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Find the Right People for Your Company

Culture Fit Interview Questions

For Leaders & Recruiters Who Want to Hire Rockstars

Hiring for the Right Skills Isn't Enough

The best employees are those who not only know how to do the job they've been hired for, they are also totally bought into the culture you've created at your company. But in such a hyper-competitive job market -- where unemployment is at record lows -- how do you find those diamonds in the rough?

This Guide Will Teach You

  • Why culture fit is so important to your company's recruitment and retention. 
  • How to screen for culture fit before you ever sit down for an interview. 
  • The definitive list of culture interview questions you need to ask (and why). 
  • All the well-meaning culture fit questions you should never ask.
  • And much more... 

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Where Do You Want to Start?

Click on any chapter to jump directly to it!
Chapter 1 What Is Culture Fit & Why Does It Matter?
Chapter 2 How to Screen for Culture Fit Before the Interview
Chapter 3 How to Screen for Culture Fit During the Application Process & Interview
Chapter 4 The 9 Culture Fit Interview Questions You Need to Ask
Chapter 5 Here Are the Culture Fit Interview Questions You Shouldn't Ask
Chapter 6 What It Feels Like When You Have the Right Team

Chapter 1

What Is Culture Fit & Why Does It Matter?

Let’s Talk About Culture Fit

What Is Culture Fit?

Company culture is a hot topic right now. Companies that understand its importance are working to create the best work culture in order to attract and retain top talent. But not just any talent. Companies that want to maintain their great cultures know that they can’t just hire for skill, they also have to hire for culture fit.

But what is this “culture fit” we speak of?

According to Business News Daily, “cultural fit means that employees' beliefs and behaviors are in alignment with their employer's core values and company culture.”

In plainer terms, those you find who are a "culture fit" with your company are people who are bought into the direction of your company and would fit in (and thrive) in your work environment. Someone who fits well in a work environment will go above and beyond to be a valuable asset so they can stay there.

Applicants are constantly telling me that finding the right culture in a company is their top deciding factor when choosing a new place of employment. It’s evident that it’s not easy to find the right fit, so when they do they’ll be loyal contributors.

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IMPACT's company purpose, as illustrated by our very own Marcella Jalbert.🎨

Why Does Culture Fit Matter?

OK, so now that we understand what culture fit is, why is it something we need to focus on?

  • Retention
    When employees feel like they fit in with the company culture, they will want to stick around longer. Likewise, if they don’t fit in they’ll want to get out ASAP, or you’ll eventually have to let them go.
  • Engagement
    Employees who are bought into the mission and vision of the company are going to be more excited to work toward it.
  • Attracting Talent
    Current and past employees will talk with other people and share their experience at a company. This can foster referrals of other great-fit candidates.

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The Cost of a Bad Culture Fit Hire

When a person who’s a bad culture fit sneaks through the cracks of your hiring process, it can have some big impacts on your organization.

Financial Impact

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “the price of a bad hire is at least 30 percent of the employee's first-year earnings.” Couple that with the person’s salary, and you’re looking at a big financial hit to the business.

Environmental Impact

Not only does a bad hire cost a business a lot of money, they can also create a toxic work environment.

Someone who isn’t a good culture fit can affect the team’s morale, productivity, and overall happiness. Because of this, you might start to lose some of your better people simply because this bad hire brought them down and burned them out.

Unfortunately, we have first-hand experience with this.

Back in the day at IMPACT, we had one employee that spread negativity and created a subculture against leadership. This person encouraged people to be unproductive, to go against management decisions, and generally didn’t want to see the company succeed. We let it go on for so long that we eventually had to let a group of people go in order to try to salvage what was left of the good culture.  

 

The situation continued to spiral, to the point where 65% of our team turned over that year.

As a result, we made a point to reassess what we looked for in employees, and how we did our hiring. Today, we make sure to address any culture issues immediately and head-on before they have a chance to spread too far.

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Chapter 2

How to Screen for Culture Fit Before the Interview

Hiring for culture fit is not just about the questions you ask in the interviews, it should be worked into your entire hiring process. In addition, you don’t always have to be the one making the call. You can actually do a few things to let candidates qualify and disqualify themselves.

Your Careers Page

Starting with our careers page, we put the following things on there, so people can determine if IMPACT is the place for them.  

Pictures of the Team

We use real photos of our team -- never stock photos! -- to show off the personalities of our team members and some of the activities that we do. This allows people to evaluate if they see themselves working with those people and enjoying the environment.

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Our Purpose & Mission

Everyone at IMPACT is on board with and working towards our company mission statement. If this doesn’t excite people when they read it IMPACT probably isn’t the place for them.

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Our Core Values

We proudly show off our core values, a mandatory requirement for people who join our team. Clearly defining them allows people to determine if these are values they believe in as well.

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Our Company Culture Code

Our culture code (shown below) tells the full story of IMPACT. From our history to our plan for the future and everything in between. Very importantly, it dives deep into what an IMPACT employee looks like and the types of people who work here.

"Wait, What's a Culture Code?"

CultureTalk.com says:

“A culture code is a detailed document (often a presentation) that outlines the culture of your organization. It covers your company’s motivations and inspirations, the common drivers and passions that unite your team and define your cumulative culture (think less employee handbook and more, ‘unwritten rules’ of engagement).” 

All in all, a culture code gives people a glimpse of your company’s story and what it’s like to work there. Companies share this with their employees, potential employees, and even clients.

IMPACT’s Culture Code

A few years back, we decided to redo our culture code so it would represent the IMPACT we had become, not the one we were when the company started. (You’d be surprised how much things have changed!)

We wanted to be as transparent as possible, and not sugarcoat any of the difficult times the company had been through. This was important to us so anyone looking through the presentation would know what we’re all about, but that we’re not perfect.

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One of my favorite incredibly honest slides from our culture code.

The last thing we want is someone coming on our team and expecting that we have all the answers. Things are constantly changing and evolving, so we count on new people to join in and help us stay above the curve, and we need people who are bought-in to an environment like that.

Qualifying with Your Careers Page & Culture Code

If done correctly, your careers page and culture code should clearly spell out the type of company you are and the kinds of people who work there. Naturally, people are either going to be excited about that or not interested. This allows them to qualify or disqualify themselves based on whether or not your culture feels like a fit for them.

Without setting these expectations up front, you’d get a lot more unqualified applicants, which you'll have to weed through to try to find the right people.

Core_Value_Badges--Dependability
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Chapter 3

How to Screen for Culture Fit During the Application Process & Interview

Our application and interview process are both constantly evolving. Recently, I sat down with IMPACT VP of Services Brie Rangel to completely revamp our interview questions and process stages for hiring marketers.

We started by making a list of some of our top hires on the services team, and some of the hires that didn’t work out. We then listed off all the traits that either made someone great or that made them struggle, and noted trends along the way.

From there, we brainstormed questions or tests that would allow us to evaluate each trait and then divided those evaluation methods into the different stages of our hiring process.

Culture Fit Screening in Our Hiring Process

At each stage of our hiring process, we’re looking for something different to qualify someone as a good culture fit. Below I’ll break down some of the things we evaluate at each stage.

Application

When a candidate fills out an application to work for IMPACT, it's their opportunity to make a great "first impression."

With a quick scan of the application, you can tell immediately if someone actually took the time to thoughtfully answer the questions, or if they just wanted to hit submit and move on to the next one. Reading “see resume” for each question or finding spelling mistakes throughout shows they aren't detail-oriented and possibly do not care about the position itself.

At IMPACT, we’re about quality work and building a positive brand for the company. If someone isn’t serious about representing themselves well, we can assume they won’t go above and beyond to represent the company well.

Here are a few screenshots of some of my favorite answers I’ve seen on applications that give some insight into culture fit:

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I understand this person might not have anything to put for these answers, but when you’re representing yourself and making a first impression, there’s a more professional way to do it. Simply writing out “I don’t currently have a LinkedIn account” sends a better message than “nope.”

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Even though I think we’re quite fashionable at IMPACT, we’re far from being fashionista.com. Obviously, this person just copied and pasted the same cover letter from a previous job application.

At IMPACT, we’re looking for people who not only have the attention to detail but would also take the time to write out a personalized cover letter. That demonstrates to us a clear desire to work for IMPACT specifically, as opposed to just any ol' company that will hire them.

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While technically this person did give me a LinkedIn URL and a Twitter URL, I would hope the right applicant would understand that we’re asking for links to their profiles, not the websites.

Video Submitted by the Applicant

We recently started using Jobma, a video interviewing platform that will ask the applicant questions, record their answers, add it to their profile in our applicant tracking system, and notify us that the video is completed. Pretty cool, right?  

Saying video is a huge part of our culture is an understatement. We need people who are passionate about video and are comfortable being on camera. (Or are at least willing to go outside of their comfort zone and try it!) 

Some people even take themselves out of the process at this point -- possibly because they just don’t want to be on camera. While other people do submit videos only to find that they aren’t great on camera, or they simply didn’t answer the questions well.

Either through poor performance or self-elimination, adding video into our application process has helped us more effectively identify those who may not be the right culture fit for us.

1-on-1 Video Interview

This stage is a 30-minute live video interview with the applicant, and it’s our first chance to talk to them face-to-face.

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Me pretending (shh…) to have a video interview with Shandia Drummond, our sales operations specialist, just so I could set the tone for the 1-on-1 interview.

We recently re-named this the “culture interview,” because we dig deep with culture-driven questions to see if someone fits what we’re looking for.

For example, one of the questions we ask is:

“If you were in my position, knowing what you know about your own strengths and areas of opportunity to grow, what are two reasons you would not hire yourself?”

This helps us to find out if they have self-awareness and a growth mindset, two things that are very important in the role they’d be taking.

Situational Activity

During this stage, we take a regular part of the role and have the applicant complete it as if they were an IMPACT employee. For instance, when hiring someone for an account executive role, we have them perform a mock client call with one of our team members.

We need to see if they’re able to do the actual job and not just talk the talk.

While we do have a detailed rubric of things we’re looking for during this call, we’re also evaluating a few other things:

  • Does this person sound IMPACT-y? (This is a difficult trait to put a score to, but you know it when you hear/see it.)
  • Do they have the right attitude for working with our clients? (Another difficult one to grade, but easier to evaluate the vibe they give off on the call.)

Meanwhile, our rubric is grading things such as communication skills, ability to challenge, active listening, etc., all of which are important not only in the role but also as an IMPACT employee.

Call with Our CEO

Bob Ruffolo, our CEO, knows our culture better than anyone, and he wants to make sure we maintain it. During this call, he looks for any red flags we may have missed to avoid bringing anyone onto the team who isn’t a good fit.

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Bob and me just hanging out, trying to be good culture fits. 💥

Those vetos that Bob has done go to show how important it is to have another perspective on an applicant outside of the people they’ve already met with.

Team Call

This hour-long video call includes the applicant and the team they’d be joining. During this call, the team is evaluating whether or not they see the person fitting into the culture of the company and their team. They ask questions about teamwork, working styles, and (generally) try to get to know their potential new teammate.

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Part of our culture is giving team members a say as to who goes on their team, as opposed to just placing someone without input. This is the final stamp of approval before hiring someone.

We used to do an in-office visit -- in which candidates would visit our Connecticut headquarters in person -- but this has recently taken the place of that visit, due to new office construction. 

As we’ve moved forward with this change, we’ve questioned whether or not to re-implement the visit even after we’re settled into our new office. While we do love meeting every person and getting to offer them a job in person, we’ve found that scheduling this trip only prolongs the process.

Not only that, but it seems to be harder and harder for applicants to find time for calls while they have a full-time job, let alone planning a trip to Connecticut if they're from out-of-state. Of course, the jury is still out on this change we've made. We’ll continue to see how this new process goes and solicit feedback from the people who are going through the process.

Even More Evaluating

In addition to everything we’re looking for at each stage of the process, we’re also evaluating how the applicant interacts with people outside our structured interviews.

In my role, I interact with the applicants constantly in order to keep the process moving, send information, and answer questions. An “IMPACT-y” person would likely respond to each communication with a professional and friendly tone, whereas some applicants never respond at all and just move forward with scheduling their next interview.

That's not to say a lack of response every time is necessarily negative. Rather, it's an example of how we are always measuring and evaluating candidates -- and we recommend you do the same. Sometimes you'll learn a lot more about a candidate outside of those scheduled activities and conversations. 

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Chapter 4

The 9 Culture Fit Interview Questions You Need to Ask

At each of the stages we outlined above, we work in various questions to test for attributes that are important in an IMPACT employee. Below you will find sample questions that test different qualification areas important to our company, as well as what we look to learn from the answers to those questions.

What you ask to determine culture fit should be tailored to the individual needs of your organization, as well as your core values. For example, one of the questions pertains to inbound marketing knowledge, and you may not be an inbound marketing-focused company. However, you should still look at that question and see how it can be adapted to your industry or niche.

Focus Area: Comfort with a Fast-Paced Environment

Question: "Have you ever worked at a digital agency before?"

While this isn’t a deal breaker, an affirmative answer shows that they’ve experienced the agency environment, which is typically very fast-paced and always changing. Not everyone is cut out for that kind of environment, so it’s great to hire people who already know what to expect and still are excited to be a part of it.

Pro-tip: If you have a slower-paced environment, you may want to consider creating a question that speaks to that scenario instead. Some candidates who may be qualified for the role you seek to fill may want something more agile and fast-paced than what you are offering.

Focus Area: Inbound Marketing Knowledge

Question: "Tell us about a successful inbound marketing campaign and the results it delivered. Please describe the strategy behind it, the tactics you incorporated, and your role, specifically."

This not only tells us if they fully understand inbound marketing, but also if they’re good at it. We’re looking for innovative campaigns that truly made an impact on the client’s business.

Pro-tip: Again, inbound marketing is our specialty as a company. Craft your question so it focuses not only on an understanding of your industry, but also measurable success in your industry, as well. Awareness of what you do does not always equate to future success in what you do.

Focus Area: Passion (IMPACT Core Value)

Question: "What do you do outside of your day job to keep learning and growing as a marketer?"

When you’re passionate about something, you don’t clock out from work and stop thinking about it. You’re always trying to get better, stay on top of industry changes, and educate yourself through content, certifications, conferences, etc. We want people on our team who truly have a passion for marketing, and this is one way they can show it.

Pro-tip: This question is easily tailored to any business or organization. While passion may not be one of your core values, establishing a pattern of passion for what you do should be considered a highly desirable trait in a future hire.

Question: "What is the longest you've ever worked on something without stopping?"

This question came from IMPACT Design Supervisor Jessie-Lee Nichols:

Focus Area: Dependability (IMPACT Core Value)

Question: "Tell me about a time where you dropped the ball for a client."

Analyzing someone’s dependability goes far beyond learning how often someone does something correctly; you can learn so much about how dependable someone is by having them tell you what happens after they do something wrong.

In a candidate's answer, we’re looking to see what this person did to fix their mistake, and how well they handled it. It’s a red flag if someone says they’ve never dropped the ball, even for something minor. This shows they either don’t take ownership of times that went wrong, or they’re not willing to be transparent about a failure.

Pro-tip: If the position you're filling is not client-facing, still ask some version of this question, even if it's focused more on dropping the ball for an internal team, manager, or peer-level employee.

Focus Area: Helpfulness (IMPACT Core Value)

Question: "Tell me about a time a team member of yours dropped the ball for a client."

It’s easy to observe from the sidelines when a team member does something wrong -- but instead, we’re looking to find people who decided to jump in and help. We’re all about helping each other at IMPACT, so if helpfulness isn’t a natural reaction to seeing someone in a tough situation, they probably aren’t a great fit.

Pro-tip: Again, if you aren't hiring for a client-facing role, adapt this question to be geared toward dropping the ball for an internal stakeholder or group of stakeholders.

Focus Area: Self-Awareness

Question: "Tell us about your best client relationship and your worst client relationship."

We’re looking to see what a person values in a good client relationship. In addition, are they self-aware enough to know when things aren’t going well with a client? Listen to see if they own some of the fault, or if they blame it all on the client.

Pro-tip: There are a lot of ways you can customize this question to the different types of relationships a particular role of yours will need to manage. The goal here is to surface self-awareness of what works and what doesn't in a professional relationship, as well as a willingness to take responsibility when it is their fault that something isn't going well.

Focus Area: Team Player

Question: "Tell me about a time you had to do something outside of your job description."

At times, we all may be asked to wear a few different hats beyond what we may have been hired to do. When so much is changing and we’re moving so fast, sometimes we have to pull in anyone who is available to help. It’s telling when someone can’t think of anything they’ve stepped in to do that went above the norm for them, simply to be helpful to the team as a whole.

Pro-tip: Listen closely to their tone, as well as any tells that someone felt "put out" by having to go above and beyond the call of duty in a certain scenario. Of course, there are always cases where someone is being asked to do more than they ever should have -- the key is to listen for the red flags of someone who is inflexible and will resent being asked to pitch in, as needed.

Focus Area: Ownership

Question: "Tell me about a time when you identified a problem within your company that needed to be fixed."

Listen for blame and/or simply pointing something out, as opposed to being proactive and helping to fix the problem. 

Pro-tip: Do not add any sort of leading statement or question to imply you're looking for a scenario where they took action and provided a solution. We designed this question to be open-ended on purpose to see how a candidate would answer and react naturally.

How to Develop More Culture Fit Interview Questions for Your Company

Start by listing out the attributes your best people possess. Then do some brainstorming and research to match up the right questions or tests to assess each one. You may find that some questions require some tweaking or changing because they aren’t getting the right information -- and that’s perfectly normal

For example, even though we use the questions above, we are still tweaking and optimizing them as we continue to evaluate the answers we receive. 

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Ready for More?
3 Examples of Culture Fit Interview Questions & What You Can Learn from a Candidate's Answers
Dig In »

Chapter 5

Here Are the Culture Fit Interview Questions You Shouldn't Ask

3 Questions That Don’t Tell You Anything

Some questions might seem like a good idea to ask, but in reality, they don’t really get you anywhere with evaluating the applicant. Unless you have a solid reason for throwing questions like this, spare your applicants and leave them out.

  • "What do you like to do outside of work?" 
    I’ll be honest, I used to ask this one all the time when I first started at IMPACT. I was under the impression that it helped “evaluate culture fit.” However, I came to find that there’s no cookie cutter thing that people do/watch/play outside of work that proves they’re a good fit at the office. Additionally, such questions could be misconstrued as you, the potential employer, evaluating the fit of an employee based on their personal life.
  • "Tell me about yourself..."
    While this might seem like a good way to open a conversation, it’s way too open-ended to get an answer from one person that can easily be compared to those of other candidates. Plus, it’ll likely be followed by the applicant asking, “Is there anywhere, in particular, you want me to start?” Instead, try asking something like: “What are the three most important things we need to know about you?”
  •  "If you were a cat, what type of cat would you be?"
    Replace “cat” with a number of things, and you’ll get an interview question that people like to throw in for fun. Unfortunately, although this style of question is very, very popular, it doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about the applicant and their ability to do the job. They’ll likely have a response that’s equally as cheesy as the question.

Thinking back to my interview with IMPACT back in 2010, I distinctly remember one of the three questions I was asked -- we didn’t exactly have a thorough process back then -- was what type of music I listen to.  While I was eager to say “90s pop,” I can guarantee they could have used a better question to gauge my skills for the job.

That said, I did just meet the Backstreet Boys...

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This is me fully utilizing our unlimited vacation to fly to Las Vegas and hang with the Backstreet Boys.

Personal Questions That Are Illegal to Ask

There are the questions you shouldn’t ask because they aren't helpful, and then there are the questions that are illegal to ask. When deciding on your list of questions, steer clear from anything that relates to the following:

  • Race, color, or national origin.
  • Religion.
  • Sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
  • Pregnancy status.
  • Disability.
  • Age or genetic information.
  • Citizenship.
  • Marital status or number of children.

It’s easy to accidentally ask an illegal question without realizing it. For instance, you might not be aware that asking an applicant when they graduated high school can be seen as a way of uncovering their age. To avoid this from happening, document all of your questions and double check that they don’t violate any of the rules.

Then, don’t let other questions sneak into the interviews just because it popped into your head.

Personal Questions That Make People Feel Uncomfortable

Sometimes you might think you’re coming off as friendly, but in reality, it makes someone else feel uncomfortable. For example, you might just be trying to strike up a conversation about the team by saying:

“We like to go out for drinks after work, do you drink?”

However, you may make a candidate feel like they have to lie about their drinking in order to fit in, or that their drinking habits are something you’re evaluating them on. Instead, stick to questions that relate to the job at hand, not extracurricular activities.

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Chapter 6

What It Feels Like When You Have the Right Team

It took a lot of trial and error -- and a willingness to critically evaluate and update our hiring processes (particularly in the culture fit area) -- but I feel so lucky to say that we have such an incredible team right now at IMPACT.

Because of that, there are a few benefits we’re lucky enough to experience -- and you can, too.

You Can Count on Anyone

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A happy bunch at IMPACT Live ‘18.

With dependability and helpfulness being two of our core values, it’s no wonder we’re able to go to anyone in the company for help and to get the answers we need. From onboarding new talent to working with clients, everyone in our team understands our standards of service and can be trusted to take on any project.  

You All Enjoy Coming to Work

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Looking beyond the blurriness, the insanity, and my face in this picture, it looks like we’re all having a pretty good time filming a social media video.

When you’re surrounded by people who are culture fits in a positive environment, it’s exciting to come to work. You know you’ll be pushed to get better without negativity or feeling out of place.

You Succeed (Together)

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With everyone rowing in the same direction and aligned with our goals, it’s no wonder we’re able to celebrate success quite often. Whether small or big achievements, we all experience them as a team and are encouraged to share them as much as possible.

This Wasn’t Easy, but It Was Worth It

While it wasn’t an easy road to get the amazing team we have today -- and we will always need to work hard to maintain our company culture -- it’s worth all of the work and effort that has gone into building it. We’ll continue to improve our processes for selecting new people as we learn more about the people we’re hiring and our culture as a whole.

Now, Go Build Your Team

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There’s no time like the present to get started on defining your culture and building your ideal team. Take it one step at a time and test things to see what works best for you. Before you know it, you’ll start to feel the positive shift in team morale, alignment, and overall team unity.

👋, Natalie Davis of IMPACT

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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 What Is Culture Fit & Why Does It Matter?
Chapter 2 How to Screen for Culture Fit Before the Interview
Chapter 3 How to Screen for Culture Fit During the Application Process & Interview
Chapter 4 The 9 Culture Fit Interview Questions You Need to Ask
Chapter 5 Here Are the Culture Fit Interview Questions You Shouldn't Ask
Chapter 6 What It Feels Like When You Have the Right Team