January 15, 2016

Determining a Candidate’s Cultural Fit

Will a job candidate feel at home in your organization’s culture? What will the candidate bring to the organization’s culture? Here are some questions to reflect upon in the course of your search.

Will a job candidate feel at home in your organization’s culture? What will the candidate bring to the organization’s culture? Here are some questions to reflect upon in the course of your search.

Before deciding whether a candidate belongs in your organization’s culture, you need to have clear idea of what that culture is. There are many ways to assess your organization’s current culture, ranging from conducting an extensive organizational assessment and audit to simply sitting down and thinking through what types of people have succeeded at your organization. At a bare minimum, asking the following questions about your current organizational culture can help clarify what type of work environment your organization offers to potential candidates:

Work Style

  • How do we get our work done? Collaboratively? Independently? A combination?
  • How do we make decisions? Consensus-driven? Authoritatively?
  • How do we communicate? Verbally or in written form? Directly or indirectly?
  • What are our meetings like? Serious? Lighthearted? Tightly or loosely structured?

Professional Opportunities and Advancement

  • What types of people tend to do well here? Individual contributors? Team players? People who are proactive or more responsive?
  • How are we structured? Hierarchical or flat? Centralized or decentralized authority? Clear reporting structures or matrix?
  • How do we reward people who do well?
  • What happens when people don’t perform well?

Work Hours and Commitment to Work

  • How many hours a week do we expect senior management to work on average?
  • Do we provide flexible work schedules or allow for telecommuting, or do we prefer people to work set hours?
  • How much travel do we expect of senior management?
  • Are we looking for someone who will be here for a certain number of years or as part of a succession plan for senior management?

Architecture, Aesthetics, and Atmosphere

  • How are our offices set up? Open environment? Closed-door offices?
  • How do we dress? More formally? Less formally?
  • How do we have fun?

When you have arrived at a working definition of your culture, consider what you are looking for in a senior manager beyond just the job description. Though your goal may be to find a candidate who fits well within your organization’s culture, that does not necessarily mean you should look for someone who is a cookie-cutter image of the rest of your management team. It is critical to balance your search for fit with your goal of building a team with a diverse set of backgrounds, experiences, ideas, and working styles.

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  • What kinds of senior management personalities and work styles currently exist in our organization?
  • What adjectives would we use to describe the people who have been successful in our organization?
  • What kind of decision-making style do we want this new senior leader to have? Are we looking for an approach that is similar to the executive director’s or for a different, complementary style?
  • Are we looking for someone to create more teamwork within the organization or to establish more authority and hierarchy?
  • What kind of leadership style are we looking for in this position? Someone who will promote the status quo or someone who will shake things up within the organization?
  • Are we looking for a senior leader with more “gravitas” or someone who will lighten up the existing team?
  • What types of personalities work well with the various stakeholders we interact with and what characteristics will this person need to have in order to be successful in these interactions?

If you’re seeking to change your existing culture, a few additional questions can help identify what types of personalities and work styles will fit best with your goals for the senior leadership position and the direction the organization will take in the future once this new senior leader joins the team.

  • What types of culture change are we looking for (e.g., more serious or more light-hearted, more collaborative or more independent work styles)?
  • What kinds of different personalities and work styles will lend themselves to bringing this type of desired culture change?
  • What types of personalities and work styles might represent too much change for our organization to absorb well?

Adapted from "Making the Right Hire: Assessing a Candidate’s Fit with Your Organization."

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