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Ditch the 'Beer Test' and Start Hiring for Culture Add

A group of people drinking beer in a bar.

NEW YORK CITY—Hiring candidates that simply fit into your workplace culture can be insufficient for organizations that want to start innovating, said Alex Moore, director of talent acquisition at management consulting and IT services firm Credera.

 "Culture adds seed a resilient culture by challenging groupthink that can come from just hiring for fit," Moore said at the recent Greenhouse OPEN conference for recruiting professionals. "Culture adds have the will and skill to think differently, so proactively infusing them into the culture is vital for growth. If you want your company to continue to grow and evolve, your culture must grow and evolve along with it." 

Moore advocated that every company should have a culture-add assessment as part of their interview process. But, this type of interview can be one of the hardest to get right, she added.  "Although you may know your company's culture like the back of your hand, it is difficult to determine objective cultural assessment criteria to be used in the interview process, which leads to subjective, bias-driven candidate analysis."

Typical culture-fit questions like "What books do you like to read?" and "Tell me what integrity means to you," are too subjective and driven by the interviewer's gut feeling: Asking yourself "Would I want to have a beer with this person?" is "focused on likeability and cannot help you determine if a candidate can truly be successful at your company," Moore said.

Apart from these thin questions, "there is rarely an objective interview methodology in place to evaluate a candidate's true cultural alignment," she said. "Without a methodology for assessment, common unconscious biases like anchoring bias [relying too heavily on initial information] or confirmation bias [looking to confirm previous beliefs] can lead the interviewer to make decisions based on too little information or based on a subjective assessment of the candidate."

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Structured Interviewing for Culture Add

Interviewing for culture add means that recruiters and hiring managers need to understand structured interviewing. "Structured interviewing begins with defining the ideal candidate before you even begin recruiting for the role," Moore said. "With this method, recruiting teams partner with their hiring managers to identify the qualifications, values and traits necessary to reach the business objectives of the job."   

Amy Giangregorio, senior customer success manager at recruiting software company Greenhouse, added that scorecards are a good way  to collect all of the skills, qualifications and attributes that a candidate would need to possess. "For culture-add interviews, create a category for culture-add attributes," she said. "These are all of those core values and traits that you determine to be key from your culture-add analysis." She noted that each organization will need to determine where culture-add interviews make the most sense.

Once the ideal candidate is defined, the hiring team establishes a standardized interviewing process that evaluates the candidate on the explicit qualifications and traits that will make the candidate successful in his or her role.

Interviewers will need to identify behaviors that affirm whether someone possesses each requisite value or trait. "While analyzing behaviors associated with people who demonstrate grit, we found that they hold steadfast in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success," Moore said. "We also found that they complete what they start, they are conscientious, but specifically achievement-oriented in the way they prioritize and complete work and they have the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties."

Next, behavioral questions must be created that prompt a candidate to share a specific example of a behavior from a previous experience. In asking about possessing grit, Moore said she might ask "How do you keep a positive attitude during challenging situations?"

She recommended crafting two questions per trait "in case you need to dive deeper or see past a possible canned answer," and coming up with different questions for traits that vary per level of experience.

Employers will need to establish a framework for "good" or "great" answers to each question to ensure consistent and fair candidate evaluation and to eliminate bias, Moore said.

She added that great responses to the question about grit might contain:

  • Reasons why candidates do not give up easily.
  • Past experiences that taught them how to overcome adversity.
  • Short-term, measurable goals that build to a long-term goal.
  • Willpower to see commitments through.
  • Motivation to accomplish their objectives.

Measuring Success

Credera implemented the culture add interview in July 2017. Since then, the company has made 90 job offers, with only two of the candidates who received offers not passing the culture-add interview. "This interview is extremely effective and helps us only put top candidates in front of our leaders who conduct final interviews," she said. "In the next six to 12 months, we look forward to taking our analysis deeper so we can start assessing how candidates perform once they're hired compared to their interview results."

Moore stressed how important it is to make sure interviewers are properly trained to conduct the structured culture-add interview if a company decides to try it. "We created a 30-minute training that we did live, and we recorded, so that all future culture-add interviewers are equipped for this interview."

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