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4 Ways to Ask Cultural Interview Questions

You’ve got someone coming in for an interview. Fortunately, the person seems to have the right experience and skill set for the job. However, there’s another area you’ll need to explore, one that a CV will tell you little about: whether the prospective employee will contribute positively to your company culture.

Every organisation has a “personality” or culture that’s formed by the behaviours, attitudes and values of its employees at all levels. Company culture is reflected in how people interact with each other, make decisions and organise their day-to-day schedule. The culture can shape company policies, the role employees play in designing projects and how often workers take time off. In a healthy culture, employees feel that they can be themselves and contribute to the culture in a positive way.

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Why ask cultural interview questions?

Assessing whether a candidate would be a good cultural add can have a major impact on the success of your organization. Employees who feel kinship with their supervisors and colleagues may find more meaning in their work and feel like they belong.

Hiring people who are good cultural additions helps with employee retention and recruitment. Workers who believe that their values and attitudes match up fairly well with those around them tend to want to stay on the job for a longer period of time. When current or former employees review a company, they often give input on how they feel about its culture.

Culture fit vs culture add

Hiring for “culture fit” can cause businesses to unintentionally hire and retain candidates that look, behave and think like everyone else. When you hire people that share the same exact values, beliefs and personality traits, your teams may not be as creative, innovative or experience any of the other benefits of a diverse workplace.

Looking for “culture add” in candidates, on the other hand, can help you hire people who share your business’s values but also add something new that will positively contribute to your culture. This can be communication styles, experience in different industries, nontraditional education/training and different life experiences.

Instead of excluding people who aren’t a “culture fit,” try adjusting your way of thinking and look for what candidates can bring to your existing culture. Overall, a culture-add mindset asks “What can this person bring to the business?” vs culture fit which asks “What is this candidate missing?” which may introduce bias into your hiring process.

Cultural interview questions

Figuring out if a candidate is a good cultural add can be challenging. You certainly can’t spend hours with prospective employees getting to know their likes and dislikes or observe them in different social situations, and it would be inappropriate to ask them personal questions about their habits and beliefs. So how can you gauge whether a person would be a good culture add in an interview?

The best way is to come up with cultural interview questions that help you learn about a candidate’s behaviours, values and attitudes. These questions should be open-ended, but not so much so that they lack focus. For example, if you want to know if a candidate brings a sense of humour to work, you wouldn’t want to only ask, “Are you funny?”. Instead, you could say, “Describe a time when you found humour to be helpful in navigating a tricky situation.”.

When you get to the culture part of the interview, explain that you’re going to ask some questions to help you get to know the person better, and there are no right or wrong answers.

The STAR structure for interview questions and answers can also give you insight into how applicants approach problems and apply their decision-making abilities.

Here are four areas to explore (with sample questions for each) to determine whether a prospective employee will add to your company culture.

1. Previous employment

You can learn a great deal about whether candidates will be a great addition to your culture by asking questions about their perceptions of cultures they’ve been a part of in the past.

Pinpointing what a candidate liked and disliked about past companies can reveal what’s valuable to them. Understanding these preferences can help you determine if they align with your company culture and values.

For example, candidates who say they didn’t like how slowly their previous company moved may enjoy a fast-paced culture where projects get done quickly.

  • How would you describe the company culture at your last job?
  • Were you comfortable working in that environment? Why or why not?
  • If you could change one thing to improve the culture, what would it be?
  • Describe an instance when you and another employee worked really well together. What do you think helped make that experience a positive one?
  • Can you describe a time when you took a risk when making a decision? What was the outcome?

2. Opinions about company culture

Theoretical or general opinion questions put candidates at ease because they don’t have to prove anything about past performance. Still, answers to these questions can reveal a lot about a person’s values, attitudes and beliefs. They can also help you understand how a candidate maintains work/life balance, sets personal boundaries and manages their time.

  • What do you think are three things that companies should do to boost morale?
  • How would you describe the ideal corporate culture?
  • What can managers do to allow employees to feel more trusted?
  • Should employees have unlimited holidays or should such a policy be more structured?

3. Personality

Certain cultural interview questions can help paint a picture of the candidate without prying into their private life. Getting a glimpse into a candidate’s personality can clue you into how easy they are to work with, what they’ll bring to the team and what kind of environment they thrive in.

For example, if your company has a casual culture with frequent collaboration, a casual dress code and an open office plan, someone who prefers a quiet, formal and strictly professional environment may not be the right match. However, be careful not to exclude anyone based on personality traits like introversion or extroversion.

  • Talk about one of your great qualities that others don’t always appreciate.
  • What makes you a great team player?
  • Describe your ideal workday.
  • What kind of situation can create stress for you and, when that happens, what do you do to cope?
  • Do you prefer to delegate tasks or have them delegated to you? Or do you prefer a mix of both?
  • What’s one of your worst pet peeves?

4. Hypothetical scenarios

Hypothetical or “what-if” questions are not too stressful for the candidate but also challenge the individual to demonstrate creativity and confidence. (Depending on your company culture, you can get pretty unique with these questions.)

  • Your team is giving a presentation in two hours and one member just called in sick. What do you do?
  • If you had to choose between a work environment that was always chaotic and one where nothing ever changed, which would you choose?
  • If you inherited so much money that you never had to work again, how would you spend your time?
  • If you could create a fictional company to make the world a better place, what would that company do?

When asking these questions, look for answers that align with your company values and work environment. For example, if one of your company values is resourcefulness, you would probably think twice about hiring someone who says they’d cancel a meeting if a team member called in sick two hours before.

In addition to determining whether prospective employees have the necessary experience and skills, it’s critical to also assess whether they’re likely to be a good cultural add. Employees who feel comfortable in their work environment will likely be more productive and want to continue working in that job for a long time.

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