A strong foundation of core company values is crucial to building the right culture — and the right team. Anchoring your interview process in your company’s core values attracts the sort of hires who will not only complement your company’s vision, but help you achieve it.
Defining and reinforcing those values gives both employees and potential new hires a North Star by which to orient themselves to a company. That North Star informs how priorities are established, how problems are solved, and most importantly, how ideal employees conduct themselves. By aligning your employee search around those fundamental principles, you can identify candidates who will grow with your company and make your culture a competitive advantage.
Here’s how to make core value alignment a primary focus when evaluating potential new hires.
Use deliberate language
First, weave your core values into all job descriptions. Do you value go-getters? Is work-life balance sacred to you? If so, give those traits equal weight with job requirements. Set clear expectations right from the get-go of what kind of people you’re looking for and make it apparent that the cultural aspect of the job is just as important as the technical qualifications.
For example, every Guru job description includes the phrase “This job is not only about how well you [role-specific task]; it’s about how you lend your positivity and presence, combined with your skill set, to an energized environment and highly collaborative team. Strong sense of humor required, sarcasm detection skills a plus.” Positivity, collaboration, and sense of humor are not just nice-to-haves for us; they’re non-negotiable. Adding values-focused phrases to job descriptions is an easy way to clarify what is important in your culture and encourage the right people to apply.
Empower employees to recognize values alignment
Next, give the interviewers on your team a framework to assess culture fit and core value alignment. If you’ve done a good job of prioritizing and reinforcing your values, these employees should be adept at recognizing those values in others. By providing a means to explore value alignment in candidates, your employees will be empowered to build dynamic teams, and feel more connected to company culture as a result.
Culture-specific interviews that speak to the aspects of a job outside the role’s primary functions are a great way to suss out whether someone is a good fit for the open position and for your company. To establish values alignment at Guru, we incorporate a separate cultural portion of in-person interviews that are conducted by adjacent team members. We give interviewers a cultural competency scale for each of our seven core values, along with questions to ask that speak to each one.
Based on the way candidates answer those cultural questions, our interviewers determine whether they reflect Guru’s values. For example, when evaluating the core value ‘We don’t take ourselves too seriously’ answers to the question “To what do you attribute your success so far?” can be very telling. Candidates who don’t take themselves too seriously will answer that question very differently than candidates who do. Guru interviewers are encouraged to flag concerns based on values misalignment, such as: "I am unsure about the candidate's culture fit because they said 'I think a team can only be successful if everyone works around the clock.' This seems like a mismatch with our value ‘We measure accomplishments, not hours worked.’"
At Guru, it’s 51% culture fit. If someone has all the qualifications for a role but doesn’t align with our core values, then they’re not the right fit. Even if they could technically do the role.
Making core values a key part of your interview process also reiterates the importance of living those standards to current employees. They were hired because they embody your values, but sometimes a reminder of just how seriously you take transparency is welcome.
Keep the bigger picture in mind
Finally, remind your interviewers that the point of cultural interviews is not to make friends and is not to hire people similar to them. Often, when people think about a “culture fit,” they mean “I would grab coffee with this person. I’d want to hang out with them.” Establishing a friendship connection in an interview is awesome, but like it or not, you’re not hiring people to be friends. You’re hiring them to fulfill certain purposes and get things done. If you want to grab coffee with that person, that’s awesome. But that doesn’t make someone a culture fit.
It’s equally important not to conflate value alignment with personal alignment. Interviewers should understand the difference between being similar to someone and being similarly aligned with someone. You want to empower employees to recognize that “This candidate is different than me, but we’re similarly aligned on transparency and grit.” The point of prioritizing core values in the interview process is not just to hire like-minded people. You want differing opinions, backgrounds, and thought processes that will challenge all of you to be better. But you also want people who respect and value the same things. Cultural interviews are not supposed to build cookie-cutter teams; they’re supposed to weed out incompatible candidates and protect your company culture as you scale.
The value of values
Centering your hiring process around core value alignment helps ground your company culture and maintain high standards of behavior as your company grows. By choosing values that speak to the kind of people you want to work with and the kind of people you aspire to be, you empower your team to work together harmoniously to achieve common goals. Centering your interview approach around choosing individuals that are aligned on fundamental values will make your company’s culture more than just a way of life: it will become a competitive differentiator.