How to Screen for Culture Fit: A Whitepaper

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“Recruiting” is what you do to get candidates in your door. “Screening” is what you do to determine which candidate should be offered the job.  “Screening for culture” means dedicating more time determining whether their personality and strengths are the best fit for your organization.  All positions require a certain set of skills and experience; that’s understood. However, dedicated and passionate candidates can be taught certain skills and processes, while you can’t teach candidates how to react to challenges or how to inspire others.  Don’t pass over someone who is perfectly aligned with the core values of your company or team in favor of a shiny resume.

Now you just have to dedicate yourself to uncovering these traits by screening for culture fit.

If you focused on “recruiting for culture,” then your job posting is getting a lot of attention. You not only clearly communicated the required hard skills and soft skills, but also proudly articulated your company culture. The resumes are flooding in, and you’ve got some excellent candidates.

The downfall of many employers is measuring candidate excellence based on their resumes. You know that the purpose of the interview is to go past the resume and open the conversation, to focus on what kind of employee they are – and it can, but only if the conversation is structured right. You don’t want them to simply regurgitate their resume; you want to know what’s beyond the page.

Like so many things in life, it’s not what they’ve done; it’s how they did it.

That “how” is what ultimately contributes to your company culture. And while skills, education, and experience are what move your business toward its goals and objectives, it is how your employees utilize them along with their human traits that make it a great place to work.

In his TEDtalk, Resumes are Bad for Business, John Fleischauer, senior member of Halogen Software’s talent acquisition team, warns about the transactional behaviors that resumes can illicit: “They speak to nothing but our past, and they tell nothing about our future.” Your candidates are not a checklist; they are dynamic beings and dynamic professionals. It is those dynamic traits that will support and build upon your culture.

The truth is, resumes are still a necessity.  Your candidates have to be able to perform the tasks the position requires, but be prepared to dig deeper during the screening process and be willing to take a chance on the less than perfect resume. You shouldn’t be only concerned with what they are going to do in your business, but how they are going to do it.

Step by Step

While you may want to take your time to get to know your candidates in order to be confident in your selection, you may lose candidates due to a slowed system. The hiring process is taking nearly twice as long as it did a few years ago, and you cannot afford to lose top talent in today’s tight market. Your hiring process needs to be efficient and effective.

At Roth, we’ve found that we lose most of our candidates if the interview isn’t scheduled in five days of finding them.

During each stage of your screening process, it is key to keep candidates engaged. Placing a cultural emphasis and being genuinely interested in your candidates will keep them intrigued and patient.

However, it is still best to move along the process as quickly as possible.  Mimi Taylor, Sr. VP of Roth Staffing and 2007 Private Company CFO of the Year, recommends investing time wisely: “Find a method for ensuring the skills and personality you need. Multiple interviews are still important, but try to complete the entire screening process in one longer appointment rather than multiple office trips.”

Culture talk will keep the longer appointment lively, and break up the monotony of repeating past experience.


Your prescreening should also include a culture element. Utilize web-based application systems like ProveIt that allow for a series of screening questions relevant to the job, and workplace culture – a lot of these questions start with “What would you do if…?” At [Roth] our prescreening technology includes questions like “Should work be fun?” or “Describe a great manager.” Be sure whatever system you use or questions you ask are compliant with employment laws.

Try to keep the application screening relatively short. Nearly one-third of all candidates won’t spend more than 15 minutes filling out an online application.

Phone interviews require the same amount of cultural attention. Pepper in a few culture related questions and topics while you get to know your candidate as a professional and person.


Interview Stage

When looking for what you want, sometimes all you have to do is ask. 78% of HR professionals rated behavioral questions as effective to very effective when assessing culture fit of candidates.

Start by asking about them, beyond their professional life (there are some topics that are off limits, but ask about hobbies, volunteering, and special interests). This opportunity to talk about who they are away from the desk can give you some insight. Simply put, the way you do anything is the way you do everything. If they don’t have any passions, how are they supposed to be passionate about their work or your company?

Do their eyes light up when they talk about their pet rabbit, then light up again when they talk about spreadsheets? Can their creative wizardry in the kitchen translate to creative marketing solutions?

This will also help them feel more comfortable, so you can get a clearer picture of who they are.

From there, continue with your basic interview questions (skills are still important), while weaving in questions that will help you assess culture fit:


Also ask them about their job experience that may not relate to the position. For example, employees of the restaurant service organization Open Table all have some past experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry: programmers, IT specialists, HR representatives, everyone – even the CEO. This is a unique essential to their business since they create tools to be used in restaurants and hospitality, giving each employee a specialized insight to their services – one that can only come from that bus boy or waitress experience.

While your organization may not have previous industries that create a smooth transition to yours, non-industry jobs will still have a major effect on their current working styles. Again, the way you do anything is the way you do everything. If you have a candidate who was a successful nanny, they are likely to be trustworthy, detail oriented, and great multitaskers.

After the initial interview be sure to contact reference and conduct background checks. Ask their references about previous culture fit.


Reminder: You’re being interviewed too

This is also their opportunity to interview you. They need to know if your company will be right for them. This is a candidate’s market, so you have to stand out against other companies they are interviewing with.

Incorporate their name often (just be sure to keep it organic without overkill). It’s a simple way to communicate interest and investment. This personalized touch will help you stand out from other organizations.

There are some that say our name is our favorite word, but hearing one’s own name also elicits a unique effect in the brain. Areas across the left hemisphere, including middle frontal cortex, middle and superior temporal cortex, and cuneus, show increased activation – significantly more so than when hearing someone else’s name.

These are the same regions that are activated with self-recognition and reference. An interview is a process of self-recognition and self-reference, why not get that part of the brain up and going.

Extra bonus: the more you practice pairing the name with the face, the less likely you are to forget their name.


Make sure they are aware of any special programs or perks that are popular among your current employees.  See what they think about your volunteer programs.  Review the programs that make your workplace fun or unique and see what resonates with them.  It not only gives them a chance to learn more about your organization but further allows you to see what excites them as you continue to look for that culture fit.

Be sure to introduce the candidates to your team and allow time for peer interviews. Watch them interact, not just on a professional level, but on a social level as well. If too many awkward silences creep in or they just don’t mesh, it might be time to move on to the next applicant.

Keep in mind that it is your responsibility as a manager to know when a potential employee will not be happy in your workplace. You may be dazzled by their years of experience and their proficiency with Excel, but you must set that aside for your team and the job seeker. Culture fit should be a top priority.


The hardest portion of the interview maybe when you realize that while one candidate is an amazing culture fit, they may be lacking in performance, and another is lacking in culture fit, but exceeding in performance.

Many organizations make the mistake of hiring candidate #2, hoping that he will eventually mesh with the company. However, candidate #1 is the best choice. You can teach skills, you cannot teach culture fit.

It will be much harder to make candidate #2 feel at home, and when employees don’t feel a strong connection with the organization’s mission, goals, or their teammates, they are more likely to leave.

In a survey of more than 200 HR professionals, 90% of respondents rated recruiting for cultural fit as “very important to essential.” Harmony between employee and organization is critical for individual and team success. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, turnover due to poor culture fit can cost you anywhere between 50-60% of that employee’s annual salary.

“When you know, you know,” says Mimi Taylor. “If they are just okay, move onto the next candidate – don’t settle for anyone less than excellent. Commit to only hiring the most talented and best culture fit – make this your hiring philosophy and stick to it… having a team filled with exceptional hires is worth it!”

You deserve a team you will enjoy, someone who loves your organization as much as you do; you just have to ask the right questions.



About Roth Staffing Companies, L.P.

Roth Staffing Companies is one of the largest privately-held staffing companies in the country, operating from more than 100 locations in 21 states and the District of Columbia via six specialized business lines: Ultimate Staffing Services, the 11th largest admin/clerical staffing company in the country, Ledgent Finance & Accounting, Adams & Martin Group, Ledgent Technology & Engineering, and About Talent.  The organization is also affiliated with Ultimate Locum Tenens. 

Roth Staffing Companies stands as the only firm in the industry ever ranked #1 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing, privately-owned companies, and is the only one to receive all of the industry’s most prestigious honors in a single year, accomplishing this feat for two consecutive years.  The organization is consistently ranked among the 50 largest staffing companies in the country.

Visit for more information or call (714) 939-8600.