From 2000 to 2008, I worked on the human resources team that built Netflix’s much-lauded culture, and since then I’ve assembled powerful teams from scratch at a number of other organizations. These days I’m in charge of people and culture at a Canadian tech company that’s been named one of the country’s top small and mid-size employers for three years running. In my experience, there’s a lot that goes into building a strong work culture, but it all starts at the hiring stage.
So with that in mind, here are a few interview questions I ask job candidates in order to hire team members who’ll help build a supportive, healthy, high-performing culture.
Questions About Motivation (Minus Pay)
Like most companies, we’re interested in candidates who are passionate about our purpose and treat the interview process as a two-way street–they’re interviewing us as much as we’re interviewing them. So while of course we offer competitive compensation, I try to design interviews to probe for candidates’ deeper motivations. (And if pay is a primary discussion topic during initial interview rounds, it’s a bright red flag for us.) Here are a few:
- Based on what you’ve seen, what are a few areas where you’d focus in this role in order to address problems you believe exist today, or that we might encounter later?
- If you join the team, what would you tell your friends or family about why you chose to work here?
- Why are you passionate about our market and what we’d be building together?
Questions About Entrepreneurial Thinking
The best work cultures encourage–and even require–entrepreneurial mind-sets of every team member, not just those in senior positions. We’re not here to tell employees exactly how to spend their time; micromanagement is a culture killer. Instead, we expect to see initiative at every level, including the entry level, and do our best to set these expectations during the interview process. The goal is to show candidates our culture of possibility and creative exploration.
Still, people tend to take initiative in different ways; some employees are overt about sharing their ideas in large groups, while others prefer to outline their thoughts and collaborate in smaller settings or on Slack. Either style works great as long as they lead to fresh perspectives. These are a couple of interview questions we ask to see if a candidate is likely to take initiative, no matter how they might choose to do so:
- You have a great idea for how to improve our product, but you’re worried about stepping on someone else’s toes. What do you do?
- It’s your first day on the job and you have a few hours to kill before orientation. What would you do with that time?
Hypothetical answers are fine–that’s the whole point. The candidates who demonstrate entrepreneurial thinking and confidence when answering these questions usually make it to the next round and, once hired, end up being informal leaders on their teams.
Questions About Teamwork
Hiring star contributors who can’t collaborate just isn’t worth it. As marketing guru Tara Nicholle-Nelson has written, “A-players don’t always make great team players.”
Through the interview process, our goal is to understand how candidates handle conflict: Do they blame others if something goes wrong rather than look for ways to improve the situation? Or are they so solutions-oriented that they come across as stoic or unaware how their colleagues might perceive their assertions? Here are a few interview questions to help weed out candidates who, while brilliant, may not be the best collaborators:
- Tell me about a disagreement you’ve had with a coworker from another functional area. What was the nature of the disagreement, and how did the two of you work together to resolve it?
- We’ve all received feedback about where we can improve. What types of feedback have you heard consistently throughout your career?
- Tell me about one of your most trusted mentors. What have you learned from them that’s informed the way you work with others?
The answers to these questions will shed light on how the candidate might fit into your organization, particularly during moments of high pressure. One thing I’ve learned in my years of assembling teams that contribute to great work cultures is not to compromise on your organization’s core values. Hiring the most brilliant stars who’ll weigh down your culture just isn’t worth it.