At a small business or startup, your company culture helps you attract new employees and drive motivation. Preserving it as you grow can be tough, especially if you grow quickly. Bringing in talented people is key to your success, but hires whose personalities don't quite fit can start to erode your culture and increase turnover.
"The biggest mistake you can make is to try and force it," says Jonathan Basker, Vice President of People at Betaworks, a New York-based company that builds social web companies, including Digg, bitly, and SocialFlow.
To find the right people for your company, your hiring process needs to give each candidate an opportunity to showcase their personality. Creating that level of comfort is a matter of knowing what you want and establishing trust.
Here are four tips to help you hire personalities that fit with your company's culture.
1. Define what personality will be a good fit.
With your team, outline the qualities a candidate needs to succeed at your company, or in that specific position. For example, the head of People and Culture at Quirky, a crowd-sourced product development company in New York, looks for people who are "agile, selfless, passionate about the brand, and excited to do something disruptive and unique."
Once you agree on the traits and values that are most essential, make sure that your current hiring process screens for them successfully. If you want good communicators, for example, make sure that your interview includes a collaborative component. "The conversation can reveal elements of your interview process that might need some work," Basker says, including changes to questions or tasks.
2. Tailor your application process.
Non-traditional questions that highlight personality can help both employers and applicants find a good cultural fit. For example, Carrot Creative, a social media agency in Brooklyn, NY, has a playful, vibrant culture. They ask potential hires to write a haiku, draw a doodle, and play with fridge magnets through an online, interactive application. If that sounds awesome, you're bound to like their culture.
Techniques like this can easily seem gimmicky, so if it's not a natural fit, don't force it. "[Hiring] is not something that you want to over-engineer," Basker says. "It is a human trait that you're measuring, so it requires a human solution to measure it."
Related: How to Hire Superstar Employees
3. Bring your personality to the interview.
If you expect candidates to be open and honest, you need to do the same. "You put people on guard if you ask them to reveal something about themselves but don't give them anything in return," Basker says. Talk to them like a colleague and show enough of your personality that they can connect with you. For example, you might share what you enjoy about your work, what you struggle with, or how you feel about the company's culture.
During the interview, prompt them to ask you questions, don't ever try to stump or intimidate them, and be clear about what you hope each of you will get from the conversation. "There should be no power dynamics," Basker says. "It should just be a conversation between two people."
4. Air your dirty laundry.
To hire a good fit who is likely to stay with your company, be honest about what they're getting into. Tell potential hires if the team is in transition, the manager just left, or you're facing unsolved challenges. "Be careful about how you phrase it, but people need to know that stuff," Basker says. "You need to set expectations about what [working for you] will be like."
Your goal is to find a match, so the right person will be comfortable with the challenges they'll face and excited about the opportunities. "Let them know it's okay if you're not looking for the same thing," Basker says. "That permission lets them show a real version of themselves."
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.