How to Hire – Part 5 – Cultural Interview

Digging deep to assess fit.

Read How to Hire – Part 4 – Skills Interview.

In their previous interview, your candidate successfully demonstrated the necessary skills for the role. Great! The next stage is to assess if the candidate’s behaviour fits with your company’s culture.

Although it’s possible to involve only a small subset of staff in this stage, I think it’s essential that everyone in the company understands what it’s about.

What do we mean by cultural fit?

I like to think about cultural fit in terms of two simple formulas:

Culture = Collective Behaviour
Behaviour = Skills x Personality x Values

Your company culture is the sum of everyone’s behaviour.

Behaviour is how someone chooses to act. A person’s behaviour is the sum of their skills, personality and values.

Skills are the output of learning or experience and are what enables a person to perform a certain function. They’re measurable and can be developed.

Personality is a set of psychological and biological traits that influence how someone thinks and feels about things. You can’t control or change someone’s personality.

Values are what you believe is important. A person’s values can change over time, but ultimately you can’t train someone to believe in something they don’t.

With this in mind:

  • During the Skills Interview, you will assess a candidate’s skills.
  • During the Cultural Interview, you’ll seek to understand the candidate’s personality and values, and from there, assess if it’s a fit with your company’s culture.

Who runs the cultural interview?

Ideally this interview should be run by the Founder/CEO and the hiring manager. The former because they are ultimately responsible for the company’s culture, the latter because they will need to understand the candidate’s personality in order to manage them effectively.

Some companies involve staff from different teams and seniority levels into this stage. I get why – it encourages buy-in and gives the candidate a sense of the diversity within a company. But hiring is a financial and strategic task that you can’t delegate to just anyone. And interviewing (particularly concerning values and personality) should only be done by people who have the appropriate experience and skills.

You can always give the candidate an opportunity to meet other members of the team outside of interviewing.

Preparing for and running the Cultural Interview

Read How to Hire – Part 4 – Skills Interview if you haven’t already, because many of the steps and principles are the same:

  • Don’t wing it. This interview needs as much thought and structure as any interview.
  • Don’t go with your gut. You’re not looking to hire someone you like.
  • Don’t rush it. You need 20 minutes per value, and another 20 minutes to ask some personality profiling questions. That’s probably 1 to 2 hours in total.
  • Don’t go into pitch mode. Yes, I’m talking to you, founder, who might be meeting the candidate for the first time. You’ll sell by having a kick-ass process.
  • Design a Cultural Interview Toolkit. It will be the same format as the Skills Interview Toolkit, but with different questions.
  • Record what is said.
  • Observe the candidate – even more so than during the Skills Interview. This interview is about understanding how someone behaves.
  • Remember the point of the interview. You have to trust the manager has assessed their skills, and leave skills questions out of it.

Cultural Interview Toolkit

Similar to the Skills Interview, this stage needs an Interview Toolkit. But you don’t need one per role, just one for the company.

I’ve created a sample Cultural Interview Toolkit template you can base yours off. The principles behind creating your questions are the same, but the questions themselves will assess values instead of skills.

You also want to incorporate a few questions that help you understand someone’s personality.

Values questions

You need to design questions that get to the heart of the value.

Here’s an example:

I once contracted at a company where everyone was brutally honest, to the point of appearing rude. I personally didn’t believe in behaving that way, but employees seemed perfectly happy and the business was doing well. Everyone there (except me, obviously) shared that value.

Let’s assume one of their company values was: be brutally honest.

I could say:

Tell me about a time when you had to be brutally honest with someone.

It’s not a terrible question. If the candidate can’t give me an answer it suggests they don’t abide by this value. But if they do give me an answer, I won’t be able to tell whether it’s a core part of their DNA or just something that happened once.

These questions are more revealing:

  • Can you give me feedback on the last interview you had with us? What did we do well, and what should we have done differently?
  • What about <name of interviewer>, how would you critique his/her interview style?
    Can you critique my style to date?

They let me see exactly how comfortable they are being brutally honest.

I’d follow up with:

What’s been the hardest piece of feedback you’ve received to date? Can you describe how you reacted to it?

Now I get a sense of how they’ll respond to brutal honesty. I want to see what they define as “hardest” – are they more bothered by feedback they think is untrue, or feedback they know to be true? I’d then explore how much of their reaction is tamed versus natural – do they get upset but control it, or do they not get upset?

Similar to the Skills Interview, I’d throw in a scenario:

Your team mate delivers a presentation to the company. You know they’ve worked incredibly hard on it, but they’re very nervous and it shows. It’s obvious everyone is uncomfortable and that the presentation isn’t a success. They know it too, and are clearly upset afterwards. What do you do?

I would probe any response. If they tell me they’d comfort their colleague, I might challenge them by asking if that’s better than sitting down with them and giving tips on how to overcome their nerves? If they say they’d do that, I’d want to know when, and whether they think that might upset someone who already knows they stuffed up. I’m not trying to back the candidate into a corner or get them to change their answer – I’m seeing how they reinforce their response.

Personality profiling

Some companies conduct personality tests. I don’t think that’s necessary, and I don’t like the connotations of “test” – there is no right or wrong kind of personality. But your goal is to understand their personality and assess whether a combination of the candidate’s personality, skills and values will result in behaviour that’s in line with your culture.

Getting to know someone’s personality will also help you understand where they fit in among the wider team, and how you’d manage them.

A Google search will yield thousands of different types of questions that help distinguish personality types.

Here are some good examples:

  • How do you know if you’ve done a good job?
  • When presented with an idea, will you want time to reflect, or respond right away?
  • What makes you happy? What makes you angry?
  • Are you more comfortable with a lot of structure or a lot of freedom?

In answering these questions, the candidate will show how they think and feel, and what they need from a work environment. From there, you can begin to predict behaviour and assess if it’ll be in line with your company culture.


Three words of advice: probe, probe, probe. In Cultural Interviews the first answer is rarely the complete picture. Dig deeper and you’ll learn a lot more about the candidate. The easiest way is to ask follow-up questions such as “why was that?” and the psychiatrist’s favourite, “how did that make you feel?”, but there are smarter ways. Use empathy i.e. “I find when that happens to me, I get really angry, do you feel the same?”, or even just stay silent for a moment to prompt the candidate to continue.

When you probe, you learn the good and the bad about a person. It takes a while to break through someone’s “interview barrier” but once you do, you truly understand them. You see the superpower they’ll bring to the company, and how they’ll act when things are easy, hard, or somewhere in the middle.


Even if you know exactly how to articulate your company culture, it’s hard to build a process that defines cultural fit and determines whether a candidate falls into the yes or no bucket.

Your company culture – the real one, that employees experience on a day-to-day basis – is the sum of everyone’s behaviour. A person’s behaviour is the sum of their skills, personality and values.

You only need to develop one Toolkit for all cultural interviews, so long as you probe every answer thoroughly. Done right, a Cultural Interview will help you understand the candidate’s personality and values, and from there, assess how they fit with your company’s culture.

All that’s left to do after that is make an offer.

Read on to Part 6 – Offer

All parts:

Introduction, Part 1 – Job Description, Part 2 – Agent Briefing, Part 3 – Phone Screen, Part 4 – Skills Interview, Part 5 – Cultural Interview, Part 6 – Offer, Part 7 – References, Part 8 – Candidate Experience.

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