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How Can You Tell If a Potential Employee is a Good Cultural Fit?

written by: Mike Sweeney•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/15/2011

Hiring the right person for a job is generally pretty tough to do. There are usually many candidates with varied backgrounds. Ensuring a perfect cultural fit into your company culture can be even more difficult. Too often, this factor is overlooked when screening and interviewing applicants.

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    Identify Your Culture

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    The first step in determining whether a potential employee is a good fit is to have a good understanding what the existing company culture is and how it is perceived by others. If you could clearly state your company culture in a sentence or two, what would it be?

    For example, when you think of Southwest Airlines and their company culture, what would it be to you as a traveler? Southwest is well-known in the travel industry as a fun, outgoing company that is a bit irreverent. If you’ve flown them in the past, you know what that means. However, their primary focus is still on servicing the customer and making the customer’s interaction with them as enjoyable and memorable as it can be.

    Along the same lines is the Disney organization. Even though they are in a completely different industry, the focus is still on providing customers with an enjoyable and memorable experience. Because each of these companies knows their own company culture, it becomes much easier during the job applicant process to identify prospective employees that will fit within their existing company culture.

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    Look for a Company Culture Track Record

    Now that you have identified your company culture, you will want to look for candidates who have been immersed in similar types of company cultures. Being immersed in a similar culture can often be more valuable than finding a person from the same industry. Here’s what I mean.

    Let’s use Southwest as an example. Instead of looking for a track record with another airline, who may or may not have the same culture as Southwest (most likely not), you look for candidates in the restaurant, retail or entertainment industry who interact with a lot of customers, and the company they work for is known as providing exceptional customer service (Nordstrom's, Disney). It’s not an absolute guarantee, but you will increase your chances of finding a good fit culturally. You can apply this same type of thinking to your business as well.

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    Identify Specific Traits

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    Identifying specific traits and characteristics in advance will help in narrowing down your final interviewing of candidates to those people who have the best chance of fitting into your culture. Combine these traits with the company culture track record and you should have a pretty strong list of potential candidates to be interviewed. These pre-interviewing techniques help immensely in interviewing only the most likely to succeed in your organization. It’s also a real time-saver.

    Sometimes you can even identify job positions and their characteristics in other companies that are similar enough to the ones you are hiring for. You did something close to this when clarifying the company culture track record.

    For example, if you are looking for an organized general manager who is outgoing and works well with customers in a fast-paced environment, then identifying those traits in other job positions would make sense. In this case, a general manager in a large restaurant chain (TGI Fridays, Red Lobster, etc.) might be a good fit even though you are not in the restaurant business. The same could be said about a manager in a retail environment like Macy's or Nordstrom’s. In both these cases, you are more interested in the company culture the candidate is currently working in and traits she uses on the job.

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    Ask Company Culture Questions

    Now that we have the company culture defined, the track record and traits identified, the next part of the equation is to plan specific interviewing questions that will help uncover how the candidate reacts and handles specific work-related situations . This is one of the best ways to know in advance of hiring a candidate whether he or she is a good cultural fit for your company. Past behaviors in similar situations are generally a pretty reliable indicator of how the person will perform in the near future at your company. It’s not always accurate, but it can give you a pretty good understanding of a person’s behavior. And that’s what you are looking for. If everything points to being a good cultural fit, then most likely, the new hire will fulfill that need.

    The questions you ask can be varied. However, once you develop your questions, ask the same ones of each candidate for comparative purposes. Since your goal is ensuring a perfect cultural fit, some of the questions you create as part of your overall interview should focus on that particular factor. Make sure you get good examples with clear explanations of how the candidate handles certain work-related situations. If necessary, you could always have the candidate spend a day at the business to see if they are a good fit before a final job offer is made.

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    Pellet, Liz, SHRM (2009) – Excerpt from “Cultural Fit Factor: Creating an Employment Brand That Attracts, Retains and Repels the Right Employees” retrieved at

    O’Neill, Martin (May 25 2011) – Training Magazine – “An Entrepreneurial Hiring Process” retrieved at

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