This article was originally published by Fast Company here.
I can’t remember a time when there was this much collective angst around work. From the Great Resignation to quiet quitting, work—and our satisfaction with it—is making headlines daily. Some of it may be editorial hand-wringing, but without a doubt, there’s a shift happening in how we perceive work and how workers relate to their employers.
We are in a long-term cycle where most people will have high work mobility, meaning it will be easier for them to find another job. They will be able to not only seek higher compensation, but more importantly, a work situation that better aligns with what they want out of life.
This is another way of saying that people are more attuned than ever to an organization’s culture and how well they feel they fit in. And it raises an important question: How do candidates and employers determine whether someone is going to be a cultural fit?
It’s incredibly hard to determine if someone is going to be successful in a given job, regardless of how competent they demonstrate they are. I have learned, however, that the main reason people quit or get terminated is because of a misalignment between their own values and beliefs and those of the company, team, or (most often) manager, versus a gap in their skills.
The challenge is a resume tells you what a person has done, not why they did it. Most interviewing techniques reveal competencies versus the values, discernment and judgment one has shown in their work. I’d argue that competency should be table stakes.
Once the hiring process has netted a pool of competent candidates, culture fit should ultimately determine who will get the job. But that’s harder than it sounds, because we have so little experience doing it—at least in a business setting.
So, let’s think of something much easier: choosing a spouse (said with tongue firmly planted in cheek). Some people date for years, and some people fall in love at first sight, but if we’re married or in any kind of long-term relationship, most of us have gone through some version of the same process.
We meet, and there is an initial attraction—conscious or subconscious—based on how well someone meets our physical and emotional needs. Dating, which is a collection of shared experiences, reveals whether that initial impression was correct. Do they value the things you value? Do you have enough in common to make a lifelong commitment? You probably introduce them to friends and family who weigh in as to whether they are a good fit for you.
Most interviews only get us to the initial attraction phase, and instead of dating, we go right to getting married. Therein lies the problem.
I argue for building the dating phase into your hiring process. Instead of simply assessing competencies, develop a process to determine a candidate’s closely held values and beliefs, and assess how they might act and react to given situations. Ask people who know you well to tell you whether or not they think the candidate will be a good fit. That’s the theory. Here’s how to execute:
ASK BEHAVIORAL QUESTIONS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER EMPLOYERS
Ask candidates to describe people and situations that worked well or didn’t, and why. What attracted them to a certain job? Why did they leave? What was different about that job from what they expected? When did they feel successful? When have they felt out of place? Ask who they got along with and didn’t. If they have been a manager, delve into people who worked well under them and those who quit or had to be terminated. What drove those terminations? Ask why, why, why. The underlying issues in these situations give you clues about what they value.
INVOLVE MANY PEOPLE
I once met someone in talent acquisition at a very successful, well-known company and asked how they determined fit. He told me that at his company, each candidate has to go through 15 interviews, and each interviewer is asked to determine if that person will fit in with the team. “If they can get the thumbs up from 15 people,” he said, “they’re either a really good actor, or they’ll fit in just fine.”
Going back to the dating analogy, if everyone you love and trust tells you that it will never work, my guess is that would at least give you pause.
This can make for a long process for the candidate, however, so you will want to coordinate the interviewers to ensure they are asking different questions and not being needlessly repetitive. Then, pay a lot of attention to whether a candidate gets strong support from your team.
When all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. For example, “Our people regularly take short-term hits on their commission when they need to resolve a problem for a customer. Tell me about a time when you made a short-term sacrifice for a long-term goal.” Do they actually have an example of delayed gratification? Is the premise of the question shocking, or do they seem comfortable?
GIVE CANDIDATES ENOUGH INFORMATION AND ACCESS TO SCREEN THEMSELVES OUT
The sooner someone comes to the realization that the values and beliefs of your business don’t line up with theirs, the sooner they will opt out. It’s hard to screen for values, and people can fool you. But if someone screens themself out, it will make your job much easier and free you up to focus on candidates well aligned to the culture.
The more transparent you are about your values and beliefs in the interview process, the more likely it is you will make a match. Hiring for fit is an investment in time that pays off in lower turnover, more cohesive teams, and better long-term results.