notes

Most candidates ask their potential employers in-depth questions about the company during an interview. According to Gallup, “high-quality” candidates tend to ask questions that focus on a company’s culture and whether its values align with their own.

But does culture begin with the company and end with its workforce, or vice versa? The answer is simple: People build company culture, but it starts with recruiters. As gatekeepers, recruiters shape culture in important ways.

The Keys to Culture

Company culture touches every corner of an organization. According to research from Deloitte, 94 percent of executives and 88 percent of employees “believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.” Such a culture takes time to build; it can’t be established overnight.

How does a company let people know its culture is more than just free snacks and flexible work environments? How does a company show employees that their work empowers the organization as a whole? The best approach is to recruit in a way that builds a strong and sustainable company culture.

First, company leaders have to understand what separates a top-notch culture from the competition. Many companies mistakenly focus on trivial things — swanky offices, work parties, ping-pong tables — when they should instead focus on the real, intangible core of culture. According to Great Place to Work, some of the most important elements of culture include:

  1. Trust: According to Great Place to Work, 83 percent of employees at Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies to Work For say they trust their managers, compared to 42 percent of employees at an average workplace.
  2. Community and Caring: When company leaders values employees and invest in their well-being, employees respond with dedication, cooperation, and engagement.
  3. Innovation: Companies that innovate and create safe spaces for employees to do the same retain employees at higher rates than companies that stick with the same ideas.
  4. Fairness: Employees appreciate working for leaders who give them the opportunities they deserve and compensate them fairly for their work.

What a strong company culture looks like in practice will necessarily vary from organization to organization, but as long as leaders make these values core elements of their cultures, they will reap the rewards. Recruiting great employees is the first step in cultivating these values.

How to Build a Great Company Culture

It’s easy to credit executives with building a great company culture, but in truth, it all starts with the recruiters. Think about it: If a team’s energy levels appear to be low, recruiters and hiring managers know they should look for high-energy, talented, and driven individuals to help even things out. If a groups lack original ideas, recruiters know to actively source individuals from more diverse backgrounds to discourage groupthink.

Building culture from the ground up is much easier than changing culture, so the importance of recruitment to company culture cannot be overstated. Here are a few steps recruiters can take in order to make more hires that contribute to a strong culture:

1. Thoroughly Understand What the Culture Should Be

Culture is not just a surface-level concern. It does more than create a positive image of a company — it’s an integral part of business success. If recruiters are going to hire the right people to build a great company culture, they need to first understand the culture they are building toward.

Defining culture is easier for smaller companies, simply because there are fewer people and personalities to worry about. When it comes to larger organizations, everyone (especially those involved in the hiring process) needs to be on the same page about what the culture is. As companies grow, recruiters must consistently think about the current culture, where the culture is going, and how each potential hire fits into the big picture. Ask the right interview questions to assess whether a candidate shares your company’s values and could help make your culture even stronger.

2. Ask for Referrals

The networks of your current employees can be great sources of candidates who will uphold the company’s values. An endorsement from a successful employee reveals a lot about the quality of a candidate, as your employees are highly unlikely to recommend people who wouldn’t serve the company well or perform to its standards.

Your employees experience the company culture every day, which means they likely know it better than anyone else. As a result, they can more accurately identify candidates who would fit into that culture and help the company succeed.

That said, when taking referrals into account, make sure you consider whether these individuals are bringing something new to the table. Relying too much on referrals can lead to a homogenous team that lacks diverse ways of thinking, which in turn upholds the status quo and stifles innovation.

3. Focus on Quality Over Quantity

To avoid turnover, you want to hire candidates who are likely to grow with the company. A candidate with 10 years of experience might need less training, but it may be worth hiring the more enthusiastic candidate with only eight years of experience. They may require slightly more training on the front end, but that enthusiastic candidate is likely to stick around for years to come.

Furthermore, as your company grows and its roles change to fit the new needs of the organization, prior experience will matter a little less. What you want are employees who will stay dedicated to the company, even as their jobs shift through the years. Considering culture fit rather than hiring solely on prior experience makes you more likely to find employees who will be ready, willing, and able to adapt alongside the company.

4. Ask Other Team Members for Help

You don’t want to hire candidates who don’t understand the day-to-day expectations of the role, so it’s vital to make sure team members and candidates are exposed to one another. When interviewing candidates, have them interact with the groups and teams they would work with to ensure they’re a good fit not only for the company but also for the people they might call teammates. That way, your employees can get to know each candidate and help decide which one might be the best fit for the team.

Invite various employees to ask candidates different types of questions in the interview process. For example, one interview group could focus on culture fit while another delves into basic qualifications. Getting more people involved will help you see the bigger picture and get more context regarding whether a candidate will be the right fit.

5. Add New Value to the Company

While I’ve referred to hiring for “culture fit” throughout this article, perhaps the more accurate term would be “culture add.” When hiring for culture add, you’re not just hiring someone who fits in with the team — you’re hiring someone who will thrive in the organization while also bringing new perspectives to your team. These are the kinds of employees who can help you find fresh solutions to tough problems.

Hiring the same kinds of people over and over again won’t bolster your culture — it will only confine your culture to a box. The best hires are those who fit the current culture while also helping to expand that culture in new and positive ways.

Recruiting the right employees forms the foundation of any strong company culture. People define an organization, and connecting with the right people begins with the recruitment process.

Chad Reid is the vice president of marketing and communications at JotForm.

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in Organizational Culture]