Interview Should Test Candidate's Cultural 'Fit'

Ann All

In November IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle wrote about how bad hiring practices can kill a company, using Google as an example. In particular, he knocked Google for asking questions not directly related to the job such as testing the math skills of a potential hire for an entry-level marketing job. I've written about the interview process at Google myself and, not surprisingly, those who have interviewed with Google have strong feelings -- both positive and negative -- about its admittedly unconventional style.


So I was interested to see thoughts from a people programs specialist at Google included in a roundup of interview-related information from 22 of Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work for. The piece is part of a larger package that also includes mini-profiles of the 25 top-paying members of Fortune's list and a lengthy feature on the newly-anointed No 1 place to work, SAS. The author, in an assignment I covet, experienced a single day as an SAS employee. (He enjoyed a massage, among other perks.)


At Google, No 4 on this year's Fortune list, the company wants to hire people "who get energized by the challenge of solving complex problems, share our passion for using technology to make a difference in the lives of our users, demonstrate commitment to the broader community, and thrive working in ambiguous situations." Candidates are advised to "bring their whole selves to the interview and not try to fit some mold that they think Google wants." They should be "candid," "active" and "clearly articulate what skills you bring and how a role at Google fits into your broader career path."


This is echoed in on the site, which offers takes from recent interviewees at Google -- and many other companies. Wrote one candidate for a software engineer intern position:

They seem genuinely interested in finding people who are excited by the prospect of solving challenging problems. The best questions during the interviews were the ones where the interviewer presented a problem from his relevant Google project and asked for ideas on how to address it.

Seeing this, I wonder if Google throws problems that might not relate directly to a job description at all of its candidates, just to see how they handle it. Though Rob seems to think this is a bad idea, I think it could help determine how an interviewee might fit into a company's broader culture. Hiring people that won't fit into the corporate culture can be a costly mistake.


At Zappos, No. 15 on Fortune's list, zeroing in on core cultural values is a key part of the interview process. In an interview with The New York Times' Adam Bryant, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh explains that Zappos candidates undergo two separate sets of interviews, one in which a hiring manager and his or her team interviews for fit within the team, relevant experience, technical ability and other job-related skills, and a second conducted by human resources designed solely to examine broader cultural fit. In the second interview, candidates are asked questions that align with each of the company's 10 core values. Zappos is "willing to hire and fire people based on those values, regardless of their individual job performance," says Hsieh in the interview.


Because one of Zappos' core values (one that gets written about a lot) is "create fun and a little weirdness," candidates are asked to rank their weirdness on a scale of one to 10. Says Hsieh:

If you're a one, you're probably a little bit too strait-laced for us. If you're a 10, you might be too psychotic for us. It's not so much the number; it's more seeing how candidates react to a question. Because our whole belief is that everyone is a little weird somehow, so it's really more just a fun way of saying that we really recognize and celebrate each person's individuality, and we want their true personalities to shine in the workplace environment, whether it's with co-workers or when talking with customers.

The idea, says Hsieh, is to ask questions to help determine a candidate's self-awareness and honesty. Self-awareness is important because " if someone is self-aware, then they can always continue to grow."


Those interviewing for senior-level positions are invited to social events to see how they interact with other Zappos employees. Hsieh eventually hopes the majority of senior-level managers at Zappos are people who hired in at an entry-level position and advanced through the ranks, which Hsieh says will help protect the corporate culture and offer all employees a growth path

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 23, 2010 1:12 AM Michelle @ Appirio Michelle @ Appirio  says:

Like 401Ks and relationships, it's all about balance.  That's why the hiring process should include questions that not only test the candidate on the skills they need to do the job, but also the mindset they need to fit into the company's culture.  This is especially important in workplaces that are becoming ever more virtual.  For example, at Appirio, we want every candidate (even those that work from home) to have the opportunity to visit headquarters and meet members of the executive team personally.  We also ask all interviewers to rate candidates based on the company's three core values - to be sure those values are top of mind in the interview process.

Jul 8, 2010 3:11 AM Joe Joe  says: in response to Michelle @ Appirio

I have read a lot of articles on the virtual environment area.  We are trying to establis that at our work practice.  What type of background checks do you typically do?  Since the position is 100% virtual, do you count the experience higher then the degree or does the person require a degree as long as they can do the job.  How many years do you go back in your criminal background checks, is this something you do yourself or tasks such as credit history, degree verification, and criminal background check are outsourced to another vendor ?


Nov 1, 2010 6:55 AM Kanyakumari Sunrise and Sunset Kanyakumari Sunrise and Sunset  says: in response to Joe



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