10 culture fit interview questions—and what to look for in the answers

A stellar CV, glowing recommendations, and impressive experience are all very enticing, but when it comes to evaluating the long-term success of a future candidate, culture fit may be the most important thing a company can assess. Studies show that employees who share important qualities with the organization and their coworkers perform better at work and stay at their company longer. On top of that, employees who align with your company’s culture don't just make work more pleasant; they show greater ROI over time.

However, culture fit evaluations can invite bias into your process if interviewers see it as simply a way to assess a candidate’s likeability, rather than how they align with your company’s core values. Assessing culture fit is about much more than whether or not you’d like to hang out with someone at a company happy hour. Having a structured process and pre-vetted questions can help ensure your team is able to objectively assess culture fit and find the candidates that truly represent your values.

To help you evaluate culture fit, we've compiled 10 interview questions to work into your structured interview process along with follow-up questions you can use to continue the conversation.

Top Culture-Fit Interview Questions

Think of these questions as conversation starters. They are a springboard for a deeper discussion about how a candidate could potentially fit into the culture of your organization. This is your chance to convey the values of your company to the candidate and identify potential concerns or red flags about their fit.

1. Why do you want to work for our company?

Most candidates will probably be prepared to answer this common question. Nonetheless, it's a great starting point for assessing the candidate's knowledge and expectations of your company. Sofia Quintero, CEO of EnjoyHQ, advises that interviewers “focus on understanding the underlying motivations of the candidate. Ask what success looks like to them and how they see your company helping them achieve their personal goals.”

It's important to remember that there are no right or wrong answers to these questions, nor do you want candidates to just parrot talking points about your company. What you are looking for with this answer is self-awareness and a peek into the respondent's core motivations for seeking this role. It's a great sign if they can point out the ways they will fit in with or strengthen your organization.

Follow-up questions: Why are those attributes important to you? How do you see yourself fitting into our company?

2. How would you describe the culture at previous companies you’ve worked at?

Getting candidates to talk about their past experiences gives you insight into their views and opinions on company culture. It's a good jumping-off point to discuss how your company culture stacks up against a candidate's past experiences. Shrav Mehta from Pilot likes this question because finding out what the candidate liked and disliked about past companies “can yield some insight into what is valuable to the candidate.”

Their answer should illuminate the kind of cultural environment your candidate is used to working in, and their attitude about that environment. This can help you determine whether your company's structure and atmosphere align with the candidate's preferences.

Follow-up questions: Did you enjoy working in that company culture? What does a healthy work culture mean to you?

3. Tell me about a time you solved a problem at work. What was the issue, and how did you approach it?

Having a candidate recount anecdotes from their past can open a window into their decision-making process and their behavior at work. In this instance, you're asking them to illuminate their ability to problem-solve by providing real-life examples.

The actual problem they describe is unimportant; what matters is how they approached it and how that attitude aligns with your company's values. Some companies stress the importance of teamwork and asking for help, while other companies encourage independent troubleshooting and initiative. Make sure that your candidate can fulfill the job's responsibilities by using the resources available.

Follow-up questions: What do you wish you had done differently? What would you have done if (XYZ) resource wasn't available to you?

4. Tell me about a team project you did at work. What was the project, what was your role, and what was the outcome?

Instead of asking a leading question like, “Do you prefer working on a team?” ask them to describe a real-life example of their ability to be a team player.

The candidate's answer will show you a number of things. Did they like being part of a team? Do they blame others for failures or take responsibility? Do they say they did most of the work, or do they give credit to teammates? The answers to these questions can help you determine how they might fit in with your existing team and what kind of coworker they would be.

Follow-up questions: What do you think the team could have done differently to improve results? What role would you like to play if you were to repeat that same project with a new team?

5. How do you like to be managed?

Employees who thrive under their supervisor are able to do their best work, while those who struggle with their managers are more likely to underperform or leave the company. With this question, your goal isn't to determine the type of management style the candidate prefers; you're looking for self-awareness about their work preferences.

Does the candidate know what they want from management, and can they ask for it? Do they know how to manage themselves? Do they know what type of direction they best respond to? How flexible can they be? Most managers can accommodate workers with different preferences, but only if the employee can be vocal about what they need to thrive.

Follow-up questions: Tell me about a disagreement you had with your last manager. What was the issue, and how did you approach the situation?

6. What does your perfect workday look like? Take me through it.

This question is one of Sofia Quintero's favorites: “This normally helps me understand what they value on a daily basis. Do they value routine and structure? Are they more productive in specific conditions? It tells me a little bit about how they treat themselves and that, in my opinion, is a good measure of how they will treat others.”

A good answer to this question shows self-awareness and a level of professional maturity. Do they have a best practice for tackling email versus deep-concentration work? Do they protect their time from distractions? Do they know they need routine and build it, or do they know they need creative freedom and set the conditions for that themselves? It's also a good sign if they show a level of flexibility and an awareness that nobody has an ideal schedule every single day.

Follow-up questions: What gets you excited about coming to work? What would make you dread coming to work?

7. Provide an example of a time when you went out of your way to delight a customer.

If customer service is highly valued by your company, you can use this question to test your candidate's commitment to that value. You will learn far more by asking them to name an example of their customer service prowess than you will by simply asking if they believe in delighting customers.

Are they able to come up with a good example, and does it reflect well on them? If they can't come up with a good story, or their example of “going out of their way” is something your company expects as standard, they may not match your values. But if they have several great stories that show a commitment to customer service, then they may be a good match.

Follow-up questions: What did you enjoy most about this interaction? Can you name a time when you weren't able to make a customer happy?

8. Describe your preferred relationship with coworkers.

Some companies put a premium on fostering a friendly work atmosphere, such as scheduling happy hours or team-building activities, and are looking for employees that value this same environment. Other companies find this to be a less important part of the culture. No matter where you land on the spectrum, it's a good idea to gauge a candidate's expectations and attitudes toward coworker relationships.

Is your candidate all business, or do they treat coworkers like friends, and how do those views align with your workplace culture? If your employees are very social, then a candidate who yearns to cultivate deeper relationships with coworkers is a good fit. If your company prefers to keep relationships professional, then a party animal who loves community happy hour may not fit in.

Follow-up: Talk about a time you had a conflict with a coworker and how you resolved it.

9. How do you maintain a work-life balance?

Work-life balance is something that most people struggle to achieve. This question is particularly good for remote workers, where the work-life distinction can often be less clear. The goal is to get candidates to illuminate the relationship that work plays in their overall life and to get a view of their priorities.

With their answer to this question, you can examine the candidate's attitudes toward time management and personal boundaries. You're also evaluating if their values align with those of your company. Again, Sofia Quintero says that it's important to “be clear about the expectations for the role. People need to know what they are getting into.”

Follow-up questions: Do you have set hours that you can be reached? What would you do if there was an emergency outside work hours?

10. Aside from work, what are you passionate about?

Job interviews can be very dry and scripted, but people are not. This open-ended question gives you a chance to get your candidate “off script” and talking about something other than the position and their work experience. The hope is that you will get a glimpse of their personality.

It doesn't matter what they are passionate about, as long as they are passionate about something. You are looking at their general well-roundedness and their ability to talk about something other than their job.

Follow-up questions: What's the last book you read? What's something you recently learned?

Strive for culture add

While culture fit is important, your goal shouldn't be to keep hiring the same type of person over and over. There is strength in diversity. You want people who will fit in and flourish at your company while, at the same time, challenging the outlook and ideas of your employees. Shrav Mehta has this advice: “Don't think about culture as hiring for people that are like you. It doesn't create a diverse and inclusive environment at your company. It's something that most companies often get wrong.”

Instead of concentrating solely on fit, many companies are starting to hire with an eye toward cultural add. Pick employees who challenge your thinking and help enrich your company culture. Think about the direction you want your company to go, and hire people who will help you get there. That way, you can build a flourishing and diverse business, instead of an echo chamber.

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