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How to Evaluate Cultural Fit During Interviews

by Caitlin Trent


In order to build a strong internal dynamic among employees, a company must hire team members who share a set of values and beliefs in alignment with the brand. Hiring for company culture fit may mean the success or failure of new hires..and, by extension, business objectives. 

Even if they have the required skills, candidates will need to adapt to a new environment and norms in which they work.  However, assessing fit for company culture during a hiring process isn’t as straightforward as asking about years of experience or degrees held. Hiring teams need a strong strategy for defining company culture and assessing that fit in prospects.

Cultivate a Work Culture that Challenges Implicit Biases

The first step for building an assessment strategy for cultural fit on a team is to replace traditional ‘professionalism’ metrics with a clearly defined work culture for the company. Company culture should be differentiated from harmful societal norms that are the result of inequality, such as white supremacy and sexism. 

The term “professionalism” has been used as the gold standard for business work culture and is often synonymous with Western, white, male and straight. As researchers for Answer Lab explain, “Standards of professionalism were built by white men, for white men, and create a culture of perfection, conformity, and homogeneity.” 

The lesson is to be wary of what a business is defining as “professional” in their work culture, versus what is truly unique to the workplace environment. The Stanford Social Innovation Review offers, “Professionalism has become coded language for white favoritism in workplace practices that more often than not privilege the values of white and Western employees and leave behind people of color.”  Companies must challenge the assumptions of their company culture and make sure they are truly about the workplace, not just replicating oppressive standards. Doing this enables hiring teams to more effectively make a cultural evaluation during the pre-screening process.

Hiring teams must understand what types of metrics are white supremacist, patriarchal norms so they can instead hire from the lens of anti-oppressive diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices alongside genuine company culture. Making these distinctions allows a team to hire with DEI in mind, rather masking inequitable norms in hiring standards as “work culture fit.”  Hiring someone who is different from the company’s predominant demographic should be encouraged; diversity without tokenization can strengthen a company, and this must start at the when defining workplace culture. 

Identifying inequitable, oppressive practices can be a challenge when these systemic inequities are cemented in an organizational structure. Thus, companies must be intentional about this aspect of defining work culture.  Organizers and academics, Tema Okun and Keith Jones, define white supremacist work culture as “the belief that traditional standards and values are objective and unbiased; the emphasis on a sense of urgency and quantity over quality, which can be summarized by the phrase “the ends justify the means”; perfectionism that leaves little room for mistakes; and binary thinking.” 

Here are some guidelines to broaden a company's understanding of “professionalism” and ensure the work culture is not being defined or assessed by institutionalized and social inequities. Once a company has created an anti-oppressive cultural metric, it becomes easier to clarify the unique internal experience and expectations for new hires.

Define a Clear Work Culture

The Society for Human Rights Management defines work culture as “shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding. Organizational culture sets the context for everything an enterprise does.” While this organization suggests a hierarchical way of defining a unique work culture, this can happen in several different ways, including from the bottom up in a company structure. This depends on the workplace, but this should all be transparently expressed in employee and hiring documentation, onboarding practices, and interviews. 

A company can collaboratively create defined values and beliefs that ripple into employee, structural, and customer relationships.  This can include how employees interact with each other or clients, how a business defines successes and failures, and the sense of urgency or conflict resolution practices within the company.  The Management Study Guide has a list of healthy work culture characteristics to help a company know its moving in a positive direction with its beliefs and values. 

Assessing Work Culture Fit for Candidates

Once a work culture is more defined, a business can apply a culture evaluation in its hiring metrics. Incorporating culture fit in the hiring process allows both the candidate and business to understand if a particular role and company relationship will be mutually beneficial. It will decrease employee turnover since candidates will be happier with their workplace environment and know what to expect from the beginning.

Assessing the cultural fit of a candidate should happen towards the end of a hiring process with finalists for a position.  If the business is genuine about hiring for a good cultural fit, it may require vulnerability on the company’s part, allowing a candidate to ask about a company’s internal environment to understand if the dynamic works well both ways. Prioritizing transparency and a focus on equitable relationships can help set the tone for this.

Ask the Right Questions

Not only does the company need to ask the right questions during the interview, they need to know what they are looking for ahead of time in the responses.  Is honesty and integrity what a company is looking for over ambition? Pull from the work culture and team insights to cultivate questions, and ideal answers, for candidates in the hiring process. Interviews should include questions that have nothing to do with qualifications. Questions that can better assess cultural fit include: 

  • Ask candidates to describe their ideal work environment, and what their worst case scenario work environment entails.  Similar questions should be asked of their preferred management styles.  Assess if their answer matches up the company’s culture, or if their nightmare describes the workplace they are interviewing for.
  • Ask a surprising question-- adding fractions, what to do if they were given an elephant etc--this will help interviewers understand how a candidate deals with something unexpected and may reveal more about their personality that won’t be gleaned from standard job interview questions that they are expecting and they have prepared for.
  • Ask about a specific scenario that the company knows it wants to avoid, or knows how it wants an employee to handle conflicts.  Setting up challenging scenarios that are detailed and specific will help a company understand how a candidate navigates a particular framework and their own self-awareness. 
  • Ask about freetime and passions.  This will help a business understand the whole person, what is important to them and their values outside of work. 


At the end of the day, work culture will evolve based on the employees at a company, and a company must determine skillful ways to bring together that team. The Society for Human Resources Management advises, “The key to a successful organization is to have a culture based on a strongly held and widely shared set of beliefs that are supported by strategy and structure.”

Having company culture in mind during the hiring process--not just job skills requirements--will help businesses hire stronger candidates who are more likely to remain at a company. Evaluating this from a hiring process can be tricky, but it’s not impossible if a company will remain introspective and thoughtful about its biases, questions for candidates, and answers about itself.   

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