Careers Insight: Match candidates to the culture of your firm

It is important to match the approach of a candidate to the culture of a firm, so your interview model should provide a clear picture of a person’s values and attitudes


One of the key drivers of successful recruitment outcomes is ensuring you get the right people in for the process in the first place. I believe there are some under-used interview questions that can help you discover more about the candidate in front of you. 

Given that the same job will have different undertones in different firms, it is imperative that your interview model allows you to get a clear picture of a person’s values and attitudes. This, in turn, will enable you to consider how they may behave within a role and a culture, rather than just how well they explain the competencies they show in their current environment. The following questions should help you work out how a candidate thinks, and thus get a view of how they would align with your expectations.

Q: If you could take back one decision made in your career to date, which would it be?

This is another way of asking “What are your weaknesses?” but should lead the interviewee to provide a specific example, which could be revealing. Often, interviewees come prepared to talk about strengths and weaknesses in general but not to provide specifics. The unexpected nature of the question should mean they provide an interesting answer. There is also a lot to learn about the interviewee’s self-awareness, their ability to think on their feet and their decision-making. Proactivity would then be seen in those who go on (without prompting) to explain what they have learnt from the experience.

Q: Can you give an example of an occasion where you have ‘broken the rules’ and explain why you did this?

Feel free to replace ‘the rules’ here with something more specific, such as company policy or regulatory constraints. Responses should give you a genuine insight into the applicant’s conformity and in what type of situation they may try to push back. Their explanation as to how and why they took this route will be illuminating. You can learn plenty by asking whether there was really no other choice and you should pursue this until you are comfortable that you know if this is something they do on a regular basis. All of this can be very revealing about an applicant’s character and approach to their work. After all, there is a clear line between thinking outside the box and being non-compliant.

Q: Assuming you get the job, what would you be disappointed to realise has not happened/you have not achieved at your annual appraisal in a year’s time?

This opens up a number of areas, not least the applicant’s confidence in their ability to perform and by ensuring expectations are aligned. Take, for instance, the answer: “I would be disappointed if I had not been promoted.” This may seem like a positive aspiration but what if you do not expect to have any senior positions opening up in the next 12 months? In setting targets, it is helpful for you both to appreciate whether they are reasonable goals.

Q: What is your least favourite part of your current role?

This is another question designed to make sure you get an honest view of the applicant. Everyone has elements of their job they do not like but clearly it would be a concern if the interviewee answered with something you specifically wanted them to focus on. It may be interesting to follow this up by asking: “If you were asked to do a lot of that element in a new job, how would you deal with it?”

Of course, technical competence needs to be understood but, ultimately, it is the failure to match the approach of an individual to the culture of a firm that means things do not work out.