Over the years I have been part of the hiring process of some 40 to 50 application developers, one thing I slowly learned was how to probe for team/company fit, as with most engineers, the majority of my interviews were at first very technical in nature. Recently I conducted several 30 minutes interviews with candidates that focused on culture and the core company values and this helped me improve further this important part of the hiring process.

If you look online, you will easily find template questions on core values, I must say I find those generally quite bad. Take for example the questions below taken from those lists.

“What would you do if you had to work with a person you didn’t get along with?”

This makes me cringe, the kind of questions candidate have a prefab answer ready. Personally, I use questions that can lead me to have a deeper discussion with the candidates. While the list below isn’t exhaustive, I wanted to share starter questions that can help with creating a discussion around culture and values.

1. Tell me what you know about our company.

I find this is usually an excellent conversation starter, it also helps determine what the candidates know about the company and if they took some time to read about it before. Great candidates will already be informed about the company because they actually want to work there.

It also provides a great way to complete to candidate knowledge, talk about the open position, and also sell the position to the candidate so that he is even more excited to join the company.

2. Talk to me about something you taught yourself in the last year.

There are many ways to answers this questions, most will think about some process, framework, or programming language they learned recently, but they could also go completely opposite and talk about how they learned to play a song on the piano.

We live in a knowledge economy, and engineers always looking to know more can come quite handy. Having developers eager to pick new technologies can provide more value in the long term as technologies change and evolve.

This can also tell quite a bit about the curious nature of the candidate, this is something Eric Smith, CEO of Google, found to be a necessary quality of successful employee’s.

“The combination of persistence and curiosity is a very good predictor of employee success in a knowledge economy,”

3. Two years from now, if you’re part of our company, how will you judge if your time here has been a success?

This is a variation of the famous question, “What are your goals for the next 1 or 2 years” but framed specifically around if they accept the position at the company. It reframes the candidate thoughts which would normally be only around his personal goals, to align them side by side with the company.

The goal is to dive into what kind of career the candidate is looking for, often this will revolve around mastering technical skills, but sometimes this also leads to talk about management roles, that can help you understand what would be the medium-term candidate path within the company.

4. Why have you decided to pursue software development [or insert computer science, or etc], regardless of your school or occupation?

Speaking of core values, this is where you can really probe for some alignment, this may take the candidate somewhat aback, you are launching the candidate quite far away in his past, thinking why he chooses that path to begin with.

It can also lead to other interesting discussions, for example, you could ask which part of computer science the candidate liked the most in school, or if they ever thought about doing some personal projects.

Last Words

As I said earlier, my intent with those questions is to have a meaningful discussion around the candidate values, this provides me with a better understanding of the values this individual would embody, and which company values he would lack the most.

There are more resources about culture fit hiring if you look around, it’s a hot topic and it has also been debated quite a lot, some say that culture based interviews can also lead to diversity issues on the long run. One last thing, stay away from tacky questions!