What is company culture?
Every organization has a “personality” or culture that’s formed by the behaviors, attitudes and values of its employees at all levels. Company culture is reflected in how people interact with each other, make decisions and organize their day-to-day schedule. The culture can shape company policies, the role employees play in designing projects and how often workers take time off. In a healthy culture, employees feel they can be themselves and contribute to the culture positively.
Why ask culture interview questions?
Assessing whether a candidate is a good cultural add can have a major impact on the long-term success of your organization. Employees who feel a kinship with their supervisors and coworkers may find more meaning in their work and feel like they belong. You might also enjoy improved performance and greater worker engagement.
Hiring people who are good cultural additions helps with employee retention and recruitment. Workers who believe their values and attitudes match up fairly well with those around them tend to want to stay on the job longer. Not only that, but when current or former employees write reviews for a company, they often give input on how they feel about its culture.
Keep in mind that cultural add is about more than whether you’d enjoy spending time with someone outside the office or at a company happy hour. It’s about finding people who can add to your company culture, rather than hiring the same type of person over and over again. There’s strength in a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.
Culture fit vs culture add
Hiring for “culture fit” can cause businesses to unintentionally hire and retain candidates who look, behave and think like everyone else. When you hire people who share the same values, beliefs and personality traits, your teams may not be as creative, innovative or experience any of the other benefits of a diverse workplace.
Looking for “culture add” in candidates can help you hire people who share your business’s values but also add something new that will positively contribute to your culture. This can be communication styles, experience in different industries, nontraditional education/training and different life experiences.
Instead of excluding people who aren’t a “culture fit,” try adjusting your way of thinking, and look for what candidates can bring to your existing culture. Overall, a culture-add mindset asks, “What can this person bring to the business?” vs culture fit, which asks, “What is this candidate missing?” This may introduce unconscious bias into your hiring process.
Cultural interview questions
Figuring out if a candidate is a good cultural add can be challenging. You can’t spend hours with prospective employees getting to know their likes and dislikes or observing them in different social situations. It’s often inappropriate to ask them personal questions about their habits and beliefs. So how can you gauge whether a person would be a good culture add in an interview?
The best way is to come up with culture interview questions that help you learn about a candidate’s behaviors, values and attitudes. These questions should be open-ended but not so much that they lack focus. For example, if you want to know if a candidate brings a sense of humor to work, you wouldn’t want to just ask, “Are you funny?” Instead, you could say, “Describe a time when you found humor to be helpful in navigating a tricky situation.”
When you get to the cultural part of the interview, explain that you’re going to ask questions to help you get to know them better and that there are no right or wrong answers. Here are four areas to explore (with 19 sample culture interview questions) to determine whether a prospective employee will be a great culture add to your company.
1. Previous employment
You can learn a great deal about whether candidates will be a great addition to your culture by asking interview questions about their perceptions of the company cultures they’ve been a part of in the past. Pinpointing what a candidate liked and disliked about past companies can reveal what’s valuable to them. Understanding these preferences can help you determine if they align with your company culture and values.
For example, candidates who say they didn’t like how slowly their previous company moved may enjoy a fast-paced culture where projects get done quickly.
Questions to assess this include:
- How would you describe the company culture at your last job?
- Were you comfortable working in that environment? Why or why not?
- If you could have changed one thing to improve the culture, what would it be?
- Describe an instance when you and another employee worked well together. What do you think helped make that experience a positive one?
- Can you describe a time you took a risk in making a decision? What was the outcome?
2. Opinions about company culture
Theoretical or general opinion questions put candidates at ease because they don’t have to prove anything about past performance. Still, answers to these questions can reveal a lot about a person’s values, attitudes and beliefs. They can also help you understand how a candidate maintains work/life balance, sets personal boundaries and manages their time. Consider these questions:
- What are three things companies should do to boost morale?
- How would you describe the ideal corporate culture?
- What can managers do to allow employees to feel more trusted?
- Should employees have unlimited vacation time, or should PTO be more structured?
Certain cultural interview questions can help paint a picture of the candidate without prying into their private life. Getting a glimpse into a candidate’s personality can clue you into how easy they are to work with, what they’ll bring to the team and what kind of environment they thrive in.
For example, if your company has a casual culture with frequent collaboration, a casual dress code and an open office plan, someone who prefers a quiet, formal, strictly professional environment may not be the right match. However, be careful not to exclude anyone based on personality traits, such as introversion or extroversion. These questions can help:
- Talk about one of your great qualities that others don’t always appreciate.
- What makes you a great team player?
- Describe your ideal work day.
- What kind of situations can create stress for you? How do you cope?
- Do you prefer to delegate tasks or have them delegated to you? Or do you prefer a mix of both?
- What is one of your biggest pet peeves?
4. Hypothetical scenarios
Hypothetical questions are fairly low-stress for candidates but also challenge them to demonstrate creativity and confidence. You can be creative with these types of cultural interview questions.
Some examples of hypothetical questions are:
- Your team is giving a presentation in 2 hours and one member just called in sick. What do you do?
- If you had to choose between a work environment that was always in chaos versus one where nothing ever changed, which would you choose?
- If you inherited so much money that you never had to work again, how would you spend your time?
- If you could create a fictional company to make the world a better place, what would that company do?
When asking these questions, look for answers that align with your company values and work environment. For example, if one of your company values is resourcefulness, you would probably think twice about hiring someone who says they’d cancel a meeting if a team member called in sick 2 hours before.
In addition to determining whether candidates have the necessary experience and skills, it’s critical to assess whether they’re likely to be a good cultural add. Employees who feel like part of the team are more productive and are likely to stay, which means greater ROI for you.
Frequently asked questions about culture interview questions
What kinds of questions are off-limits?
Some personal questions are illegal in interviews, so brush up on the rules. You’re not allowed to ask questions about anything that could lead to discrimination, such as race, nationality, religion, marital status, age, sexual orientation or gender. You also can’t ask about children, pregnancies, disabilities and other things that don’t relate to the job duties.
Do you have to ask culture interview questions?
You don’t have to ask cultural interview questions in your interviews, but you may find them beneficial. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time on the cultural aspect of the interview, pick a few key questions that would be most beneficial for helping you choose a candidate.
Is culture add more important than qualifications?
Both aspects are important, but you have to determine your hiring criteria and priorities. Someone who isn’t a culture add can cause friction with the team. Someone who adds to the culture but isn’t qualified for the job can hurt morale, as well as productivity. Balance both issues to find an ideal candidate.