Interviewing for Character and Culture Fit

Probing Beyond the Hard Skills

I want to share this list of insightful interview questions, adapted slightly from those used by a client[1]. Try asking some of these in your interviews to assess the culture impact of your potential hires:

  1. Describe a skill you feel you are missing.

Can the candidate properly assess himself/herself?  Humble enough to see where a skill is missing?  Desire to learn new skills? Hunger to be better?

  1. Describe a situation where you had to admit to others that you had made a mistake. How did you handle the situation?

Does the candidate have the humility and integrity to admit mistakes and apologize? Have the people skills to effectively verbalize the admission of mistakes to others? Care enough about the team to be honest for the benefit of the team?

  1. Describe the dynamics of the best team you have been a part of.

Is there humility to put team above self? Indications of caring about fellow team members? A passion regarding team performance; a shared team standard of excellence; results better together than apart? Examples of team innovation?

  1. We all have people that we don’t hate but dislike. Why did/do you dislike a former/current co-worker and how have you dealt with him/her?

Can they explain the dynamics without disparaging the person? Do so in a professional way? Do so while protecting the other person’s reputation? Express empathy or understanding about someone they do not like? 

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to make a big adjustment in order to succeed.

Is this person able to be flexible? Innovate or find creative solutions? Have a hunger for excellence that will not be derailed by obstacles?

  1. What is a misconception that people may have about you?

How realistic is the candidate’s self-perception? Humble or selfish as they express the misconception? Mature/immature in what they express? Care about how the misconception affects their team or others? Express their concerns about this misconception in a socially appropriate way?

  1. Describe the boss who would get the very best from you.

Is the candidate aware of what helps them succeed? Express their relationship with the boss in the context of team? Examples of humility in describing the best boss? Want a boss who holds to high standards vs. coddling them?

  1. What are you most passionate about?

What gets this person excited? Animated? Truly hungry about? Examples of caring about other people as more important than self? Service-oriented traits? Passion to do something really well? Passion for self-improvement?

[1] Courtesy of Action Property Management

Balancing on a Three-Legged Stool

Responsibility, Authority, and Privilege

The nice thing about a three-legged stool is that it won’t wobble.  That doesn’t mean the top will be level enough to keep you from falling off, but it won’t wobble.   Ever try to play Jenga or build something on a stool that wasn’t level?  Not a formula for success.

I like to picture responsibility, authority, and privilege as a three-legged stool that I can build an organization on.  If we want to build successfully, we need that stool to be level.  If any leg is too long or too short, our growth and stability will be constrained. Continue reading Balancing on a Three-Legged Stool

Trust and/or Transparency

A Paradoxical Relationship

Transparency is often touted as foundational to building trust.  And it can be – or not…

We live in a culture that equates our desire to know something with our right to know it.  We feel entitled to tap into the endless free-flow of information, believing that anyone who holds anything back is hiding something and can’t be trusted.  Except, of course, that we choose to keep some things private and we can be trusted. Continue reading Trust and/or Transparency

Sources of (Dis)Trust

Competence, Character, and Motivation

Building a high level of trust within an organization can seem like the search for the Holy Grail: It’s highly valued, but very elusive.

Some of us believe that trust must be earned. We’re not willing to accept the risk of betrayed trust. Some of us grant trust more freely until we have reason to withhold it. We recognize that people give their best when we expect the best out of them. Most of us start off relationships somewhere between extreme trust and extreme lack of trust.

We Don’t Need Trust Where There Is No Risk

Continue reading Sources of (Dis)Trust

The Cure for “Too Busy”

The Investment that Pays Back Big…

I’ve written before about dealing with the pervasive problem of being too busy (see, or the videos at There is a way to gain significant ground against this problem. Now don’t roll your eyes at me until you’ve heard me out, but I believe the best, most lasting solution to being too busy is… Continue reading The Cure for “Too Busy”

Dangerous Mission Statements

Should You Burn Yours?

I was sitting in a CEO’s office when he excused himself to take an important call.  While he was on the phone, I read through the mission, vision, and values statements hanging on his wall.  When he hung up, I asked, “How do these documents influence what happens out there in the office every day?”

All too predictably, he rolled his eyes and chuckled.  “Not much.”

My advice to him was to do one of three things:
Continue reading Dangerous Mission Statements

Making Tomorrow Easier

Paving Your Path with a Healthy Culture

It happens all the time. A client tells me about a difficult situation they’re dealing with and wants to know what to do. It’s a fair question and I’m happy to help. The sad part is that more often than not, the difficult situation could have been avoided altogether. The sadder part is that it will most likely happen again.
Continue reading Making Tomorrow Easier

Hiring for Culture Fit

What You Don’t See Can Hurt You

From the CEO to the low man on the totem pole, every person we hire has some effect on our organizational culture. Obviously, the higher up the ladder, the greater the opportunity for impact. And one lower-tier person has a lot more impact in a ten person organization than in a 10,000 person organization.

We hire because we need a skill or capacity. So our focus tends to drift toward the hard skills the position requires. But according to most surveys, lacking the skills to do the job is not the top reason people leave their jobs – voluntarily or involuntarily. Character and soft skills are usually the culprits. Yet there isn’t one perfect model of character and soft skills that fits every organization.
Continue reading Hiring for Culture Fit

Identifying What Matters Most

Clarifying Values

“Values” is a buzzword that risks being abused into oblivion. But despite the hype, clarity about what’s important to us is a powerful lever for making us more successful according to our own definition of success.

Whether we’re conscious of them or not, our values (organizational and personal) define our behavior. One of the reasons “values” gets a bad rap is that organizations and individuals often claim values that aren’t reflected in their actions. Don’t tell me you value honesty while describing the neat trick you found for cheating on your taxes. Continue reading Identifying What Matters Most

Defining How We Treat Each Other

But Don’t Say It Unless You’ll Live It…

I consider the most important values of an organization to be those that define how we treat each other.  Here’s an example of such values that I developed with one of my clients. friends-1020035_640Perhaps there are some useful points here that you can adopt (or adapt), but be careful:  Never claim a value as your own unless you’re willing to live every word of it.  Don’t destroy your credibility by saying something’s important that you’re not willing to be held accountable to.
Continue reading Defining How We Treat Each Other