Hiring to strengthen company culture

David Zamudio

You don’t just hire people to do a job, you hire them to strengthen a culture.


Hiring great talent these days is a daunting task. Interviewees on their best behavior, equipped with their arsenal of stock phraseology, canned responses, even contrived body language. By the end of most interviews, the chance of actually knowing the individual underneath all the strategic veneer is slim to none.

And if you don’t know who they really are, you’ll run the risk of installing them into a culture only to weaken a team and all but guarantee short-term tenure after a great deal of onboarding expense. This makes the interview process vital to get the right person who will fit into and even improve the culture you’ve worked hard to build.

For starters, there is one major opportunity you have in the interviewing process that few practice: don’t look at the candidate as a means to your end. That will be flushed out naturally in the process. Analyze yourself as to whether or not you and your company are a means to their end. If you can facilitate a position that meets a person’s career vision because you took the time to find out what their goals are, it shows you care, it shows you are smart, and it creates a space for the candidate to “get real” with you about their life. It’s a selfless paradigm to look at hires from the perspective of, “If I serve them and ensure the hire is good for their life, I can’t lose.” This is not to say that they run the interview, you do. The difference is that you’re in control from a perspective that’s virtually failsafe as you get to know people at a whole different level by shattering any façades.

Next is to realize that you are hiring people on behalf of your employees… you know, the ones that may get stuck with your bad hire. Take close inventory to see if the candidate will work well with their direct reports, and direct subordinates. Once you think there is a good fit, let their future co-workers interview them as well. Hires will either enhance or hurt your corporate culture based not just on their ability, but how well they will work with others in their department.

The interview process isn’t supposed to be a walk in the park, and if it is to be, make sure it’s Central Park, New Year’s Eve at 2am; make it a gauntlet. After you’re clear about their vision, and you believe the company can meet their goals, refrain from going into selling them on the company first, no matter how good the prospect. Why waste time and energy enlightening a candidate, before you’re clear they might be a fit for the job? Say nothing about the company except a brief overview and move on to allowing them to sell you on why you should hire them.

Here are a few key practices to consider.

  1. For starters, ask tough questions, rapid fire. Turn up the heat by asking them how they would handle specific situations as it relates to their job.


  1. Throw in a curve ball question like “What angers you in the workplace?” “What do you need from us to become successful and why?” “What’s your favorite movie and why?” Not that their favorite movie has squat to do with ability. But it has everything to do with how they will handle surprise conversations… a normal part of any job.


  1. Find out their vision in life. Again, not relevant to skill, but very relevant to motivation, passion, focus, planning skills, and more.


  1. Add in lots of “What would you do if…?” questions, followed by “Why?” The “why” will tell you how they think and reason… and let silence reign for a moment, and see how they fill the space.


  1. Plan to have someone come in during the interview with a with a few surprise pre-planned questions. This allows you to see how they interact with a stranger as it relates to the job and how they handle a sudden business situation.


  1. If they’re a contender, introduce them to 2 or more people in the office. Then check first impressions and get feedback from the others. Always prepare the people in your company in advance with questions to ask.


  1. As you narrow the field, bring candidates in to be interviewed by a group and again turn up the heat knowing that you are doing the candidate a service by being tough. We have found that the more people in the room, the better the result.


When it comes time to share about the company as it relates to their job, share the weaknesses of the company as well as the strengths and ask the candidate how they feel about the weaknesses. Every company has weaknesses. Get them thinking with their ideas and get input to see how they think and feel about what’s “real” in the company. Share a bit about yourself. Your wins, losses, etc. Show a little vulnerability so you can see how they handle an authentic conversation. The more real you get, the quicker you’ll discover whether there’s a human in front of you… or a robot.

I know it’s assumed, but check the candidate’s references, especially for sales positions. If they’re in the running and you check the 3 standard references, ask for 3 more just to see how they respond and check them if you think it’s necessary. Also, don’t let a candidate use personal references if they’ve been in the business world a while. It’s a red flag if all they have are personal references or friends they bribe for a few kind, but unqualified words.

Generally, you’ll know enough after the first interview whether to continue the process.

If you believe they are in the running, give them a decent volume of homework to do such as reading an article or case study and giving feedback, taking the StrengthFinders test, or other relevant tasks, and give them a specific completion time so you can see if they deliver on time and how well they perform. If you decide to proceed, put them to task at the next meeting so they’ll have to perform at some level, and make the bar high.

You would think that these aggressive tactics might offend or annoy, and they might. But the goal of the interview process is to create a lab environment that is equivalent to the job itself, and then some. It’s only then you’ll be able to see the realities of what is to come. More work on the front end will save everyone’s “tail end.”

We know that if we make a bad hire, we have done a tremendous disservice to someone who could have missed a great opportunity because of our complacent hiring practices. So we’re willing to make the interview challenging for the good of something greater. It’s not about hiring. It’s about stewarding over someone’s life in a way that ensures their success from day one, and in turn becomes a great addition to the culture of the company. And if the interview process doesn’t go well for the candidate, always make sure the candidate is valued, respected, and even referred to another firm if you see a fit.


Hiring to strengthen company culture Dave zamudio web 01 212x300
David Zamudio, Vice President of Human Resources