How to Hire for Cultural Fit Without Becoming Insular and Mediocre

Have you read The next thing Silicon Valley needs to disrupt big time: its own culture? If not, it talks about hiring processes where companies

  • Hire people “just like us”
  • Where candidates can’t tell they are on interviews
  • Where, if you wear a suit, you might be disqualified, because, hey, we don’t wear suits here. No, it doesn’t count that you are the one interviewing

There’s more, but this is all done in the name of “meritocracy” and “cultural fit.”

You can call it cultural fit, but it’s not. It’s lazy interviewing. It’s bias against anyone who doesn’t look like us, sound like us, or is us, whomever us is. It creates an insular culture.

It’s a shame, because for any challenging product and knowledge work, you need diverse teams and diverse ideas to work together, to collaborate to create a great product. I’ve said it, in Great People Create Great Products. Anita Wooley says you need women in Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women. If you read Diversity and Innovativeness in New Product Development Teams:

Diversity can be a resource that helps to strengthen the innovativeness of a NPD team.
On the other hand , diversity can act as a risk
that leads to diminished team cohesiveness and thus obstructs innovativeness.

I didn’t say it was easy.

Here’s the problem: if you are creating a product for the marketplace, where the people don’t all look like you, you need to understand your market. You need to understand how those people think, how they use the product, and what they might want to buy.

If you only hire people who look just like you, act just like you, are mini-me’s, you don’t know anything about your potential market. You cannot empathize with your customers. You have created an insular culture. You are on your way to mediocrity.

Why do I say mediocrity? Because you have no way to get new ideas. You have the same kinds of people, who have the same experiences, who dress the same way, who think the same way, who act the same way. You have group-think. You might be great now. Someone else will eclipse you, because they have better ideas. They have more diverse ideas. Where do you think those ideas come from?

What do you do?

  1. Take a reflective look at your current culture. What does the organization reward? How do people treat each other? What can people discuss? That’s your culture. Are you aware of your culture?
  2. Are you using the term “cultural fit” as a catch-all to prevent people who don’t look or act just like you from joining your team? If you have not done a job analysis, you might be.
  3. Expand the pool of candidates. Instead of looking in the places you’ve always looked, look outside that normal pool. Recruit/source differently.
  4. Stop looking for technical skills first. Look for adaptability, for perseverance, for the ability to collaborate. Yes, those skills are more difficult to discover on a resume. You have to phone-screen differently. Candidates have to write resumes differently. You might not be able to use your ATS the same way. And, yes, the technical skills are still important. But they are not what make your teams great.

Think about the most successful people and your most successful teams now. What differentiates them from the less successful people? I bet it’s qualities such as these:

You do want to hire for culture. You do not want to create an insular culture, a mono-culture. Because you will not create products your customers need. You will become mediocre.

Read Hiring Geeks That Fit to understand what to do. Hiring is your most important job. You can do it fast and do it right.

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Would You Like a Manage Your Job Search Open Jam Session?

I will be at Agile 2014 next week. So will about 1800 other people.

MYJS_border.150I bet some of you are looking for new jobs. Would you like an Open Jam session about looking for a new job? I can conduct a timeboxed, up to one-hour session about Manage Your Job Search. If you only want the networking tips, I can do that. Only the job search tips and traps? I can do that.

The first step is this: let me know if you want an open jam session. If so, we’ll find time that we are all free.

Remember, a conference is a rich place for target networking.

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Great Series on Hiring Testers

Do you read Rob Lambert’s Social Tester? He’s been blogging about his experiences finding candidates.

Some of my favorites:

Certifications are Creating Lazy Hiring Managers

Here is a quote from that post:

You cannot presume someone with a certification is a talented tester.

You also cannot presume someone with no certification is a rubbish tester.

I had missed his review of Hiring Geeks That Fit. Here is his review: Geeks Hiring Geeks.

Things he likes:

  • The way the book looks at recruiting
  • The templates
  • The stories

He also recommends the book for job seekers. Thanks, Rob!

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Three Tips to Streamline Your Interviews and Auditions, Part 4

See Three Tips to Streamline Your Hiring, Part 1, Three Tips to Streamline Your Recruiting, Part 2, and Three Tips to Streamline Your Phone Screens, Part 3 to see our story to here.

When my client talked about his interviews for developers, he said, “I interview people on the phone and then ask the candidate to talk to one person. We ask them to write some code that we think is representative of our problem. We don’t care what language they use. They could use psuedo code. But we want them to talk us through what they did.”

Okay, the audition part made sense to me. But talk to just one person? How do you understand what the candidate can do? Remember, this client is having problems finding people who are technically capable. Talking to just one person is not enough. Even their pre-interview test (which I don’t like) is not helping.

We discussed alternatives. I asked him if he was using an interview matrix. Uh oh, no, he was not. But, he didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. I agreed with him.

He could put the audition first. But, if the audition wasn’t working, he had to change the audition. Or, he had to change the questions he was asking. What kinds of questions was he asking?

He looked at me quizzically. “What do you mean? What kinds of questions do I ask?”

“Sure. Tell me a typical question you ask.”

“Uh, I don’t have them memorized.”

I smiled. “Okay, I suspect they are not behavior-description questions. I suspect they are hypothetical questions or leading questions. Those questions allow candidates to wiggle in their answers. Behavior-description questions ground a candidate in reality. They provide you a real answer about a real project or a real situation.”

You should have seen his face. Priceless. I gave him some examples:

  • Tell me about a time you had to refactor code in your most recent project. What did you do? (Not everyone thinks of refactoring as something that takes a few hours. Some people think of refactoring as an excuse to rearchitect entire sections of the code base. Some people don’t write tests first, or at all.
  • Tell me about a time you encountered a problem on your most recent project. What was it? (Notice how this is very open. I’m not asking about a technical problem or a people problem. Let the candidate tell you what kind of a problem he or she encountered and what happened. Remember, software is a team sport.)
  • Tell me about a recent problem you solved that you are proud of.

I have more examples of behavior-description questions in Hiring Geeks That Fit.

Then we spoke about his audition. It was not working for him. The audition was not assessing the behaviors he needed to assess and it was too long. Candidates were spending a long time (an hour) for not enough return.

I pointed him to the resources here in this blog, and in Hiring Geeks That Fit. Do a search of the tag audition here. Look for articles on my main site with the audition tag, too.

The tips:

  1. Don’t think you can assess a candidate with just one person. Use at least three people. I like four people for a first-round. Organize these people with an interview matrix.
  2. Think about the behaviors you want in an audition. Then, design your audition. I have articles about auditions. You can also search on the audition tag for this blog.
  3. Think about the behavior-description questions you want to use in advance of an interview. Unless you are a practiced interviewer, you might not be able to think of questions on the spur of the moment. You want a number of questions on the tip of your tongue.

By this time, he was full of ideas. We called it a day.

I had transformed his idea of what hiring could be. Stay tuned for Part 5, where I’ll summarize everything and provide you a few more tips.

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Three Tips to Streamline Your Phone Screens, Part 3

I talked about streamlining your problem statement and your job analysis in Part 1. In Part 2, I talked about streamlining your recruiting. This part is about is about phone screens. Love them or hate them, you have to do them. But how?

My client first spent about 10 minutes talking about the company and the position before he asked any questions. I asked him why.

“I want to sell people on the company.”

“That’s very nice of you. Why do you want to sell people before you know if they are right for you?”

“Oh, from your question, maybe I don’t?”

“Well, I don’t see why you would spend any  more time on a phone screen than you need to. Think about it. You spend 10 minutes building people’s hopes up. Then you ask a couple of questions and dash their hopes. Why not ask questions first, decide if you want them for an interview, and then “sell” them on the company if you need to? You might not even need to sell them on the company. Maybe your questions will sell them.”


I could see his wheels turning… (If you read Hiring Geeks That Fit, I spend an entire chapter on how to structure and ask questions in phone screens. Would I leave you hanging? No!)

Here are the tips:

  1. In your job analysis, you have differentiate what’s essential from what’s merely desirable. Take two or three essentials and ask about those in the phone screen. Those are your elimination questions. Ask about the elimination questions first. If the candidate can’t answer those questions to your content, stop the phone screen right then and there.
  2. Money was a constraint for my client, so we decided to ask about it. He decided to ask at the end of the phone screen, and ask this way: “We have a range of x to y for this position. Is that going to fit for what you want, or are we nowhere near each other? (This is why I suggest in Manage Your Job Search to know what you want before you have a phone screen. Hiring managers need to know. They do.)
  3. How much do you need to sell the company? When I was a candidate, I just hated when people wasted my time telling me about the company. They never told me what I needed to know. I wanted to know how much time people wasted in meetings. I wanted to know if people collaborated. Instead, they told me the location, or if they had parking, nonsense like that. People want to know about the working environment, not the stuff about the work. Consider what you need to tell people about the work, and you can shorten your phone screens.

I have a phone screen template. You should take it adapt it to your needs. It can be a strawman template for you.

Next, we’ll talk about how my client streamlined his interviewing and auditions. You’re going to love it.

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Three Tips to Streamline Your Recruiting, Part 2

My client in Part 1, where we talked about streamlining your analysis, was also having trouble finding people. He needed to hire two developers. He just “knew” there was a boom in Boston, and could not hire more people.

Well, considering I had just been at a SPIN meeting the night before and met people who had been looking for work for months, I knew there were people looking for work.

The question always is this: How does the hiring manager find the people who are looking? How do the people who are looking find the hiring managers?

The people who are looking have to target networking. (See Manage Your Job Search.)

But the hiring managers have to vary their recruiting mechanisms. If you rely on the same old mechanisms, you will not get new and different candidates. My client was not seeing a variety of candidates. He was using recruiters, but a small number. Those recruiters had not proved themselves to him. And, he had not left his office to personally recruit for the positions. He had not used Twitter. He had not used LinkedIn.

I made these suggestions:

  1. If a recruiter does not prove him/herself in the first month by providing quality candidates worthy of hiring, move on. Do not saddle yourself with a recruiter who throws candidates at you who are not worth interviewing, never mind hiring.
  2. You have to use multiple sourcing mechanisms. You must. You cannot rely on two recruiters to find people. You must go to meetings or job fairs yourself. Candidates who have been unemployed for a while are not going to recruiters, for any number of reasons. You actually want unemployed candidates. Why? They can start tomorrow, or next week. You don’t have to pay a recruiter. But, to find those people you have to go to meetings, mashups, some other community event. Yes, you do. You have to leave the office. You have to—dare I say it—network!
  3. Use LinkedIn. At least post the job on your LinkedIn company page and change your headline to say you are looking for people. Consider using Twitter. At least, try it. You have not much to lose, and much to gain. You can experiment for a week or two and see what kind of resumes you get.

My client was using a pre-phone screen coding test for everyone. I didn’t like that idea. He claimed that it screened out people who couldn’t program at all, but they still discovered people they hired who couldn’t program. I told them they needed a new audition.

I don’t like pre-interview tests or generic auditions. This guy was a warm guy, and the environment was collaborative. The generic audition/test was not a good assessment for them, and it was an hour long. He thought asking an hour of a candidate was fine. I said, “A candidate has 5 phone screens scheduled in 2 days. Yours requires one hour of coding beforehand. Will a candidate bother? You don’t even know if the candidate will pass your elimination questions.”

“Uh, maybe not.”

I don’t like barriers before you know if the candidate can do the bare minimum. But that’s me. And, since the coding test let through candidates who couldn’t code, that they had to fire later, it’s not a good test.

Stay tuned for the phone screen tips, part 3.

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Ann: Manage Your Job Search Webinar

I’m doing a webinar on July 2 about finding a job: Manage Your Job Search Webinar .

Manage Your Job SearchHere’s the description:

Searching for a job is a big, complex, and scary prospect. You don’t have control over the end date, so it’s an emergent project. How do you regain control? By using personal kanban inside one week timeboxes and reflecting on your progress.

Personal kanban can help you manage your work, keep your WIP small, and visualize what to do. But personal kanban is not enough, even with purposeful reflection. A job seeker needs the growth mindset—the agile mindset—to persist in building a target list and networking list.

Too many people don’t realize how to network. They think that “spray-and-pray” works for résumés, online, and in-person networking. That wastes time. You also need an agile approach, try a little something and getting some feedback to your networking.

Building a targeted list requires knowing your purpose, knowing who your target list might be, articulating the value of your previous accomplishments, how to ask for feedback, purposeful reflection and the growth mindset.

In this webinar, I’ll explain the basics of personal kanban. I’ll provide you an introduction to background networking and how that differs from targeted networking. Bring your notebook and a pen. You’ll learn enough to use this session to manage your job search now and in the future.

I hope you join me on the webinar.

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Three Tips to Streamline Your Hiring, Part 1

I spent the day consulting with a client who might sound just like you. He’s a senior manager in a small company. He’s overworked, trying to perform too many roles by himself. He’s the CTO, Scrum Master for as many as three teams (yes, I gave him the evil eye), the tool master, managing about 20 people directly (he has three leads, but he writes all the reviews), and he’s doing all the recruiting. He’s drowning in work. You’re not surprised, are you?

When I talk to people like this client, they share the same frustrations. They can’t find people who can come in Day 1, and start to work. They can’t find enough people fast. They see a ton of people, most of whom are wrong. Their hiring is stuck.

If that is your problem, here are tips that might help you:

  1. Talk through all of your problems in the organization with a trusted adviser, confidant, or consultant. We spent about 45 minutes first discussing what my client’s problems were. When I realized how many roles he was taking on himself, and what his hiring process was, I could make immediate suggestions for improvement. If you don’t know the problems, you can’t see the forest for the trees. You need to go meta in order to know what to suggest on the ground. We did decide he had at least one of the right jobs open, and that he needed four more open positions.
  2. Make sure you do a thorough job analysis of the open jobs. We timeboxed the analysis of a “senior engineer” position to 30 minutes. I asked him questions, and pushed and prodded when he was vague. People are vague the first time through. It’s okay. That’s why it helps to have someone who can push back and help you be less vague talk with you. By the end of the 30 minutes, we had several unique opportunities for this specific role, something that would make someone want the job.
  3. Write an ad that creates a compelling opportunity. If you need one, write a job description with bullets. Since he needs a new person, he needed an ad more than he needed a bulletized job description. He asked me: was it okay to write an ad in sentences? I answered, What would you rather read, bullets or a compelling ad? He smiled and said, “The ad, hands down.”

This started to streamline his hiring from the sourcing perspective. But wait, there’s more!

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Three Tips for Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”

I’ve said I don’t like the “Tell me About Yourself” question long ago and more recently. It’s not a useful question. But that’s not going to stop interviewers from asking it.

Here are my three tips for answer this question.

  1. Remember that you are not your degrees or certifications.
  2. Remember that you are not your role (project manager, developer, tester, whatever).
  3. Remember that you need to articulate your value.

If you remember those three ideas, how do you answer this question? Here are some examples.

Example #1: Let’s assume you are a project manager, with a slew of certificates and an MBA. You don’t say, “I have an MBA and a PMP.” No, you say, “I ran a geographically distributed agile program. We succeeded because I helped people learn how to see their interdependencies. I helped the teams learn to collaborate. I never worked so hard in my life, not driving to a date. I didn’t learn any of this in school or in my certifications. I learned it on the job, experimenting, using the data to see what did and didn’t work. I know what works on an agile program with teams and people all over the world. Some of it isn’t pretty. But, with experimentation, we can make it work.”

Example #2: Let’s assume you are a tester. (Some people call this QA Engineer.) You don’t say, “I’m a QA Engineer” or “I’m a tester.” Nobody cares if you have certifications.  You say, “I provide information about the product under development, regardless of where in development that product is. I can read specs. I can argue architecture. I can create tests anywhere in the product development lifecycle. On my most recent project, we had an intermittent performance problem. I partnered with a business analyst and a developer to create tests that we would run over several builds to find that problem and analyze it. We discovered that the problem had been there from the beginning, and that new code uncovered it. Our partnership was key to uncovering and debugging the problem.”

Example #3: Let’s assume you are a developer. You might say something like this: “I work with the team to develop creating solutions to problems. On the last project, we had to improve database performance by at least 20%. That was a hard problem. We needed to be able to rollback, too. We couldn’t just make this a one-way solution. We had to experiment with several solutions. I facilitated those problem solving sessions. They were loud sessions, but we solved the problem in a really interesting way. If we hadn’t used our tests as a safety net, I don’t know what would have happened. I couldn’t tell people they had to test as we went. I had to influence them. My development skills are great, but I’m not just a developer. If you hire me, you’ll get a great developer who’s also a great facilitator within the team.”

Do you see how those answers differ from the standard, “I went to this school, I have this job, I did that thing”? These answers have the start of interesting details about you. You want to continue with your value. See Four Tips for Defining Your Value.

If you like this post, you want to read Manage Your Job Search.

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Recruiting Animal’s Review of Manage Your Job Search

Did you see Recruiting Animal’s review of Manage Your Job Search? It’s terrific.

One of the things I like best about his review is that he talks about each section of the book and explains what he likes about each section.

In his review, he has a great tip on how to introduce yourself. Go read the review and see.

Here’s the summary of what he says about Manage Your Job Search:

“… up-to-date guide that I would recommend.”

Thank you, Animal! If you are looking for a job, get your copy now.

If you have a review, let me know.

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