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Hiring for Fit

It’s important that your new hires fit into your organization’s culture. So the first step in hiring is to know your culture. Then interview candidates with that understanding in mind.

By Carol Barber

Every association has its own personality, commonly referred to as its “culture.” Some are buttoned-up and cautious by nature, others are free-wheeling and extroverted—with everything else in between. Individual departments often develop microcultures that distinguish their unique personality traits within an organization’s overall culture. That’s when you hear people say things like, “That’s our wild and crazy [insert function] department for you!”

How can you ensure new hires will fit your culture? Here are some tips to consider:

Start with a “fit” assessment. Create a questionnaire for your highest-performing employees across various functional areas. The questions should focus on how people feel about working at your association. These include:

  • In your opinion, what one word describes the culture here?
  • What’s the most common trait among our team members?
  • If this association were a car, what brand would it be, and why? (I’ve used this question in individual interviews and focus groups and can assure you that the answers will be interesting, enlightening, and entertaining.)
  • When someone asks you what it’s like to work here, what do you say?
  • What’s the single most important characteristic an employee needs to succeed here?

To encourage employees to be candid, inform them that their names will not be associated with their answers. I’ve found that workers are usually excited to participate in these kinds of surveys, especially if they understand how their input will be used to attract more great people.

Interview with “fit” in mind. If your assessment indicates that your best people feel strongly that the most important characteristic for success in your association is “passion,” how can such an abstract quality be evaluated in candidates?

Any characteristic can be verified by actions. It’s only a matter of determining what actions most closely align with the abstract nature of personality traits. 

The answer will be found in the interview questions you prepare. For example, “passion” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.” In coming up with questions, think about actions that would relate to that definition. For example, you might ask,  “Can you describe a time when your work made a difference in a member’s or coworker’s life?” or “What’s your proudest career accomplishment, and why?”

Passionate people will take time to think through their answers and will then tell a story from the heart with humility and credibility. You will actually feel their passion; it will be as indisputable as their credentials.

Essentially, any characteristic can be verified by actions. It’s only a matter of determining what actions most closely align with the abstract nature of personality traits.

Remember, the easy part of making great hires is evaluating a candidate’s education, experience, and hard skills. The more challenging part is determining “fit.” But with some preparation and patience, you can hire people who fit your association like a glove. 

Carol Barber has more than 30 years of experience in talent acquisition and serves as Association CareerHQ’s executive recruitment concierge. In this role, she helps associations attract and select new leaders. Email: [email protected]