Let candidates self-select: Cameron Taylor knows his workplace isn’t for everyone. It’s a high-standards, high-rewards culture, and over the years, the CEO of BOATsmart!, a Peterborough, Ont.-based marine-safety certification firm, has made some bad hires. So Taylor decided to explain at the outset what potential newcomers should expect.

Job descriptions now include a detailed writeup about what it’s like to work at the firm (it’s a best-in-class-or-bust kind of place), including a description of the type of employees who thrive there. Candidates also receive the firm’s “brand book,” a marketing tool that outlines its history and future plans. Several prospective employees have withdrawn applications after getting this in-depth preparation.

Discouraging? Not at all, says Taylor: “To me, that indicates we’re on the right track. There’s a critical balance between ‘selling’ a job and being upfront about what it involves. Why hide anything?”

Mind the small stuff: A candidate’s comments—even offhand remarks—during recruitment can tell you a lot about how they might fit in. Take Vancouver-based retailer Spa Boutique Ltd., which boasts a culture firmly rooted in family values. “People we hire tend to speak highly of their family, or make reference to them in the interview,” says CEO Nancy Mudford.

At BBD, the culture encourages self-starters, so interviewers ask such questions as “How lucky do you consider yourself to be?” The answers reveal “whether [the candidates] have the philosophy that things happen to them, or they’re the type to drive things themselves,” says Macey.

Embrace groupthink: Recently, Edmonton-based systems integrator DevFacto Technologies Inc. had to choose between two equally qualified candidates for a project manager position. DevFacto is one of many firms that use group interviews to assess a prospect’s culture fit. “We literally grab whoever is available to spend a half-hour in an interview,” says CEO Chris Izquierdo. Afterwards, every participant gives a thumbs up or down on whether the interviewee is a fit. A single thumbs down can disqualify a candidate. “[Interviewers] have to justify it,” Izquierdo says. “But we take it seriously.” DevFacto’s new project manager ended up being the one who won over his future colleagues.

A few times, Izquierdo overrode a staff veto and hired someone anyway. No more: in every such case, the hire didn’t work out.

Sheridan recommends having group-interview participants meet beforehand to prepare a list of “non-negotiable” traits that would disqualify a candidate. This may seem petty or arbitrary, but someone who annoys your staff in an interview will do so on the job, too. And when the group interview is over, debrief as a group, at least by phone, says Parker, as different staffers may see different qualities in the person.

Beware the culture vulture: The candidate wows her future co-workers. She’s got heaps of enthusiasm. She has already signed up for the staff softball team. But that won’t do you any good if she can’t do the work. These “culture vultures” prove why you should never hire for culture fit alone.
It happened at BBD—amazing culture fits later dismissed because they couldn’t handle the job’s demands. “When someone’s a real go-getter and has a great attitude, they’ll give you all the answers you want to hear,” says Macey. “But we’re a business. You need certain technical skills to be here, and we have expectations about how you perform them.”

It’s easy to err when hiring for culture fit. But if you can institute a rigorous process, it’s worth it. “When you get it right,” says Duce, “you see the difference from Day One.”

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