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How to interview for cultural alignment

Focus on hiring employees who bring their full selves and could easily “belong” to the team.

How to interview for cultural alignment
[BGStock72/AdobeStock]

How do you determine cultural alignment? A résumé can highlight a candidate’s skills and competency, but it takes much more to determine cultural alignment.

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Cultural alignment is the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging.” In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

Fitting in requires adjusting who you are to fit into the culture. Belonging means you bring all of you to the beautiful tapestry of the team. You don’t marry someone hoping they change. You don’t employ someone hoping they change; you employ someone hoping they’ll grow.

Focus on hiring employees who bring their full selves and could easily “belong” to the team. As we often say at Slingshot Group when someone joins our team, “We just changed today. Our culture just changed today because someone new is bringing their unique self to what we do.”

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INTERVIEWS GO BOTH WAYS

When interviewing candidates for cultural alignment, remember: They’re interviewing you, too.

Many candidates know what it’s like to step into work chaos at some point in their careers. That’s why people are getting better at asking the right questions upfront to prevent these sticky situations. Savvy candidates will ask about you and your organizational culture, and they’ll take subsequent action to find answers.

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Here are four common questions candidates often ask themselves while interviewing:

1. Can I see myself in this role, on this team, with this organization? Candidates will ask about team dynamics in interviews, listen for personality dynamics, and consider whether these dynamics align with your answers and the interactions they experienced.

2. What do employees say about the team or the organization? Candidates will ask staff why they like working for the organization. They’re looking for individuals who can articulate a few good reasons. They’re also doing research to connect in-person or online with past employees and checking the organization’s outside reputation on LinkedIn, Google, and Glassdoor to see what others say.

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3. Am I interviewing with the right people? Candidates will request to meet with team members at all different levels of the organization to get a good feel for the culture. The ideal interview process should include potential peers, a future boss, any cross-functional teams, the boss’s boss, and sometimes additional stakeholders outside the organization.

4. Is there a common vision? Curious candidates want to understand the vision of the team or the company and how their values and strengths could contribute to that vision. They want to understand expectations and how to get things done.

THE POWER IS IN THE QUESTIONS

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Once you understand the candidate’s point of view, you need to consider what to ask during the interview stage.

Lead with curiosity, which is the best place to start an interview. Ask questions that allow a candidate to express their personality and direction. Magic happens when a candidate’s response aligns with the organization’s culture. For example, here are six questions to ask candidates:

1. What is your ideal role? What would allow you to do what you want to do and make your best contribution to the team?

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2. What actions would be most important to you if this were the last day of your life? What would you do?

3. What are the trophies in the trophy cabinet of your life? What are the achievements or experiences you hold dear?

4. Why do you want to be a part of this company and this team? What have you learned about the organization that appeals to you?

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5. What are your non-negotiables as you consider this opportunity? What are the essentials you need to be successful in this role?

5. What are the steps you’d like to take in the first six months on the job? What’s most important in this role and what would be your strategy?

THE REALITY IS IN THE ANSWERS

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How a candidate answers your questions reveals whether they align with your organization.

Tara Kelly, President & CEO of SPLICE, explained in a recent podcast that a series of interviews—instead of just one conversation—works best for determining cultural alignment. “You’re going to be working probably more with your co-workers, rather than with your direct boss, and even less with the HR department,” Kelly says. “Logistics count. So, [employers need to] conduct two or three interviews in ‘culture fit’ groups, each one focused on a particular value or set of values of the organization.” A similar process has worked well for us at Slingshot Group to create helpful buy-in from the rest of the team.

Through thousands of interview hours with candidates and hundreds of coaching conversations with hiring managers and leadership teams, I can say with confidence: When a team member leaves, it’s usually due to misalignment.

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When I’m in a coaching situation with an individual who wants to leave, I first ask why they came to the organization in the first place. Sharing stories about cultural alignment is a powerful way to re-establish and remember that sense of belonging.

Cultural alignment matters because culture is currency. To build your remarkable team, interview with the goal of finding cultural alignment top of mind.


Tim Foot is the CEO of Slingshot Group
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