I've Interviewed and Hired Thousands of People. Here's What to Keep in Mind Before Offering the Job.

Standing up unapologetically for your company's culture will help you zero in on mismatches that could become liabilities later.

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By Amy Zimmerman

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Hiring isn't just about grabbing the best talent, and job hunting isn't only about landing the gig. Both sides should be considering the best fit to set everyone up for success. After all, even a candidate's most admirable qualities may be incompatible with how your company operates.

I've hired thousands of people. Here's why they got the job — plus some guiding principles to help you determine whether candidates are a good fit for your company.

Interview for Fit

The perfect candidate for one position, or one company's culture, could be a terrible fit for another. While it's tempting to seek out the seemingly sparkling resume or perfect technical skills and let the rest take care of itself, this can be an expensive and frustrating mistake. Asking the right questions during the interview will help you determine whether the candidate you're considering could be more likely to help you meet goals or drag you off track. If you're interviewing an ambitious team lead who wants a specific number of direct reports and an office with a door, they could feel undervalued from the start by your agile start-up with its open-floor layout. Someone who depends on written procedures and rigid hierarchies might feel unmoored and undervalued by your more laid-back culture. That doesn't mean they're bad candidates, but not every candidate is self-aware or forthcoming enough to tell you those are their top priorities.

Interview questions to determine cultural fit can't be downloaded from a template or duplicated from your competitors; that would only tell you if a candidate would be a good fit for another company, not yours. Knowing your culture (or the culture you want to create) and standing up for it unapologetically will help you zero in on mismatches that could become liabilities later.

Hire for Values

No one should expect employees to be perfect with no weaknesses. Failing to answer the classic interview question "What's your biggest weakness?" (or worse, dodging with a humblebrag like "I'm a workaholic and never leave the office") shows immaturity, if not outright narcissism. An honest answer that shows some humility, self-awareness and a strategy to improve can be more telling than any "strength." The ability to identify your own shortcomings is a critical component of self-improvement, and hiring for values over skills at any organization will help lead to a team well-positioned to grow with the company.

Aspire to Inclusion

For better or worse, who gets hired is a subset of who gets interviewed. If you want to hire more diverse candidates, be deliberate about seeking out candidates who complement — rather than duplicate — your current team.

Diversity isn't just nice to have; it's essential to maximizing your team's potential. Be intentional about it. For the company I'm with in particular, working in fintech makes this particularly challenging because we're at the intersection of two industries (financial services and technology) that, historically, are both relatively homogenous. No matter your industry, it's important to make a conscious commitment to finding and cultivating a demographically diverse workforce by prioritizing strategies such as recruiting from historically black colleges and universities, attending community career fairs, hosting meet-ups and offering visa sponsorship to anyone, of any background, who shares your values. Diversity doesn't just make us better; it makes us who we are.

One example that stands out in my experience? A few years ago, I hired a young woman who was a former convict. She knew her strengths and shortcomings, and she had a strong self-awareness that I believed would thrive at my company. Within two years, she was an adored team manager and eventually left to start her own business to give opportunities to other women with criminal histories. Her successful business is now one of my company's trusted vendors.

Open Up

Authenticity is an important part of company culture; it's a good idea to prioritize that team members feel they can bring their whole selves to work. For example, my company asks in panel interviews about candidates' favorite curse words and what one word they'd want on their tombstone, since our culture is irreverent and we want people to be both comfortable and vulnerable at work. It's okay if your interview questions deter some qualified applicants because that's part of the process, too. Not everyone is right for the job, and no job is right for everyone. The trick is to find out before you hire.

Plan for the Future

When my company had just launched, we tended to hire generalists people who could get things done quickly and turn on a dime when a test strategy fell flat. But as we grew past 100 employees, we were eager to hire team members who possessed niche knowledge — who could dive deep into very specific skills needed at critical points in projects. Now we rely on an internal farm system of flexible, fast learners, who can be put onto specific tasks and build expertise as needed.

One of the great challenges of building a business, not just staffing one, is finding high performers who can grow with you and step into new roles as the business's needs change. If you're hiring for the company you're going to be 18 or 24 months from now, for example, you could be looking for talented generalists with can-do attitudes. Your culture and values are unique to your business, but whatever your challenges, don't just hire employees. Find, curate and invest in a team of individuals who exemplify your values in order to make a game-changing impact.

Amy Zimmerman

Head of Global People Operations at Kabbage, Inc.

Amy Zimmerman is head of global people operations at Kabbage, Inc., a data and technology company that aims to provide cash flow solutions for small businesses. 

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