January 18, 2021

How to Conduct Values-Based Interviews

Two people sit at a table facing each other.

For most founders and CEOs, company culture is always top of mind. But culture can mean different things to different people. In a recent discussion about scaling and strengthening culture, I heard a definition that has stuck with me: culture is how you operationalize your company values.

Okay, but what does it mean to operationalize your values? In short, it means clearly outlining how your values permeate through your business and help guide decision making. 

At Georgian, we’ve found that one of the most impactful areas to operationalize our values, and ensure our culture strengthens as we scale, is to conduct values-based interviews in our hiring process. In this post, we’ll take you through how to check for values alignment in your interview process so that you can accurately evaluate candidates at your company. 

How to Structure Your Values-Based Interview

First, you’ll want to design your questions so that they help you assess the most important elements of your culture and create a scorecard. If you haven’t nailed those down yet, a good way to get started is to ask your team. Ask them how they make decisions, what they value and how they work. There are also great tools out there to streamline this for you. At Georgian, we use Humantelligence and Lever

Regardless of your cultural makeup, it’s a good idea to include “positive attitude” on all scorecards. Research has shown time and again that negative attitude is a strong predictor of low performance and lack of team cohesion. It is very hard to coach and teach attitude, which is why it’s so important to screen for it throughout your hiring process. 

Opening and Getting the Candidate Comfortable

The most reliable way to have an honest and transparent conversation with any candidate is to start by making them feel really comfortable, especially in the current virtual setting. There are tons of easy ways to quickly connect with a candidate and make them feel at ease. Make eye contact, smile, joke around with them, ask them about their day, etc.

Throughout the interview listen for signals that they are aligned with your scorecard. For example, when we look for comfort with ambiguity, we listen for success in roles where there was little structure vs. success in pre-established roles with very clear expectations. 

Past Motivators 

After the opening questions, you have the opportunity to start digging into what motivates and excites the candidate. You can use their work history as an anchor for the conversation. 

Asking what they have liked and disliked throughout their career lets you go deeper on motivations and identify whether your role is the right next step for them. Later in the interview, you can use their answers to this question to sell the opportunity by highlighting how your opportunity aligns with their skills and desired work. 

Keep your eyes and ears open to understand their attitude. Do they “light up” when they talk about what they enjoy? Do they still seem optimistic even when telling you about their dislikes?

Job Alignment

Once you have a good sense of what motivates them, it’s time to focus on alignment with the role and your organization. Here, you can ask, for instance, what interests them about your role, what interests them about your organization and what they are looking for in their next role.

This will help you understand if they have done their homework, if they are self-aware and know what they are looking for and if they see a future for themselves with your organization. 

Cultural Alignment

Before you ask the candidate to jump in with their questions, it’s important to specifically touch on cultural alignment in a values-based interview. There are many ways that you can do this, from asking the candidate what they have learned they like and dislike in a culture, to describing your culture and asking them how they react to it and what draws them in. Remember—the candidate is evaluating you just as much as you are evaluating them, so don’t hesitate to go off script and dig into something that seems important to them, it will make a huge difference.

Candidate Questions

Even after you open up the interview for questions, don’t stop checking off values on your scorecard. The questions that candidates ask give you amazing insights into their priorities.  Listen closely to see whether they reflect your values and work environment. 

Closing Off

There are usually a few more logistical questions to ask to close off the interview. From there, let them know that you value their time, you have enjoyed getting to know them (this is key for strong candidates to feel a genuine connection with you), and outline the next step in the process. You want to give them an idea of what it would be like to work with you, so be sure to end warmly and follow up in a timely manner.

I hope this has given you some insights into how to conduct a great values-based interview. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any follow up questions. Happy hiring!

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