Agency Life, Culture  /  6.17.14  / 2-min read

Screening a New Employee: The Importance of Cultural “Fit”

Recruiting isn’t easy for any company, and that’s especially true for a small PR firm like ours. Small companies often depend on employees to serve more than one function—a writer might be responsible for all aspects of content development, but also expected to be proficient at providing other public relations and marketing deliverables.

Finding top talent in the communications industry with specific yet varied skills can be a challenge. Like most small firms, we don’t have recruiting budgets. Instead we depend on referrals, our networks, and a steady stream of incoming resumes.


The screening process is just as important as finding the talent. We interview candidates via phone, video call, in peer-to-peer and group situations, as well as in traditional one-to-one meetings—to access technical skills, emotional intelligence, and social adaptability.


At small companies, a candidate’s cultural fit is almost as important as the function he or she serves in the company. It’s easy for an applicant to put together a great resume and cover letter and give an impressive interview, but it’s more difficult to find a compatible applicant who will fit in with the company.


Because more new hires fail due to personality-culture mismatch than technical skills mismatch, the team meet and greet is an important step in the Calypso hiring process.


The team meet and greet is designed to allow the entire firm an opportunity to screen the candidate in a casual, low-key setting, and it allows the senior leaders to assess the candidate’s social skills and cultural fit.


Whether you’re conducting a one-on-one interview or in a group dialogue, asking the right questions will help you look beyond likeability. Consider inquires like:


  • What did you enjoy most about the last place you worked?
  • How many hours a day do you find it necessary to work in order to get your job done?
  • How sensitive are you to accepting constructive criticism?
  • Describe the pace that you typically work in the office—moderate, fast, or hair-on-fire?
  • How much structure, direction, and feedback do you generally prefer on a day-to-day basis?
  • Describe your favorite and least favorite bosses.


Screening doesn’t end there. Conducting reference checks is more than just a formality in the interview process. It can be a very powerful way of learning about a person from the perspective of several people who have worked with the candidate in a variety of roles and positions. When requesting references, ask the applicant to include peers, direct reports, and even individuals external to the organization.


Then, during the reference check, be sure to ask more than just “yes” and “no” questions, probing on issues of whether people enjoyed working with this person and whether s/he got along well with people from a wide range of  backgrounds.


Of course, you will ask questions to confirm competencies, skills, and track record, but be sure to include questions to assess fit, such as:


  • How would you characterize XX’s general management  style? (e.g., authoritative, consultative, task-master, etc.)
  • What type of work environment does s/he need to succeed?
  • How does the candidate deal with conflict? How rigid or flexible is s/he?
  • How did you see him/her grow while you were working together?
  • How well does this person build consensus among constituents with differing opinions or interests? Examples?
  • Is there anything else that I should know about before moving the candidate forward in the process?


If most people enjoy each other’s company, it can make a big difference in the workplace.

Angela Carter

Senior Vice President, COO

Angela is Calypso's senior VP and COO, and handles client billing and consults on PR projects. She’s an expert in corporate communications, talent recruitment, and non-profit relations.

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