Will You Make The Right Hire? 6 Ways to Determine Cultural Fit of an Executive Candidate

Woman Interviewing

Determining cultural fit is one of the most important aspects of hiring, particularly at the executive level.

  • Executive team members set the standard for what is acceptable in the workplace from the moment they are hired.
  • They are the ones who hire and fire, potentially bringing in former employees they have worked with in the past to fill new roles or replace staff.
  • How they interact with direct reports, their peers and their bosses becomes the example for how others should work together.
  • Their values (or lack thereof) become the company’s values. Even if they only stay with the company for a short period, their impact may last long after they are gone.

Considering that employee turnover can cost a company up to 60% of that person’s salary, the tangible cost of hiring the wrong executive could be significant.

That said, determining the cultural fit of an executive candidate can be difficult. Often, it is only after you have made the hire and the candidate has spent a few months at the company before you (or they) can determine if the cultural fit is aligned.  Roughly 89% of new hire failures are due to an individual’s traits (think lack of coachability, low emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament) versus only 11% of new hire failures that are due to a lack of technical skill.

To gain better insights on cultural fit, here are 6 types of questions to ask before you make the offer:

1. Personal Values & Preferences

No matter what the position level, everyone has a unique type of workplace that works best for their lifestyle and values.  These personal values should be in line with the values that drive the (hiring) company.

What type of environment do they thrive in? Do they perform best in competitive environments? Are they more focused on collaboration or rewarding individual achievements? Do they value flexibility or structure? Do they appreciate a culture that “feels like family” or do they prefer a place where everyone simply does their job and goes home?

Walk through the candidate’s previous roles and have them provide examples of cultural similarities and differences, positives and negatives. Do all of the past companies fall under a certain ‘type’ of environment and does the culture at your company seem to be vastly different?

There are no right or wrong answers. It is simply an honest and open conversation to determine which type of environment the candidate will thrive in for the long-term, and whether your company provides that.

2. Influence

How have they been able to influence or improve culture?

This is a useful follow-up question when asking about the pros and cons of previous work environments.  Great or not so great -- what did the person do to make it better?

For employers, it may not always be about finding people that fit perfectly within the current culture, but more about how the new employee can make positive changes. Effective leaders are those who have the ability to add diversity and improve upon the current culture.

3. Leadership Style

Ask for examples of how the type of work environment impacts their management style. What do they expect from employees they manage? How do they motivate employees? Do they believe in offering monetary incentives or other types of rewards?

Determining what a candidate believes makes an effective leader or manager will likely indicate the type of management style they work well with and perhaps aspire to emulate.

4. Adaptability

Have the candidate describe personality traits of people they have worked really well with, and those that they did not get along with as well.

Take this a step further by having them break down working with similar and different personalities at various levels:

  • Those they have managed
  • Former peers and colleagues
  • Previous supervisors and bosses

Having a candidate compare and contrast their personality types with others can be very insightful about them as a person, but most importantly, it can reveal how they work with different types of individuals.

As the one interviewing, try to identify any patterns. Do they seem to only work well with the same type of people, or do they collaborate effectively with various personality types. These types of questions can convey their level of self-awareness and ability to adapt their personality to others.

5. Approach to Conflict

How should conflict be handled at work?

For many individuals, conflict is a particularly sensitive issue. It can be equated to discussing failures, and candidates may be nervous to bring up examples where they have had to deal with conflict because they are concerned about how they will be perceived.

However, conflict is inevitable in the work environment. When managed well, conflict can be a good thing that is vital for promoting diversity and innovation, allowing for different ideas, perspectives, and critical thinking.

Furthermore, avoiding conflict can have negative effects to company culture. So the question really isn’t about whether they have faced conflict, but how they have dealt with it. Senior level candidates should have experience with effectively managing conflict and hopefully using it to move the company forward.

6. Cultural Assessment

Allow the candidate to experience your company. Have them go to lunch with the team, sit in on an informal meeting, or at the very least, have them meet with different people during the interview process.

Ask them for their insights and observations of the company culture (both positive and negative) and how they would potentially play a cultural role.

Meeting team members and experiencing the culture first-hand will not only provide them with a better idea of what it’s like to work for your company, it will provide you with interesting feedback, regardless of whether you hire the candidate.

Employers who make cultural fit a major component of the hiring process can avoid significant costs that can come from making the wrong hire. Toft Group performs a thorough, multi-dimensional vetting process which evaluates the corporate cultural fit of each candidate, ensuring expectations of both client and candidate are met. To learn more about how we find the right candidate, contact us.