A culture interview can be a helpful tool to focus on how a candidate will be compatible with and add to the culture at your company. Keep reading to find out how culture interviews are beneficial, how to conduct one, and potential interview questions.

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What Is a Culture Interview?

A culture interview is a part of the recruiting process that helps you assess candidates through the lens of company culture rather than focusing on experience or skills alone. A culture interview gives you insight into how a candidate likes to work, what values are important to them, and how those values mesh with your company’s values.

Culture interviews have grown in popularity as culture has become a greater priority in many company’s strategies. Culture refers to the values, principles, and behaviors of a company—essentially, how a company does business. Company culture is made up of both formal aspects (core values, physical workspace, communication style, etc.) and displayed through informal aspects (impromptu conversations, a manager’s reaction to an employee’s life event, etc.).

You should be aware of two terms when it comes to culture interviews: culture fit and culture add. In the past, culture fit referred to whether a candidate was going to fit in with a company’s culture. The problem with focusing on fit is that it puts the focus on likability. This can lead to a lack of diversity in hiring since we humans have the tendency to choose those who are more like us (just Google “affinity bias”).

The term culture add has replaced culture fit because it shifts the focus from likability to adding to company culture. This leaves the door open to a more diverse pool of candidates and encourages managers to look for what they lack on their team. For example, maybe a manager is a people pleaser, so they might look for someone who isn’t that way. Or maybe a team struggles to build relationships with other departments, so they need a candidate with great people skills. Diversity is a benefit to your company on many levels, so many HR professionals recommend this shift when it comes to assessing a candidate in terms of culture.

When it comes to a culture interview, you can either have a separate interview or include it as a part of a more traditional interview.

  • The advantages to a separate interview include honing in on the topic of culture, rather than getting it mixed with other questions, and the potential to include a different interviewer to get an additional perspective.
  • The benefit to including it with another interview is for administrative ease (one interview instead of two). If you do decide to include culture questions, you might consider making a clear distinction as you move into culture topics.

Find out how HR software can help you better manage the interview process

What Are the Benefits of a Culture Interview?

Culture interviews give you insights into a candidate that traditional interviews don’t.

  • You get insight into what’s important to the candidate. Culture interviews help you understand what matters to a candidate. What principles guide their work and life? How do they interact with their co-workers? What ideas do they have about work-life balance?
  • The candidate gets insight into what’s important to your company. Remember that recruiting is a two-party process— candidates want to know what your company’s principles and ideals are, too. Be honest in your explanation so the candidate gets a realistic idea of what they should expect.
  • You can build your company culture intentionally. Rather than letting your company culture develop itself, you can guide that culture by identifying what core values and principles are most important at your organization and focus on candidates who will support and add to that culture.

Who, When, and How to Conduct a Culture Interview

Neither you nor the candidate wants to spend time on unnecessary interviews, so you’ll want to decide who gets a culture interview or not. This likely depends on how important this is to your company. Some companies might do a culture interview with everyone who makes it through to an in-person interview, while others save it for those who advance to the final stages.

When to invite a candidate for a culture interview also varies on what’s important to your company, but generally, it should be saved until you know the person is a serious candidate for the position, both from your perspective and theirs).

Conducting a culture interview is similar to conducting other recruiting interviews. Include these steps in your process.

Step 1: Determine the Goal

As always, you should first decide what you’re going for in this interview. What insights do you want to gain? What impressions do you want to make? How will this interview help you in the selection process? Candidates’ time is precious (and so is yours), so make sure you have a clear goal.

Step 2: Plan the Questions/Activities

More on this in the next section, but an interview should have structure. Structure in the interview and in how you record the results is helpful for ensuring a good experience and making sure each candidate has a fair and similar evaluation.

In addition to questions, you may consider thinking outside the box and planning an activity or something different. For example, you could make a quiz on which company values the candidate best lines up with. Switching things up can be fun and insightful.

Step 3: Finalize the Logistics

Small things that are left unplanned can come back to haunt you. For example, how will a candidate feel if you walk them around for 10 minutes trying to find an open room for an interview? Thoroughly plan where the interview will be, who will be there, how long it will last, and any other details.

Step 4: Communicate the Plan

Triple-check that the candidate knows where and when the interview will happen. Utilize your tech tools to send calendar reminders, maps, or whatever you can do that will make it easier for the candidate. Make sure everyone involved in the interview is clear on those details.

Examples of Culture Interview Questions

The kinds of interview questions you could use are unlimited, but here are a few to get you thinking. Remember, match your questions to your goals for the interview to make sure you’re making the most of the time.

What Does Your Ideal Working Environment Look Like?

This question is very common because it asks specifically what aspects of a working environment (i.e., culture) a candidate prefers. Also, when asked generally like this, the question leaves room for the candidate to touch on different aspects of culture, from work/life balance to activities to coworker relationships to management styles.

How Would Past Coworkers Describe Your Working Style?

This question asks the candidate to self-reflect and key in on how others think of them. At the same time, it gives you insight into the candidate’s personal values and how they work.

What Are Some of Your Personal Core Values?

This question is a favorite because it gives the candidate a chance to share what’s important to them. This question allows the candidate to speak about themselves more as a whole person rather than just their work self. Also, you’ll be surprised at how often their core values align well with your company’s.

What’s One Core Value of Ours That You Resonate With?

This question checks the candidate’s knowledge of the company. A really prepared candidate might already have learned your company’s core values from their research. Either way, this question also lets a candidate see themselves as a part of your company’s culture.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Culture Interviews

While your interview process is up to you, two key players you likely want in your culture interview are 1) the hiring manager and 2) a coworker. The people on the future candidate’s team will have the best insight into the culture on that specific team, as each team has their own subculture. An HR team member is also often included in the process, since HR knows the company culture and brings interviewing skills and knowledge.
Culture add is the more common term used today because it focuses on what the candidate brings to your company. Culture fit can get too focused on how a candidate is similar (or not) to the hiring manager/interviewer. This can lead to a lack of diversity.

Hayden is drawn toward the Operations side of HR, always looking for ways to improve the employee experience. His background in Sociology helps him think of the big picture and challenge the way things are done. He also specializes in using data & analytics to make changes.

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