How to Balance Hiring for Skills and Cultural Fit

For most hiring managers, skills and cultural fit are the two biggest imperatives when it comes to new hires. You want to hire someone with the right skills for the job. But you also want to feel confident that the new hire will fit in your company and thrive under your management style.

So, how do you assess skills and cultural fit? And how do you balance the two when deciding between candidates?

To evaluate candidates fairly, you should create hiring rubrics. Ideally, more than one person should assess candidates on each rubric so that you get a diverse range of perspectives. There are exercises and interview questions to help you evaluate potential hires.

How to Assess for Skills

For every sales role, you should clearly define what skills you’re looking for in new hires. Many of these skills can be directly evaluated in an interview setting, while others require inferences based on the candidate’s experience and interview responses. Based on this information, you can roughly assess where the candidate is in terms of skills. Create a scale and ask people involved in the interview process to evaluate the candidate on each skill.

Here are some important sales skills and how to evaluate for them:

1) Verbal communication

You want sales candidates who are comfortable communicating verbally. They should have the ability to explain concepts in a way that engages listeners.

The interview itself gives plenty of opportunities to evaluate verbal communication. You can also ask the candidate to pitch a simple product, like a stapler or water bottle.

Test their ability to provide clear instructions. Invite the candidate to describe how to do a basic task, like changing a tire or baking cookies. Evaluate the clarity of their explanation and whether they can engage an audience while getting down into the weeds.

2) Written communication

Although writing ability is critical for sales, it can be more difficult to evaluate in an interview setting. One way to do it is by closely examining the candidate’s cover letter and any written responses. Are they able to communicate fluently using an appropriate tone?

Ask the candidate how they approach prospecting communications and what they’ve done to improve their writing skills.

3) Listening ability

Of course, listening is even more important than talking for sales professionals. Evaluate how well the candidate listens to interviewers. Are they really listening to what you’re saying, or are they just eager to repeat their talking points? You may try a role-playing exercise. Play the role of a prospect. How well does the candidate listen? Do they have a habit of interrupting?

4) Prospect research

You want a candidate who knows how to research prospects. To some extent, you can gauge this by how well the candidate researched your company. Did they walk in with relevant knowledge and questions, or are they just trying to wing it?

Ask them to describe their prospect research process to assess their basic skills. This method can be applied to other skills you want to evaluate.

How to Assess for Fit

Figuring out how well a candidate fits your organization often feels amorphous, but it basically comes down to this question: What traits are important to working within our organization? Of course, this will vary between organizations. Some organizations want a person who acts independently, while others prefer people who consult with others before making a decision.

Being a good fit doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is a clone of the people at your company. What you want to see is if the candidate’s values and style align with your organization.

To assess cultural fit, ask questions that give the candidate an opportunity to talk about their values and preferences. Try not to make assumptions based on initial impressions.

Here are some good interview questions to assess cultural fit:

  • What kind of work environment allows you to do your best work?
  • How would your co-workers describe your presence on a team?
  • If given the choice between working on a team and working alone, how much teamwork would you prefer to do?
  • How would you describe your ideal manager?
  • How would you characterize your communication style?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Can you discuss a time where you took initiative on a project?
  • What excites you most about the opportunity to work here?

By asking these questions, you can gauge how well the candidate fits into your company.

Balancing Skills and Fit

When you find a candidate who is a great match in terms of skills and fit, the answer is obvious. Sometimes, however, it can be a little trickier.

If the candidate feels like a strong fit but isn’t where you want them to be in terms of skills, you need to realistically evaluate whether they can learn the skills they need. Does the candidate seem coachable? Are their shortcomings simply a matter of inexperience or a lack of good coaching? With a little training, the candidate may be the right hire.

Other candidates may be highly skilled, but don’t seem like cultural fits. Is it just a matter of the candidate being a little different than many of your other hires, or is there a fundamental issue of incompatibility? If it’s the latter, you should probably pass.

Rarely is a new hire ever a slam dunk. But by systematically evaluating candidates in terms of both fit and skills, you can improve your chances of finding a valuable contributor who is right for your team.

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James Meincke

Director of Marketing @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.