How to Determine Cultural Fit in IT Candidates

By Steve Quarles on September 2, 2015 in IT Hiring


When an open IT position means lost performance in the face of looming deadlines, urgency in the hiring process is key – especially when the demand for IT talent is so much higher than the supply. But urgency can come with a cost, and needs to be carefully balanced with taking the time to thoroughly assess a candidate’s cultural fit in your company.

It doesn’t seem like it should be difficult to determine if you’re paying attention to their personality and attitude in the interview. But the reality is that how a candidate acts in the interview – under the pressure to prove themselves – is rarely how they actually interact in the everyday workplace.

So when you need to recruit the best candidate, and make them an offer before your competition snaps them up, how do you get past the surface to accurately determine cultural fit? It’s a balance of asking the right questions, seeing how they react to your environment and team, and carefully listening to the questions they ask you.

Know What You’re Looking For

Is your company fast-paced? Collaborative? High-pressure? Do you celebrate accomplishments and reward initiative? Are your employees all out-going and chatty or do they appreciate independence and a quiet work environment? Does your company value self-development, curiosity and ambition? Or are you looking for people who simply love what they do and are happy doing it day in and day out?

Each company – and even each department – has its individual values and qualities. Take an honest look at your current employees to get a clear idea of what you mean when you say “cultural fit.” Once you have this foundation, the effort to determine cultural fit in an interview should be much more effective.

Interview Questions to Determine Cultural Fit

It goes beyond the typical “what are your strengths and weaknesses” question. It goes further than behavioral interviewing and left field questions that companies like Zappos are famous for. And yet, these questions are nothing groundbreaking. Here are some examples:

  • What are your expectations of working at our company?
  • What is your motivation to get up and come to work each day?
  • What did you like most about your previous employer?
  • How do you cope with work-related stress?
  • How do you rely on your fellow team members to help you overcome your weaknesses?
  • Who inspires you and why?
  • How would you describe your relationship with previous managers?

You may already be asking variations of these, but they’re just different enough from the regular suite of interview questions that they inspire answers beyond the rehearsed ones, offering you a deeper glance into a candidate’s personality, attitude and thinking process.

Listening for Cultural Fit Between the Lines

Maybe you take notes and maybe you don’t when your candidates are answering your carefully thought out questions. Either way, you probably know exactly what you’re listening for and which answers mean this candidate can do the job.

But what about when your candidate is asking you questions? If you’re busy thinking of the answers, then you may be missing what those questions are telling you about the candidate’s personality, work ethic, attitude, and career goals.

Are they asking about your work environment and expectations? Do they want to know why you love working there? Or about business goals and opportunities for growth? Or, on the other hand, are they more interested in hearing about benefits and salary? Which questions align the most with your company’s core values?

Test Driving a Candidate’s Cultural Fit

One powerful step further than the interview is introducing the candidate to the environment they’ll be working in. Give them a chance to sit down in your offices, chat with your team members, and become familiar with some of the projects they’ll be working on. Alternatively, plan a team lunch or coffee session.

The goal here is to give your candidate an opportunity to let down some of those formal barriers they might have held up during the official interview. The closer you get to the types of interactions they’ll be involved in on a daily basis, the better you’ll be able to assess their true cultural fit.

It goes without saying that this kind of time commitment is best reserved for candidates who are in the final stages of your hiring process. Urgency is still important, even if it should be treated with caution. Try to schedule these team meetings within one or two days of the official interview process, and let the candidate know when they can expect to hear from you after the fact.

In the competitive IT marketplace, an optimized hiring process is key, but not at the cost of neglecting any steps. Determining a candidate’s cultural fit is essential to building a productive, happy team who want to help your company succeed.  We help companies navigate this balance on a daily basis, so don’t hesitate to reach out when your open IT positions have you on the hunt for the perfect candidate.