A Step-by-Step Guide to Hiring for Cultural Fit

Posted by Julie • January 21, 2016 (Last modified July 29, 2018) • 7 min read

We love bringing new people on board at Trakstar. But, like you, we worry. Will we choose the right person? Will he/she fit in with the team?

Hiring for cultural fit is a really big deal at Trakstar. I might even say it’s the biggest deal! We can teach everything else.

We’ve refined our process and people often ask how we do it, so read more for our outline.

First Pass

First, we convene a hiring committee of two to three people. Any more than that, it’s hard to manage internally. One person always comes from the department in which the person will work. Another person must be a member of the leadership team. And the third person varies depending on the situation.

Next, we create a clear job description based on what job duties and the skill set we believe will be required. Then, we post the description on Indeed.com, Craigslist, or other online sites. Additionally, our internal team might share the job description with friends and contacts they know. (We’ve had great success through referrals, but not all of our hires have been referred.)

Last, we create an internal, shared Google Sheet that looks like this.

hire blog

Notice each column – names.  Each member of the committee gets a vote on potential candidates. In order to move forward in the process, two of three must agree. If there are only two people, both must agree.

Once resumes start coming in, each committee member looks at the resume for these things:

  • A cover letter that responds to our specific job opportunity – not a letter of general interest that could apply to every job available on the internet.
  • Clearly organized text. Must be easy to read with enough white space.
  • Succinct, short descriptions of prior experience.
  • Last 10 years of experience is the most relevant. We’re not looking into someone’s deep past.
  • Lack of experience? Depending on the position, that might *not* eliminate a candidate, as long as the applicant can meaningfully connect something they’ve done to their potential future with the job we’ve posted.
  • A mission statement, related to the job we’re offering (again, not a general statement that could apply to every job available on the internet)
  • Correct spelling. Good grammar.
  • Longevity. (Change jobs every year? It won’t eliminate an applicant, but it raises flags.)

If two-thirds of the committee agree that the resume looks like a match, the applicant moves forward in the process.

Second Pass

Once the applicant has made it through the first pass, we send three questions to the applicant by email. The questions are general, work-related, and help us learn a bit more about the candidate. Here are our three questions:

  1. What has been your biggest success and your biggest failure? What were your distinct contributions to each?
  2. What kind of work do you enjoy? What kind of work do you avoid?
  3. Think of three people you have worked with closely: the first person has the best impression of you, the second the worst, and the third the most balanced. Please describe each person briefly and explain why they formed their impression. What would the most balanced person say are your strengths and weaknesses?

We’re looking for appropriate, work-related responses. We’ve received all kinds, but we’re looking for two specific things.

  1. The candidate’s ability to connect an appropriate, work related story to each response. Stories that eliminated candidates? Ones that were too personal, too blame-ridden, too long, or stories that don’t answer the question. A candidate’s responses help us determine his/her ability to be socially appropriate – with us and with customers.
  2. A timely response. It’s surprising how many candidates fail to respond to our questions at all.

After receiving the written responses, we go through another round of two-thirds. Two out of three on the hiring team must agree upon the candidate’s responses in order to move to the third pass. If there are only two people on the hiring committee, both must agree.

It’s important to know: our internal team does not share our reasons for eliminating a candidate with others. If we did, we’d be sharing our biases publicly and influencing other team members. We do, however, share the things we liked about various candidates with one another.

We try to narrow the field down to five to seven candidates at this point.

Third Pass

A phone call with one member of the hiring team. Here, we check expectations. We learn about a candidate’s timeline and a general salary range. We’re not negotiating salary or start date on this call – just making sure that we agree within a month on start date and a salary range of plus/minus $10k.

If things look good, we schedule a live interview with the candidate. We share the format of the interview, how things typically go, and even some of the questions we plan to ask. We specifically tell each candidate what impressed us about their resume and their written responses. We want them to feel confident and succeed in the interview! We’re trying to reduce interview anxiety so we can get to know the candidate in (as much as possible) a normal situation. We also let the candidate know who will participate in the interview so they can prepare.

We like to interview a minimum of four candidates.

Fourth Pass

Live interview. We either interview in person or use a conference/video call format. If we use video, we’ve let the candidate know in advance. (Video can be a new format for some. If a candidate hesitates, we’re open to a phone call instead.) Once on the call, we ask the candidates the questions we’ve already shared in advance. Each member of the hiring committee takes notes on the responses so that we can remember each person and what impressed us the most.

After each interview has been conducted, we bring the hiring team together to discuss the strengths of each candidate. By this stage, we commonly find we’re in agreement about a lot of things – and we usually have a tough choice in front of us. We reduce the candidate pool internally, but we don’t send rejection letters yet (unless there was something unacceptable that was said or that happened during the interview, in which case, we send a polite note and end the process for that individual).

Why don’t we let candidates know if they’ve been internally eliminated at this point? Sometimes we tease out qualities we may not have noticed at first glance, and we come back to a candidate for reasons that may/may not reveal themselves until later.

Reference Check

We always call references.

Final Pass

In-person, office visit. We like to bring candidates in to meet the whole team as the last step. After all of this, one might think it’s a foregone conclusion that the candidate will make a match. Not so! We can think of at least two times that the in-person visit eliminated a candidate. But, more commonly, we find that our process has worked.

What we are looking during the in-person visit:

  • Nerves and a bit of social awkwardness are okay – meeting new people is hard!
  • We’re not looking for a witty or chatty personality necessarily, so no social pressure from that standpoint.
  • We’re looking for normal, socially acceptable behaviors.
  • Manners – please, thank you, nice to meet you.

Icing on the cake:
Once the in-person visit concludes, we LOVE to get an email from the candidate expressing interest in the job.

Leadership Call

After all of this, someone from the leadership team makes a final confirmation of the hire by way of phone call. Sometimes this call includes follow-up questions around anything that remains, or directly asks about the candidate’s interest.

Job Offer

We make a job offer that day or the following day if the candidate has made a match. For Pete’s sake, we’ve gone through a lot and so has the candidate.

Then, we cross our fingers the candidate accepts. The candidate may have no idea how many hurdles we’ve all crossed together already. We’re excited and hopeful.

How long does this process take? Usually 4-6 weeks. We move as quickly as possible and keep candidates informed along the way with updates so they know what to expect.

We’ve found that these hiring steps help us find personalities that fit well in our culture!

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