It’s the culture stupid

Before I begin, please¬†take 3 minutes and fill out this survey on cultural fit. I’ll write another blog post trying to summarize the results. Thanks in advance.

More and more, I hear about people leaving their current jobs due to cultural reasons. Just today, there was a post-mortem on HN by a former Google employee describing in detail the technological culture clash he experienced. When a productive employee leaves a company, it signals a failure by both parties. The employee could have asked more questions before accepting the offer, and the employer could have been more transparent and screened better.

At my current company,  we spend equal time on technical screening as we do on cultural fit. When I interview candidates, I ask non-surprising technical questions, but I also try to delve as much as I can into their motivations and expectations. I ask questions like the following:

  • What you are lacking in your current position?
  • What is your ideal interaction levels with your engineering, sales, and operations colleagues? With the customers?
  • Of all your past projects, which are you most proud of and why?
  • Describe to me your ideal work environment?

If I hear anything that strongly contrasts with our company culture, I delve in deeper, and try my best to be completely transparent as well. From my personal experiences, I believe this is unusual. Most companies/startups consider a beer with the team at the end of the interview cycle sufficient to know enough about someone. It doesn’t hurt, but it treats cultural fit too much as an ambiguous, unknowable thing. It’s not as black and white as asking someone FizzBuzz, but I feel that most companies can be more systematic and explicit in their criteria. The cost in time, money, and morale of not doing so is too large.

Career decisions are often life changing, for better or worst. We owe it to ourselves to be more honest, transparent, and explicit about our culture—on both sides of the interview table. Please share any methods you use for cultural screening on the HN comment thread.