Identifying Candidates Who Fit In With Your Company’s Culture

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Expert Perspective from Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board

We enjoyed reading and discussing Adam Bryant’s interview with Michael Lebowitz, founder and C.E.O. of Big Spaceship, (Hey, Rock Stars: Take Your Show Someplace Else  in the January 30, 2011 issue of the New York Times.

Bryant quotes Lebowitz as saying: “Don’t hire jerks, no matter how talented…  The second- or third- or fourth-best candidate who isn’t a jerk is going to ultimately provide way more value.”

We understand what he is saying: someone may be technically very highly qualified but if the individual’s personal or leadership style doesn’t fit with the company culture, then he or she likely will not be the best candidate. 

The best place to start an employment search may be internally, not so much looking at current employees to fill a role, although if there is a strong history of succession planning and talent development you may have a perfect candidate already on the payroll.  Rather, it is important to understand your organization’s culture.   One side note though, for an organization that is filled with jerks you probably want jerks – because the candidate who is not a jerk isn’t going to be a good fit.

So once you feel confident that you understand your company culture, how do you go about finding both the best and the right candidate?  It seems like it should be simple to find great candidates that fit in your organization, especially with so many talented people out of work.  But as we said in our blog, To Get the Right Person for the Job, Recruit the Right Way, with continuing high unemployment, the job of identifying and hiring the best and the right person for a job can be more, not less challenging.   Many companies find that posting open positions can bring hundreds of resumes and wading through these can be both time consuming and fraught with challenges.  Additionally, there is no guarantee that the perfect candidate can be found in that mountain of paper.

But assuming you have narrowed the field from tens or even hundreds to a few high potentials, there are some specific steps you can take to better assess these candidates for personal style, compatibility and fit.

One of the most popular approaches is to conduct behavior interviewing.  This approach (outlined in Grahall’s Joe Davidson’s paper Building a Performance Culture focuses the interview questions on assessing behavioral indicators that are considered by the company to be most desirable  and  to drive corporate success.

Another approach is to use established talent evaluation software or assessment testing tools that can provide an objective assessment of a candidates’ qualities, talents and skills. Such software delivers a fact and data driven feedback report that can be used to inform the personal interview questions and areas of focus.

Grahall’s Bill Byrnes noted that the interview should focus, in part, on the perceptions of others – how the candidate believes others with whom he has worked and worked for perceive him or her.   It is a kind of self-administered 360 feedback process, hoping the candidate can reveal how subordinates, direct reports, peers, supervisors, managers, and company executives might answer the questions: 1) What are this person’s best qualities and 2) How can this person improve? 

Try it in your next interview. Make sure to have developed a rapport with the candidate and ask these questions late in the interview.  Most revealing may be how the candidate responds to the second question. 

Ultimately the issue is to avoid hiring individuals that meet some basic requirements (proficiency for example) but don’t meet the complete or full requirements of the position (the ability to work constructively with others for example).  Hiring individuals with personality “flaws” may limit their own performance within your organization and impede the performance of other employees with whom they interact.  

But perhaps your company is similar to the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital where a misanthrope like Dr. House is not only successful but adored.  If this is the case, then a jerk might work well on your staff or in your executive suite.  

That being said, sometimes it is justified to hire individuals that disturb the comfortable “get along to go along” status and create disruptive change that can move a company to the next higher level of success.

For more information and tips on interviewing, check out our Interviewing Guide.  And remember that since each individual – and each interview – is different, the points contained there should serve only as basic guidelines, not as inflexible rules.

Contract Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board at edie.kingston@grahall.com

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