How To Evaluate The Culture Fit of Executive Candidates
13 November 2020
Executive search firms play a significant role in helping organizations create and maintain a productive and healthy culture by placing the right people in the right roles. To excel in this task, search firms must accurately evaluate both the hiring organization and potential candidates to determine culture fit.
In the first article of our four-part culture series, we discussed evaluating organizations and building a success profile for potential hires. So how do search firms evaluate candidates? We interviewed consultants from around the world to shine a light on the candidate assessment process.
Step One: Review Career History
A vital source of information to help determine culture fit is the candidate’s professional experience, as different career paths offer exposure to vastly different working environments.
“Do they have a background in diverse international environments, or were they self-employed or part of a family-run organization? What environments have influenced their business acumen and leadership style?” — Allan Laurie, Managing Partner, NOVUS Search Partners
Reviewing professional experience, and evaluating which environments the leader has excelled, allows you to identify characteristics that either match or conflict with your success profile for the role. For example, leaders who have a successful background in early-stage startups have shown the ability to thrive in an entrepreneurial and fast-paced environment.
Step Two: Interview
Interviews are a standard component of every hiring process. However, the approach has to be carefully considered in order to avoid bias or rehearsed responses.
“The interview is a conversation rather than a role discussion or ‘job interview’ and is structured to avoid socially desirable response bias, harness the power of reflection, as well as the power of non-verbal communication. It places candidates outside of the expected interview comfort zone, which is reflective of real life.”
— Allan Laurie, Managing Partner, NOVUS Search Partners
The formality of interviews should be set aside in order to invite the candidate to relate on a more personal level and reveal their true character and motivations. Candid conversations empower the consultant with the knowledge required to truly advocate for the best interests of both parties.
Another important aspect of a successful interview technique is placing the organization’s mission at the center of the discussions.
“At this stage, we emphasize the purpose behind the role and the sense of meaning from work.” — Florin Popa, Partner, K.M.Trust & Partners
The new generation of leadership is highly purpose-driven, and much of the candidate-client culture fit is driven by mission and values.
“Culture fit of a candidate is best described as the individual’s attitudes, values, and beliefs being in line with the core values of the client.” — Nairouz Bader, CEO, Envision Partnership
Step Three: Allow For Candidate Self-Assessment
While search firms lead the process for evaluating culture fit, candidates will do a lot of work to gather information and assess the match for themselves.
“Executives often ask rigorous questions to gain a better understanding of our clients in the interview process.” — Todd Hohauser, CEO, Harvey Hohauser & Associates
Within the evaluation process, search consultants should make room for the candidate to perform their own assessment. This approach is vastly different from the standard interview format, where only a few minutes are saved at the end for candidate questions. If there are conflicts or areas of concern, it’s highly likely that the candidate will identify and share them.
Step Four: Observe Chemistry
Observing interactions between the hiring organization and the candidate offers a useful insight into culture fit.
“By participating as a facilitator and observer when candidates meet our clients for the first time, we can monitor chemistry and potential fit to the culture.” — Todd Hohauser, CEO, Harvey Hohauser & Associates
‘Chemistry’ can be hard to define. Here, we employ the term to signify the match between communication styles and desired traits, or more simply, the ability to relate to each other and hold positive rapport.
In-person meetings are the most optimal way to determine positive ‘chemistry’. However, as many hiring processes are now conducted online, it is possible to attune your evaluation process to the video-call setting.
Step Five: Employ Assessment Tools
Executive search firms employ several assessment tools to evaluate candidate personality and leadership traits.
“All candidates invited for interviews must complete an online personality profile. For the evaluation of the culture fit, we compare the client “success profile” with the “personality profile” of the candidate and finalize a “matching prognosis.”
— Marco Feuerstein, Managing Partner, Level Consulting
These assessment tools often draw on specific scenarios that the executive will face in the role to increase accuracy in predicting candidate performance. Many search firms also use the latest technology as part of their process.
“We have an AI cultural fit assessment we have access to. If candidates match within a range, they will be asked to move forward to a face to face discussion.”
— Allan Laurie, Managing Partner, NOVUS Search Partners
Undertaking training to evaluate and balance potential bias of AI tools is essential in order to employ these tools in an ethical and useful way. In some cases, AI can be used to screen candidates, but for the majority of searches, the technology is used to gather another layer of data to be cross-examined with other sources and human evaluation.
Step Six: Gather References
References can offer great insight into the candidate’s working style and potential culture fit, as well as how to create an onboarding experience that can maximize the new hire’s performance.
“We learn from references not only to see their past performance but to help guide onboarding tailored to their leadership style.” — Marco Feuerstein, Managing Partner, Level Consulting
This bespoke approach of tailoring the entire hiring and onboarding process to match the candidate’s leadership style builds a bridge between the client and candidate to ensure the highest potential for success.
Bringing The Candidate And Client Together
“Executive search is like the medical profession: A successful therapy is only possible if it is based on a thorough and reliable diagnosis.” — Michael Eckert, CEO, Höchsmann & Company
Assessing the cultural profiles of both the hiring organization and the candidate, and using this information to determine fit, offers the highest chance of recruitment success. With detailed assessment completed, along with candid discussions that leave no stone unturned, both parties can feel confident in moving forward.
This is the second article of a four-part series on how executive search firms help organizations to evaluate, maintain, and shape culture. The series was developed by interviewing search consultants from around the world.