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Oct 20, 2014
by James

Assessing for Cultural Fit

Posted in Great Interview Questions - Bad Culture Fit

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.   Ever hear that saying?

I hear it all the time.   And it’s true.   Basically what it means is that no matter how brilliant your strategic “plan on a page” is, it won’t happen if the company culture doesn’t support it.

While I’m not a fan of using the word “fit”, it’s a term that most people understand as meaning — someone who fits the culture.    The problem that I have with that mindset is that when you over-index on “fit” you become blind to building a diverse workforce.    That’s how an “old boys network” gets built.

To combat this, I recommend assessing for cultural fit  AFTER you’ve identified what your culture really is and what types of behaviors you’ll allow inside your company.

Defining Culture

Before we go any further, it’s important to define what “culture” really means because it’s one of the most over-generalized terms in business today:

Culture = the values, beliefs, symbols and stories that drive how employees behave, think and feel inside an organization.

This definition is one of thousands that you can find online but I think it covers all of the critical components.   The word “components” here is an important one because cultures are made up of a variety of different parts, not just one.

As a result, I like to break culture down into it’s individual components and ask interview questions that focus on each area.

For example, a start-up culture might really be trying to create or preserve a 24/7 work environment so “work fit” is really important.   They can’t afford to have 9-to-5-ers in the office because they’re trying to launch a  product and get to scale before they run out of money.

Alternatively, a large “old school” manufacturing company might be trying to re-invent itself with a new line of modern products and they need to shed their long-held beliefs that they don’t need to be innovative to survive.

In both cases, developing great interview questions can help you identify new hires that will succeed in your culture or help change it.   It can also help you do an internal assessment of your current workforce to see who is going to be a long term fit and who is only a barrier to progress.

Types of Cultural Fit

Here are some topical areas that you could probe along with some questions that I have used successfully in the past to help uncover cultural fit.   I’ve broken them down into 4 key areas:

1.  Work Fit

2.  Values Fit

3.  Leadership Fit

4.  Communication Fit

Work Fit

Description:   Does the person get work done in the manner necessary to be successful at your company?  Do they use the same productivity tools?   Do they work late hours or are they out the door at 5pm?  Do they like to work collaboratively or in isolation?


1.  Tell me about the last time you had to work extra hours in order to get something done.    Is that normal for you or was that a rare instance?

2.  When we check your references, one of the questions we typically as is about your work style.   How do you think your boss would tell us about how you get your work done?    Do you like to work in groups or do you prefer to work alone?   Do you like to get feedback at the end or periodically as you’re working?

Values Fit

Description:   Does the person share the same moral compass?  Do they believe in the same causes?   Do they volunteer?   Are they compassionate?


1.  Tell me about a time when you noticed that a co-worker was doing something outside of your values system.   What was the situation and what did you do about it?

2.  If you had a million dollars to give to a charity, which one would you choose and why?   OR   Tell me about the last time you volunteered at a non-profit.

Communication Fit

Description:   Are they direct enough?  Are they too direct?  Are they passive aggressive?   Do they have enough impact when they communicate?   Are they polished enough?


1.    Tell me about the last time you had to disagree with someone above you.  What was the situation, how did you approach it and what was the result?

2.   Tell me about the last time you had to be direct with someone at work?   Who was it, what was the situation and what was the result?   Is this a regular occurrence or was that an isolated case?

Leadership Fit

Description:   Are they a manager or a leader?    Do they lead by example or by authority?   Can they delegate?   Are they strategic or tactical.


1.  Are you a manager or a leader?    Please give me an example to support your answer.

2.  Tell me about your rules for delegating tasks at work.   Give me an example that illustrates your philosophy.

Want to ask a general question about fit?   Try this one:

Tell me about the company culture where you currently work.  (let them answer) What parts of the culture do you feel like you’re not the best fit?   Where are you a perfect fit?


While preparing specific interview questions for culture fit is a great idea, keep in mind that almost any question can be used to assess culture fit in one way or another.  Just make sure to stay away from these five questions. Each time you ask a question, you should be listening for cultural cues about how the candidate approaches situations to ensure that their behaviors will be effective in your environment.

Download our free guide on how to write great interview questions:

How to write great interview questions - HireBar

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