Should interviews be a test of culture fitness?

As a candidate who’s attended quite a few interviews over these past few months, I couldn’t help but notice a re-occurring theme among the employers. The selection strategies being adopted by companies these days are all about assessing personality type and reactive behaviours. It’s about determining the Culture-fit!

It’s a topic that not only dominates the academic literature in the area of Organisational Behaviour, but also number one on the boardroom agenda when staff retention becomes an issue.

Creating a culture that’s strong and consistent is believed to ultimately boost the bottom line by increasing efficiency. It’s believed this is a result of improving employee satisfaction and communication.

Employer’s method of tackling this goal is to fill interview scripts with questions such as “what do you do for fun?” or “what’s your favourite holiday destination”? With less interest in skills and experience, interviews are becoming more like first dates.

In an attempt to build or preserve culture within an organisation, HR managers are measuring an individuals’ culture-fit in the space of a 30 minute interview. With a list of questions read-out in a mechanical fashion, it’s assumed this method is effective in determining how a candidate would conduct themselves within the workplace environment. I don’t agree this method is effective. I have a few reasons why.

Productive Diversity beats a Homogonous Team any day

In some cases it has proven to be a clever way of enhancing performance, but there still aren’t enough data or real life cases to argue the long term benefits of hiring people with similar personality types or belief systems. Cameron & Freeman (1991) did a study on workplaces in the education industry and found no correlation between culture congruence and organisation effectiveness. Most studies proving organisational culture, directly impacting on performance, was actually a result of leadership style rather than the behaviours of the employees.

Although I appreciate what the interviewer is trying to achieve, I find it demeaning and almost embarrassing when I have been subject to it. I have been forced to participate in such an ill-proven practice whereby the supposed outcome is discovering whether or not my inner belief and value system is consistent with the underlying norms and acceptable behaviour of their organisation.

How do academics define organisational culture?

For the purpose of this article I’ve chosen a definition of organisational culture that sums up the majority of many definitions provided by academics in this field. Ravasi & Schultz (2006) describe it as “a set of shared mental assumptions that guide interpretation and action in organisations by defining appropriate behaviour for various situations”. Just the first half of this definition proves that the popular methods currently being used in job interviews are clearly a waste of time.

A mental assumption, in my opinion, is another way of saying “underlying values and beliefs in the subconscious”. Subconscious beliefs are not identified by conscience thoughts. It’s only when challenged, that they surface.  Even if it was correctly identified, this information is then interpreted by another individual, based on their own subconscious beliefs.

Every member of a culture has their own individual input and perspective on what that culture is. The panel conducting the interview are not the ones who are privileged to ever hear what’s really discussed between colleagues. The true indication of organisational culture is hidden within employee conversations at the printer or the water cooler. It’s the perception staff have on their customers, and their view on what’s required of them. Most importantly, it’s the perception that staff have of both their line managers, and their leaders.

The idea that the organisation’s culture is represented by one member is just absurd.

Playing the Interview Bias

Interview Bias can be one or a combination of a few listed below. Plus many others, but from my own personal experience I can confidently say that I have witnessed and been subject to all of the below both favourably, and unfavourably:

  • Stereotyping – I’ve been stereotyped by my  appearance as being a “play-hard” kinda girl (ok yes maybe I’m not shy of a few celebratory drinks now and then). This was a strong factor in getting the interview in the first place as it’s estimated I would fit in to their drinking culture.
  • Halo/Horns effect – I might have a distorted vision of this, but as a general rule, the chance of me being asked back for a second interview is much higher when the interviewers are male…I don’t have the answer to that.
  • Cultural noise – Of course I giggle at the drinking stories and their in-house character jokes. And of course I forget to mention that there’s no way I’m spending my Friday nights at the pub with them. For all they know, I’m into it!
  • Contrast effect – When I play well in the interview, it’s a favourable result. If I’m nervous and hadn’t previously gone for a few interviews, I don’t perform as well and I never hear back. Regardless of my potential or relevant experience at the actual job. I’m chosen because of my interview skills, rather than how I      would actually perform in the role.

So I’m struggling to see how job interviews are used to determine culture-fit. The words I used through-out the interview were strategically chosen just to increase my chances. There is no honesty there.

Just by spending 2 mins reading the company website before entering the interview room, you can draft stories and descriptions to easily answer the personality pop-quizzes. This gives the illusion that your expressing subconscious behaviour and exposing the “real you”.

I don’t advise faking it as you may end up working with someone you don’t click with. The point is, is that these current methods being used in an attempt to identify this magical culture-fit have plenty of loop holes and are in no-way sure proof of weeding out the kinks in the chain.

Can’t we just have more honesty in the business world?

There will always be a subjective nature to interviews as interviewers will always be human. And considering the information available and budget restrictions, there’s probably not much else HR managers can come up with.

I just wish the business environment would allow more room for honesty, rather than just clever sales pitches and scripted speeches.

Just tell it how it really is. You’re not finding culture-fits, your just hiring your mates.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s