The culture fit assessment has become so widely used by recruiting teams everywhere, it often becomes just as much of a requirement as some of the practical skills on a job listing. Of course, it’s important to invest your time and energy in fostering a work culture that would make any developer want to come work for you. However, even though you might have a general understanding of what it means to your team, the term has become a catch-all that allows hiring managers to make swift decisions about candidates based solely on a gut feeling.
While it’s difficult to design a culture fit assessment beyond anything anecdotal, it should go far beyond your first impression of how that person interacts with you and your colleagues. How can you define what “culture fit” means for your company? And how can you be more regimented about sticking to it?
One of the biggest challenges of interviewing for culture fit is letting go of the idea you only want to hire people everyone at your company might get along with. In fact, Katie Bouton on behalf of the Harvard Business Review recently discussed how this approach can actually lead to discrimination in the workplace. She continues, “It’s important to understand that hiring for culture fit doesn’t mean hiring people who are all the same. The values and attributes that make up an organizational culture can and should be reflected in a richly diverse workforce.”
Where does that leave us? Most executives would agree that your company’s core beliefs and values should guide how you interview for culture fit. Our CEO Joel Spolsky’s idea of it is fairly straightforward: he’s interested in hiring people who are smart and get things done. That’s it. On the other hand, let’s say I decided to start a company tomorrow and got into the habit of hiring candidates who prefer one gaming console to another. While this might sound like a silly example on paper, not only would I be missing out on great developers, I’d be toeing a dangerous line between “hiring for culture fit” and discrimination in this case.
A strong interview process involves a good deal of planning by a number of people across different teams. Since it’s only natural for most people to make snap judgments about candidates based on “chemistry,” it’s your job to ensure everyone involved in the interview process knows exactly what your company defines as a culture fit. When I was a recruiter, not only did we sit down with each interview to review our list of organizational norms prior to launching a new search, we made sure to review that list together a few minutes before any interview we conducted. On the occasions when hiring managers were tempted to make decisions based solely on personality traits, it was my job as the recruiter to guide them back to our previously agreed upon method for interviewing for culture fit, which should also be discussed early in the planning stages.
The same goes for how you plan the entire candidate experience. Designate a certain activity or two—whether it’s a lunch interview, a tour of the office or anything else you’d like—as a way to assess how a candidate would fit into your organization’s culture. However, whatever you choose, remember that interviewing for culture fit is a two-way street. While it’s important for you to determine if a candidate meets your criteria, it’s just as vital to be as transparent with developers about your organization’s culture so they can also make an educated decision about whether or not you’re the right fit for them.