Can You Answer These 4 Company Culture Questions Crucial to Hiring?


By Wayne Rivers, Family Business Institute

Robert Half is an international employment and placement agency which recently produced a report with some eye-opening statistics. 35% to 40% of potential employers said they wouldn't accept a perfect candidate if they didn't feel like he/she was a good cultural fit. In addition, about 90% of them said that fit with their culture was greater than or equal to the skills that a candidate possessed on his or her resume. For what reason, might you guess, have employers begun to focus more on culture?

That’s right; it’s a reaction to the demands of prospective hires. Today’s candidates want more than just a job and a paycheck. They’re looking for companies that share their individual values and will allow them to flower as human beings as they go about building their careers.

While it might not be intuitive to the typical hard-driving contractor, studies show that employees who identify with and buy into your culture are employees who thrive. A job candidate applied at The Family Business Institute, and, as a part of her first interview, she asked me a question for which I was totally unprepared: “What is your leadership style?”

I almost fell out of my chair! I fumbled about for a response and didn’t even begin to answer her question. It was an embarrassing and telling moment.

Now, we have clearly defined our culture and my leadership style, and I'm now able to form a reasonably coherent reply. You should avoid the humiliation I suffered and do the same! Culture is a driver for jobseekers today, and having a well-defined and developed culture can be a key strategic differentiator for getting the very best people on your team.

Since you can expect talented, progressive applicants to be most interested in the culture they may be entering, here are a few questions you might expect:

  1. How would you describe your company culture?
  2. How long have you been with the company, and why have you stayed as long as you have?
  3. What's the one thing you wish you'd known before you started working here?
  4. How does the company show that it's interested in helping people build careers? 

These are all valid questions and ones you should be prepared to answer. As the new candidate does a “sales job” on you to earn the position, part of your evaluation must be whether that individual is a good cultural fit. Defining your culture formally makes this a much easier task. 

Employees report that, in order to be happy and fulfilled on the job, they want a few basic things in their work environments:

  • Work/life balance
  • A collaborative work environment
  • A flat structure and participation
  • A clear role and responsibilities
  • Organizational transparency

Hiring and retaining talented candidates depends on being able to deliver these things and deliver them well, and they’re all components of your culture.

Every contractor irrespective of size has a culture. The vast majority have a default culture; it is whatever it is because it's evolved that way without any focused effort on the part of its owners or employees. A culture of success demands creating a culture by design, by actually engineering the culture that you desire. 

In his book The Culture of Success, Steven J. Anderson defines culture as follows: "Your culture is a combination of beliefs, values, attitudes, and resulting behaviors in an organization. It manifests itself in the group’s behavior and communication habits." Later he defines culture in a simpler, more resonant way: "Culture is how we treat each other in our shared journey."

Now that we have a working definition of culture, how do you go about discovering yours? Here is a very simple exercise. Send an email to your employees – you want feedback from the entire organization, not just the few at the very top – and ask them to toss out a few adjectives that they think/feel describe your company accurately. From that point, it’s fairly easy to cluster similar responses together (keep the troops involved so this doesn’t become a top down, CEO-driven exercise). Your goal should be to end up with five to ten adjectives that paint a picture of your company’s unique culture. That’s your first definition.

If you're not investing time, energy, and money in understanding and actively building your culture, you must keep in mind that other contractors, the ones with whom you compete for talented employees, are doing just that. Today’s job candidates are supremely interested in your company culture, and those that have an engaging, well-defined culture possess a tremendous strategic differentiator.