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insights - 27.1.2020

Searching for misfits: evolving the interview process

Taking the “cult” out of “culture” one interview at a time...

As I scan the seats at Starbucks it’s usually not difficult to pick out the candidate—even if I don't already know what they look like (thanks, LinkedIn): Looking around wide-eyed, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the person they’ve been talking to on the phone, emailing, and creeping on social media. In those first few moments, I try to set them at ease by getting their drink order and make some small talk, but opinions are already forming. We can’t help it. It’s human. The way we talk, act, and interact all give signals. And the signals we’re giving, we hope, are the right ones. The ones that say, “We belong together.” As an employer, I’m hopeful that this person will not simply fill a role at Craft&Crew or Soshal, but will excel in it. For them, a hope that they’re “the right fit” for the role (whatever they perceive that to mean), make a good impression and get the job.

It’s been a while since I had to interview for a job, but I remember being late because I was unfamiliar with the transit system in a new city, and it was hot, and I was wearing a suit. It ended up I got off at the wrong stop and ran nearly two kilometres to get to the interview on time. Thankfully, showing up sweaty and out-of-breath didn’t prevent me from getting the job (and hey, I’m still here!). Making the right impression, we’re told, is paramount in a job interview. We want to look, sound, and portray ourselves in the best light possible. It’s because we know we’re being evaluated, and we want to “make the cut,” to be perceived as someone who will “fit in.”

This candidate makes a good first impression: not overdressed, relaxed without seeming uncaring, sure of herself, but not overconfident.

We intentionally tell candidates that our first in-person meeting is meant to be relaxed and conversational. Why? Because we’re not looking for particular answers to particular questions. I don’t want people to pretend to be something they’re not. If I want BS answers to questions, I’m working at the wrong agency. The reality is that some people will like us, the way we do things, the values we have, others likely won’t. Looking to get lost in a sea of cubicles? Won’t happen here. Looking to “climb the corporate ladder?”—it’s not likely to happen here (the ladder is very short). So what am I looking for? What do we talk about? What is this informal, conversational, Starbucks meeting, anyways?

This is what’s often called a “culture interview,” and it’s stated intent is generally to see if the candidate is a “culture fit.” The problem is that “culture fit” is a divisive term with multiple meanings. More often than not, the idea of “culture fit” is hard to define and even harder to measure.

At its worst, the “culture fit” interview is a way to discriminate, an excuse to exclude a candidate, either intentionally or through unconscious bias (the subject of a future post). When conducted as a litmus test for “culture fit”, the result is often a “gut feel” on the candidate—an informal evaluation of how the interviewer feels about the interviewee and vice-versa that’s based on shared experiences, chemistry, or the “pub test”—whether or not you’d enjoy going for a beer with the person after work.

At Craft&Crew and Soshal, we’re not looking to create a team of like-minded bots that can all agree on what music to play, what food to order, what to do at our quarterly retreat, and how to approach a problem, assured that everyone will get along without conflict. Some businesses build an almost cult-like environment: unless you engage in the right ways, with the right people, at the appropriate times, you’re never really seen as “buying into” the company. So now, I’m trying to take the “cult” out of “culture” one interview at a time. The reality is that a group of people who are all the same lacks creativity and has a reduced capacity to solve problems.

So if we’re not searching for some “magical feeling,” why have an informal face-to-face meeting? And what are we trying to learn?

We’re trying to figure out two things:

1. Are you aligned with our values?

We put people first. We want them to be ambitious, push their boundaries, exceed their own expectations, and succeed. Sometimes that means encouraging taking risks, supporting the team when challenges come up or when we need to band together to fix a mistake. We also care about our work—each person owns their craft and wants to do the best job they can. That matters here. We hold each other accountable to those standards.

Boundary-pushing, risk-taking, that’s what has my attention right now. The candidate across from me is animated in the retelling of her recent experience—how she learned new skills from scratch and pushed herself way beyond her comfort zone. There’s passion in that voice, and it’s obvious that this isn’t a cooked-up answer to the usual, “Name one thing you’ve done recently to challenge yourself” question so frequently found in interview question sets. No, this is real, driven passion, a story of challenge, hardship, and learning.

Ensuring that potential employees care about the same things we do is vital to our success. By sharing concrete examples of how these play out in the workplace, asking specific questions, and understanding what good answers look like versus bad answers, evaluating alignment with values becomes a framework that’s repeatable and measurable. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than just “going with your gut.” And when paired with their cultural contribution, it provides a solid rubric to evaluate how an individual would affect our team and culture.

2. How will you challenge the team?

We’re looking for people who will contribute something different to the team—what they’ll add to our culture—rather than identifying whether or not they’ll “fit in” with the culture we already have. This ensures that we get better with every hire. It forces us to continue to grow as people and as a company because we get challenged by a different point of view, new approaches lead to innovation, and the team rises above what we’ve become thus far as a result.

It makes our work better and more efficient, too, because we gain new perspectives on challenges. It forces us to look at new ways of doing things that help push us to the next level. Diverse skill sets, life experiences, and viewpoints help us build a healthy, balanced, more evolved culture.

As our meeting wraps up, I review some mental notes: This candidate is hungry for a challenge, willing to learn, and not afraid of making some mistakes. She’s bold, some may even say confrontational. She’ll challenge our processes, question our motives, and blaze new trails where she sees a better way. Sure, she might rub some people the wrong way, make some people uncomfortable. And it’s great. “No need for me to call you later...” I don’t pause too long, seeing a slight twinge of disappointment, “let’s set up your next interview now.” I hate making people wait.

Illustration by Craft&Crew Senior Designer Sarah Bootsma.


If you care about the same stuff we do and think you can offer a new perspective, maybe there’s a place for you on our team. We’re not always hiring, but we’re always looking to connect with great people who may be a good fit to join the Craft&Crew Collective. If you’re a UX Researcher / Strategist, UX or UI designer, Content Strategist, or Front-End Developer please connect with us.