Which Matters Most When Hiring: Experience or Cultural Fit?

By MARK RIFFEY for the Flathead Beacon

Doctor Obvious says “Hiring the right people is crucial for any small business.

While Dr. O has a point, what the good doctor won’t tell you is what’s most important about finding the right people.

What’s more important to you when hiring? Experience? Cultural fit? Attitude?

Experience matters
Production experience matters, no matter what “production” means to your business. No one would argue the value of hiring someone who “hits the ground running” ie: creates value from the day they arrive.

Assuming you do a good job of evaluating experience, you gain from the training and work that person’s done in the past. You may also gain from things important to the both of you that they didn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate at previous employers.

Experience isn’t always as important as other things or isn’t important at all. Hiring for entry-level positions can fit this mold, but there’s still some experience that you can seek. For example, interests and hobbies that relate to the work can help entry-level staffers become productive quickly.

But…is experience the most important factor?

What about cultural fit?

How new staff members fit your business culture-wise isn’t more or less important than the experience they offer – it’s equally important.

Blue Marble Missoula Job Fair FeaturedIf a new employee doesn’t fit your company’s culture, their experience won’t matter. The clashes will prove that. With the speed and quality expectations of today’s business, the ability to collaborate is more important than ever. Even for programmers who often find themselves working alone far from the main office – the ability to collaborate isessential.

One of the things that always impresses me about a candidate is their understanding that they’re here to make stuff happen, no matter what the job. This isn’t so much a cultural fit with the staff as it is with the company’s goals. In a small business, it’s a must-have mindset.

My “initiative test” with the paper ball is one way to check a candidate’s initiative and attention to detail. When someone comes into my office for an interview, I leave the small wad of paper on the floor between the door and the candidate’s chair – making sure there’s a trashcan within reach.

I want to know when “management” isn’t around that they will take it upon themselves address something when they see it. Initiative matters. When I look for someone, I don’t want to hear “it isn’t my job”, I want to see that they’re going to either take it on, put it on the list of things to deal with or delegate it properly to the right person.

Culture extends beyond collaboration and initiative
Culture is also how your business works.

Think about a few critical path situations from your past and work them into your interview process.

You’re looking for situations that:

  • Save (or lose) a new customer
  • Save (or lose) a long term customer
  • HiringExpose a known and not-yet-addressed weakness in yourbusiness
  • Show off your staff’s “amazingness”
  • Show weaknesses of the past, sometimes ugly ones

While a full-on role play with the candidate may not be necessary, discussing the situation will show the candidate’s:

  • Ability to think on their feet
  • Experience with the situations in question
  • Values re: customers
  • Aplomb during a challenging situation

Even if the position you’re hiring for isn’t primarily about customer service/support/interaction, these scenarios will help you evaluate cultural fit. Does their response echo what your staff would/should do? Is it even better? Will they serve as not only a good staff member, but also as a good example?

When things don’t go well with a customer, it usually isn’t a way to identify the customers who are a pain or those who “aren’t good customers”. They may be a challenge because they push your skill/service boundaries, or they’re just difficult to work with (what’s their baggage?) in some form. How a staffer handles these things has great value.

Your candidate’s responses will shine a light on the best of both worlds – how they’ll fit your culture and your clients while leveraging their experience.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on Twitter, or email him atmriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.

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