Preparing for an Interview? Let your Culture Skills Shine

There's been a shift in the mindset of hiring managers and entrepreneurial leaders. Where once technical skills, educational background and work experience were considered the top priorities, now culture skills are considered a better indication of a candidate's potential. So how does the 21st century job applicant go about preparing for an interview? Relax -- you don't need to rip up your college diploma and deactivate your LinkedIn profile! Instead, in addition to technical assessments, the modern-day interview will also assess your culture-fit within a company.

Companies can get quite creative when assessing culture fit. Unlike technical skills (which can be more objectively evaluated), trying to unveil culture skills such as a desire to learn or an ability to thrive amidst ambiguity, is difficult. After all, any applicant can spout off a list of examples in which they’ve previously displayed these attributes, only to prove otherwise when push comes to shove.

So how can you start preparing for an interview? First of all, you should know that everything you do in an interview - from what you say, to how you present yourself - is part of the assessment of culture fit. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ways people might try to unpack your culture fit.

Culture fit interview questions:

  1. What do you do in your spare time?

This is a classic culture fit question. The interviewer wants to hear about your hobbies and hopes to glean what these say about you as a person.

For example, if you were to reply that you like to play basketball, this may tell the interviewer you enjoy working as part of a team, you are coachable, you are potentially good at collaborating with others, and that fitness is important to you. Alternatively, if you share that you enjoy reading books, this perhaps suggests you have an active imagination, and you like learning new things.

How you talk about your hobbies and interests can give a lot of insight into what you care about. Passion is a highly valued culture skill in job applicants and your body language, facial expression and cadence are all essential to communicating this in an interview. [bctt tweet="Talking about interests in an #interview? don't be afraid to let your passion show! - @monique_lees"]

  1. Have you ever left a job? Why?

Entrepreneurial leaders value employees who're willing to put the company before themselves, and make decisions for the good of the whole.

When an interviewer asks a question along the lines of this one, they're trying to gain insight into your honesty and integrity as an employee. They are also trying to assess how you respond to conflict or tension within a company. Do you give up the minute the going gets tough, or do you ask for help and try find a solution to your problems?

If you’ve had a bad experience with a previous company, be careful how you respond to this question. The last thing you want is to come off as having a lack of self-awareness for failing to acknowledge your role in the situation. [bctt tweet="Never speak poorly of a past employer. Instead focus on what you learned, says @monique_lees"]

  1. Tell me about a time you failed:

Everyone has failed at something. Failure is a very personal matter and can be interpreted in different ways by different people. For example, you could talk about a time you failed yourself-- whether it be a goal you set that you didn't achieve, or an expectation you had for yourself that wasn't fulfilled. Alternatively, you could choose to talk about a time you failed your company, supervisor, or coworkers.

However you choose to answer this question, keep in mind that the interviewer is trying to assess your ability to acknowledge your mistakes, and think about how you would do things differently moving forward. Make sure you choose a scenario in which you can highlight this. This shows self-awareness, grit, and a desire to learn - all of which are highly valued skills. [bctt tweet="If asked about #failure, make sure you first define what it means to you @monique_lees"]

Some out-of-the-box interview techniques:

  1. Group Interviews:Group activities are a great way for an interviewer to get an indication of how well you operate on a team: how you treat other people, what role you assume in a team, and how open you are to collaborating with others. It's important to be yourself in this situation, stay calm, and have confidence in your abilities.
  2. Prepare for anything!

I had a chat with our co-founder and New York Program Director Shaun Johnson about how he screens for culture fit. Shaun disclosed that he's been known to use a few curve-balls:

  • He doesn't make it look like an interview: Instead of hosting a job interview in an office, Shaun sometimes takes an applicant out for a coffee. He may even sit on the same side of the table as the applicant to throw them a bit.
  • He let's things get messy: Shaun is interested in whether the job applicant is able to pick up on social cues in an ambiguous situation. One of the ways he might test this is by taking an applicant into a disheveled room and then start cleaning it up. He looks to see whether the applicant helps clean the room too, or just sits down and waits for the interview to start.
  • He throws them in the deep end: Shaun might even skip the interview process altogether, and instead has the applicant just start doing the job they are applying for.

These probably won't happen to you but, if anything, this is a reminder that the days of playing the question-and-answer game are over. Modern high-growth companies are growing and evolving like never before and the interview process is adapting along with it. [bctt tweet="Modern companies are evolving! The #interview process is adapting - so should you! says @monique_lees"]

Above all, be yourself:

Culture fit represents the core values and vision of a company. Companies screen for this to ensure any new employees brought on will fit in well with the mission and work environment. Be honest during your interview, and evaluate how the company aligns with your own values as they're evaluating you. You'll spend a lot of time at work, so you want to be in a environment where you feel safe and comfortable expressing yourself and your ideas.

Keep in mind-- the examples above probably won't come up at your interview, but culture fit interview questions are a near-certainty. Use these examples to think about how to frame responses to best showcase your own values, passions, and abilities. Then, on the day of, think about what your interviewer is really trying to get at with each question. Show them who you are, and what you're capable of!

For more insight into the culture skills entrepreneurial leaders are looking for, take a look at our research on The Six Characteristics of Successful Employees In Rapidly Growing Companies.

Photo credit: Giuliano Maiolini via Flickrcc