the right place for me.” From there, we made plans to transition him out of the agency.
For organizations, there are high costs of a cultural mismatch. The financial cost is estimated to be about one and half times the person’s salary. These costs represent what is required for recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and training.
There is also a performance dip while the new person gets up to speed which takes a toll on the team. The team members are not only absorbing the extra work during the recruitment and onboarding process, they are also expending extra time to train the new hire.
One of the most common ways companies attempt to avoid hiring a mismatch is to interview for culture fit.
Below are four essential things interviewers need to know to assess culture fit while minimizing personal bias.
1. Understand What Personal Biases They Have
All humans are biased because we are wired to seek out similarity and are very quick to judge.
Katherine Klein, Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania asserts , “The biggest problem is that while we involve culture fit as a reason to hire one, it is far more common to use it to not hire someone.” Klein portends that often culture fit is a disguise for bias.
A workshop about interviewing bias and discovering their own individual biases should be required.
2. How to Listen
People reveal what drives them from how they talk about the types of opportunities and hobbies that excite them. When they talk about a situation that didn’t work out or a supervisor who they loved working for, they are disclosing what is important to them. How to identify what motivates a person and what they value from a conversation is a skill that can be taught.
3. What to Ask
Ask that highlight the related behaviors for each core value. These questions must enable an interviewer to confirm or deny if the candidate possesses the values. Additionally, provide some examples of how these values might be revealed in the candidates answers.
For example, if the company invents new products, they are going to depend on people who are naturally curious. Some of the questions could be: ”What is something new you have tried in the last month?” “Where or how do you get inspiration?” “What other professions have you been interested in?” “If you could live in any country, what would it be and why?” Here, the interviewer will be listening for the breadth of interests, curiosity and exposure to new ideas.
4. What Not to Ask
To be clear, when I say to hire for culture fit, I am not talking about the overused airplane test. “Would I want to sit next to this person for a 5-hour flight?” Or, even worse, “Would I like to have a beer with this person?” Those are likeability questions that fuel bias.
Human resources professionals also need to teach interviewers what questions are illegal. When I started interviewing potential candidates I was not informed about what I couldn’t ask. I learned later on, that what seemed innocuous questions were illegal. For example, where are you from? Or, in one instance, a candidate went to my same college and I asked them when they graduated. (These are no, no’s by the way.)
I was never trained how to interview candidates nor assess for culture fit when I was a new manager. My plea is to make sure managers and human resources who interview are skilled because hiring is one of the most critical activities that an organization does. When done effectively, this saves time, money and decreases the toll on team members.
In my next blog, I will share some innovative ways that companies assess for culture fit.
Also by Sue Funkhouser
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Photo by: Flickr/Ted Murphy