Over the past 12 months or so, I’ve noticed a growing trend with candidates taking a more active role in the interview process. The interview as we know it is gone, with candidates no longer simply responding to behavioural questions and providing examples of previous employment experience to the satisfaction of the interviewer. Candidates are now asking the questions too and are seeking more information about the prospective role, the company, the people and the cultural environment. This is reshaping the way the process can play out, often with an initial chat occurring before the first interview is even planned. What this means is organisations need to be more fluid in their recruitment timeframes to allow each party to properly figure compatibility and culture fit – from both sides.

In a candidate-short market there is so much pressure for the recruitment consultant to present the most attractive offer. But if we follow traditional interview methods, we are finding there is limited time to fully engage with a candidate and provide them with cultural insight while at the same time determining cultural alignment. Rush through the interview process and you may find yourself regretting your decision. When you consider the investment of time and resources to identify, hire and train a new employee, culture fit is something you should get right from the start. An hour Q&A session isn’t going to cut it anymore.

I liken an employment agreement to a commercial marriage. Treat interviewing as a dating process where both sides learn more about the other. Despite what popular reality television might lead us to believe, you don’t usually get married at first sight. You want certainty the candidate will deliver their KPIs and go that extra mile by positively influencing your business. On the flip side, candidates want to understand the culture they are joining before they take the plunge into a new role. I often talk to my clients about getting two key things straight before you first meet with a potential candidate:

  1. Allow more time and really think about the attributes you are looking for in your new hire so you can recognise behaviours when you see them.
  2. Be prepared for questions and be ready to explain what your culture’s like, how the organisational structure works, what the leadership style is like and what your expectations of employees are.

One of our clients is a CEO of a private company who was recently looking to hire a divisional manager having P&L responsibility for a $350 million business critical to the overall group operations. We worked with the client and the preferred candidate through seven separate meetings prior to an employment contract being signed. They both recognised the opportunity and the risk to both parties. The client provided the candidate with opportunities to learn about their business, introduced them to key stakeholders, watched how they handled stress and observed some of their behavioural traits. Each interaction further reinforced this was the right person for the role and the right culture fit for their organisation. Likewise, the candidate was reassured they would have the opportunity to excel in an environment they were given insight into prior to joining. The result was a positive hire and a smooth transition into the role.

So now you know you need to be prepared for discussions with your candidates in relation to the culture within your organisation, how should you tackle this new approach?

  • Be open and honest throughout the process.
  • Be prepared to spend a little more time at the start to set yourself up for a successful employment outcome that will enhance your business.
  • Hold several meetings with the potential candidate in different settings.
  • Look for repeating patterns of behaviour, watch out for what makes them stress, how they handle that stress and how they conduct themselves.
  • Let the candidate see how you interact with other employees and the way employees engage with you.
  • Explain what’s positive about your leadership style, and what you are working on to empower your employees to achieve their personal goals.
  • Place the candidate in scenarios where they talk to other people who work for you – this could be at lunch or over a coffee.

By taking the time to really get to know a candidate, you reduce the risk of hiring a person incompatible with your business who is the wrong culture fit. You also give the candidate the chance to understand your working environment so there are no surprises and they join the organisation excited about the opportunities. Following these steps will ultimately provide you with a greater insight to how the candidate is rounded and give you confidence they will be someone who will become an ambassador for your business rather than just an employee.

Happy recruiting!

Ian Hamilton