Interviewing for Culture, What’s Discussable and What’s Not

Dave’s comments on my most recent post got me thinking about doing a series of posts about interviewing for cultural fit.

In my recent talks about management, I talk about cultural fit. One piece of cultural fit is knowing what you can discuss and not discuss. When you interview people, especially managers, you can’t ask, “What do you discuss or not discuss?” (Well, you can, but it’s not a helpful question.)

Instead, ask questions such as, “Give me an example of information do you normally discuss with your team? With your peers? With your managers? Why?” (Make them all separate questions.) Follow up with “Give me an example of a time you had information you wanted to share but couldn’t (at each level). Why?”

The problem with culture is that it’s totally context-dependent. What is ethically and reasonably acceptable to share in some organizations is not ethical in others. You need to see where people start and where they are affected by their organization. That’s why you need to ask the why questions.

These are opening questions, not the end of the conversation. Especially for managers, you want to ask questions about how they manage. And, if you know their starting place for what they can discuss and what they can’t, you can have a better conversation.

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