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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.

Virtual teams a win-win strategy!

Virtual TeamsDay 4 of the 30 day blog challenge – “what it means to have Location Independence and Adventure in Life”. Surprisingly, I have decided to not write about myself this time. Instead I’ve turned this topic around to discuss “what it means for businesses to employ location independent staff or contractors t help achieve it’s strategic objectives”. 

Being location independent would be considered a perk to most employees, especially working mums who treasure flexible working conditions. But what about clients or employers? Why should they pay for the work to be done offsite, rather than in the control of their own premises? Many businesses have embraced this new concept with prosperous outcomes. Yet many still steer clear of the idea due to a lack of knowledge or funds that are initially required. But the main barrier is the lack of understanding as some aspects of these virtual team structures are still developing. Further research should be invested in this area to help companies produce more accurate forecasting and cost-benefit analysis.

This new concept has the potential to make a huge difference. I see the rapid change in the global market place that is in fluid motion, prompting me to dive in and be a part of this future change. I want to help promote and encourage more job creations that are location independent, benefiting not just employees, but businesses and society as a whole.

Some major benefits of adopting a virtual team strategy include the following:

  • The elimination of geographical and time dispersed barriers increases the available talent pool
  • Productive diversity – a global team brings a mix of specialised skills and knowledge
  • Generally, virtual teams are more productive by taking more ownership of their responsibilities
  • There is a significant decrease in carbon emissions and energy costs
  • It greatly assists in creating gender equality by attracting female professionals back to the workforce
  • Other cost reductions such as hardware, insurance, real estate, and travel

Depending on the industry, size, and culture of the business, the weight of these benefits will vary. The challenge is promoting these benefits as they can be uncertain, indirect and intangible in nature. There shoould be careful consideration on the chosen technology being implemented. There can be increased training, software, implementation, and maintenance costs. Another consideration is the language barriers however, nation-based virtual teams are always a possible option.

There are many other factors which need to analysed, for example; workplace culture, building trust in teams, and brand imaging, require a larger amount of resources in comparison to the traditional structures. Also, research shows many people actually prefer to travel to a workplace away from home. Imposing a virtual arrangement may decrease staff morale. There is also the job satisfaction that social interaction brings, rather than be isolated and relying on their own self-motivation. And then there’s the elephant in the room – real people. Skype or any other highly-engaging network software will never be able to compete with real life interaction.

After considering all the above factors, overall I think businesses and individuals are being too slow in changing their mindset. While still arranging for staff to travel to the workplace for meetings or social events so that consistency can be maintained, businesses forget that many tasks can be completed virtually.

With more real life case studies and increased awareness through media and word of mouth, more businesses be willing to invest in this type of re-structure. The end result being a reduction in road traffic, carbon emissions, and increased production efficiency to further boost the economy.

Thanks for reading. If you have any opinions or information regarding this topic I would love you to share in the comments below. Or if you would like to know more about this, check out the links below. There is plenty of great material available.

http://onlinemba.unc.edu/research-and-insights/developing-real-skills-for-virtual-teams/the-rise-and-staying-power-of-virtual-teams/

http://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=e0DTT2DKOScC&oi=fnd&pg=PR10&dq=virtual+teams&ots=g4Kdw5v7qJ&sig=AI4W9zKxur5lYngsXBl_WvlmJbY#v=onepage&q=benefit&f=false

Our normal sens…

Our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing – with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.

This is a quote from Alan Watts from his book “The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”. Although I haven’t read the book, it’s been added to the “to-read” pile after I read a fantastic review on brainpickings.org. You can purchase this book through Amazon http://www.amazon.com/The-Book-Taboo-Against-Knowing/dp/0679723005/?tag=bpnewsletter-20.

And I thought it was the perfect intro to my Day 2 of the 30 Day Blog Challenge response. Yes I know I’m a little behind on Day 2. And to spice things up even more, I’m spending a huge amount of time going for job interviews outside of work hours at the moment. They are soul-sucking, brain-hurting, interrogating interviews that just leave me exhausted and confused. I have just repeated my career history so many times that I don’t even know what I’m selling anymore. The answer to the “So where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question is specially tailor made to suit the individual jobs I’m going for. Who in their right mind would answer that in complete honesty in a job interview?

I’m glad I’ve got this little project to keep in touch with the real me, I might just stay sane after all. However, with all these interviews and an accounting qualification that I’m supposedly studying for, I may not make the blog a day requirements. Maybe I’ll just keep this as a Sunday afternoon thing…. not sure, we’ll see.

So today’s blog post is a response to “If you woke up tomorrow and were free to do anything you wanted with your life, what would you do and who would you be?”

I have often asked myself this question and usually I come up with the same answer… full time study AND become a full time mum. But I’m pretty sure this is because I don’t feel like I’m skilled enough to go out and start my own campaign project. And why can’t I have a child at the same time right? But then maybe it’s because I’m not so confused after all…

For me personally, to answer this question honestly I have to take away the money factor. Even then I’m not so confident that I still know what I want. Which brings me back to Alan Watt’s argument. At the end of the day, we are simple human beings with small brains that have been “culturally conditioned” into thinking and feeling a certain way. He also argues that “attention is simply narrowed perception”. My interpretation of this is that what we choose to focus our limited energy on is driven by a worldview that has been mapped out by our experiences. What we do know for sure, is that we are completely dependent on our bodies and the environment around us. There is only love. Any other feelings such as guilt, jealousy, lust, are all derived from this delusion of being separate from the universe.

Therefore I feel I cannot answer this particular question without answering “If today was your last day, how would you spend it?”. As only in those last moments would I really appreciate what I had missed out on.