5 Tactics for Checking for That Elusive Cultural Fit

The new buzzword in hiring might seem like a gray area to some employers. Try to define the term for your company and assess it in these concrete ways.

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By Heather R. Huhman

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These days making a smart hiring decision no longer simply depends on a candidate's skills or experience. It often rides on the individual's ability to fit in with the company's culture.

Yet Cubiks discovered from an international survey it conducted last year that 82 percent of the employers polled said measuring cultural fit is important but only 32 percent of them did so when hiring.

What then are effective ways to assess this quality (that so many are saying is a priority) when choosing a new candidate?

First create a clear definition of the company's culture. Then you're ready to measure cultural fit in these five ways, shared with me by management experts:

Related: Culture Really Does Eat Strategy for Breakfast

1. Design a customized test.

Portland, Ore-based Ken Lahti, vice president of product development and innovation advisory firm CEB, suggests using customized cultural-fit tests during the interview process.

"Such tests have the advantages of scalability," Lahit shares with me via email. "They are typically delivered online early in the recruiting process or even pre-application through an employer's career site, with real-time automated scoring and often real-time feedback on "fit' provided back to applicants."

Tests can be tailored in a variety of ways, according to Lahit. For example, gamification can be used to learn more about a candidate's personality and work ethic. Or candidates could receive a sample work project requiring them to interact with avatars that represented clients and colleagues.

2. Set parameters.

Although cultural fit might seem like a rather gray area, employers can try define it in concrete terms. Atlanta-based David Nour, author of Relationship Economics and Return on Impact, tells me by email that employers should look for specific nature and nurture qualities in candidates: "professional pedigree, in particular the lessons they've learned along the way, the relationship ecosystem they've developed, and how they overcome otherwise insurmountable obstacles."

Delve into a candidates' upbringing, details about their education and social-network interactions, he advises.

Related: How to Hire Someone Aligned With the Company's Mission

3. Perform alternative interviews.

Instead of depending solely on data or a conventional interview to ascertain cultural fit, think of unique ways to uncover candidates' qualities.

"The best way to measure cultural fit is for the assessor to have a deep understanding of the culture and then to spend time with the person being assessed," Bonnie Hagemann, CEO of Executive Development Associates, tells me by email. As the head of an Overland Park, Kan., boutique executive-development consulting firm, she recommends spending "an entire day or more of talking, exploring, visiting departments and having conversations."

Nour also suggests assessing candidates by bringing them into the office for a trial day or hosting an interview in a casual setting over coffee or pizza. "I'm much more interested in who they are versus who they either want you to believe they are," he says.

Schedule time for a candidate to attend a walking meeting without notes or any presentation, Nour says. Or the prospective staffer could shadow an employee on the job or join in some extracurricular activities, such a sports or a corporate social gathering, he adds. These activities will let the person be more relaxed.

4. Ask for other accomplishments.

Instead of focusing on achievements that relate specifically to the open position, invite candidates to describe their top accomplishments in their career or personal life, I advise.

Employers can then identify what drives the individual to succeed and learn, for example that the candidate is a marathon runner or participating in a baking competition. These activities reveal other qualities the candidate can offer.

5. Assess decision-making skills and speed.

Linda Henman, president of Henman Performance Group in Town and Country, Mo., says a company's culture can be defined by how its leaders make decisions, which should be compared with candidates' traits. She works with executives and boards of directors to guide setting of strategy, succession planning and talent development.

"An organization that expects a great deal of autonomy and accountability will not be a good match for someone who needs clear and constant direction," writes Henman by email. "Similarly, an organization that concentrates on the tactics of getting work done and not the strategy will not be a good match for a global visionary."

Every company has its speeds for doing work tasks and potential hires should be assessed for the ability to match the pace. "Some kinds of work demand attention to detail, high quality, and a slow pace to ensure accuracy. Others demand a fast pace to beat the competition to the finish line."

What are some unique ways you measure cultural fit at your organization?

Related: How to Hire People Who Fit a Company's Culture

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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