December 11, 2015

Use Behavioral Interview Questions to Assess Cultural Fit

GondolaIn a traditional interview it can be just about impossible to accurately assess a candidate’s cultural fit – especially if you’re using questions like the old “tell me about yourself” standby.

In a situation that depends on an emotional component for a quality decision, it is too easy to be inexact and inconsistent. This is the “falling in love” strategy of interviewing which most of us have used at one time or another, depending entirely upon out guts to make hiring decisions.

Often, however, these hires do not turn out to be the best hires you ever made.

One of the most common reasons behind bad hires is a cultural mismatch: After hiring a candidate who has the perfect skill set for the job at hand, you find that candidate lacks the perfect mindset to thrive in your company’s culture.

As mentioned above, uncovering this fact – that a candidate doesn’t match your culture – can be very difficult to do during the interview. Luckily, however, behavioral interview questions can help.

How Behavioral Interview Questions Uncover Cultural Fit

Behavioral interviewing is based on the belief that recent past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior and performance.

The typical behavioral interview question is made up of two parts: the “opening” or “set up” to the question and the situation you want to replicate. For example:

– The opening: Tell me about a time when …

– The situation: … you had to work on a tight deadline.

While many positions might require a person to work under pressure and on tight deadlines, what you are trying to discover with a question like this is whether or not the candidate can handle a situation typical to your company in a way that is compatible with your culture.

To find this information out, you must get a complete behavioral answer to your question.

BerriesA complete behavioral answer is made up of three parts: problem, action, and result. I call it the “PAR” method of answering questions:

– Problem: Here, the candidate should talk the about the situation they faced and the tasks involved.

– Action: Here, the candidate should describe the actions they took to address the problem they faced. To really get a full answer here, you may need to dig a little bit. Ask the candidate detailed questions about their specific role in the situation. Pay attention to their answers: As the candidate describes the actions they took, they will reveal a lot of information about the kind of culture they work best in.

– Result: Here, the candidate should identify the results their actions lead to. If possible, the candidate should quantify these results.

Not every candidate will immediately give you a “PAR” answer, so you may have to keep pressing them until you get all the information you need. This is important: Doing so gives you the best chance to really uncover the candidate’s cultural fit and maximize your quality of hire.

Raising the Bar on the Behavioral Interview Question

At Talentron, we like to add a third part to every behavioral interview question. We call it the “bar raiser.” This part of the question is designed to increase the difficulty of the question by removing resources, such as people, time, money, etc.

For example:

– The opening: Tell me about a time when …

– The situation: … you had to work on a tight deadline …

– Bar Raiser: … and were not allowed to hire extra temporary staff.

In addition to making the question more difficult, adding a bar raiser can also help you construct a situation that most accurately reflects life at your company. That way, you’ll get an even clearer view of how the candidate may (or may not) fit in at your company.

Remember: Cultural Fit Is Found Not in What the Candidate Says, but in How They Say It

FieldAs the candidate discusses the situations they have faced, the work they have done, and the results they have achieved, listen carefully to the responses. It is here in these responses that you will discover whether or not the candidate is a fit for your organization.

When you describe typical situations at your organization through behavioral questions, does the candidate express excitement about the opportunity? Do they see nothing but problems? Do they rise to the occasion or seem stressed out?

You want people on your team to see your situation as exciting, challenging, and rewarding – not as a massive problem.

Read more in Interview Questions

John is founder, chairman, and CEO of Accelerate, which he founded in 2004. He is responsible for setting the overall direction and product strategy for the company and leads the design of Accelerate's services and products. After studying at Texas A&M University, John applied himself in the real world of corporate recruiting and training in SiliconˇValley, honing his skills at Atari, Apple, and Netscape. John’s work at Apple University was the catalyst for his vision to leverage evolving technologies to simplify managing people.