How to Interview Programmers for the Best Culture Fit

How to Interview Programmers for the Best Culture Fit

As a hiring manager, you can probably write the book on how to interview programmers in order to find the candidate with the right skills and experience.

That’s not enough to guarantee a good hire.

Sometimes, incredibly talented people with super impressive résumés simply don’t work out.

And usually, hiring managers are left scratching their heads and wondering what they could or should have done differently.

As professional recruiters, our clients entrust us with their recruitment processes after they’ve hired a number of new employees who didn’t work out—despite having the right credentials.

When this is the case, it’s usually because the recruit wasn’t a good cultural fit for the organization.

In fact, as Erika Andersen explains in her Forbes article titled “The Most Important Reason People Fail in a New Job,” experts estimate that 89 percent of failed hires are because the recruit wasn’t a cultural match.

Experts estimate that 89 percent of failed hires are because the recruit wasn’t a cultural match.Click To Tweet

So exactly what is company culture?

Company culture is the unique set of shared beliefs, attitudes, morals, processes, and even terminology in an organization.

This culture permeates all ranks of the company, from the manufacturing floor to the boardroom.

It can encompass beliefs such as the value of doing socially important work or the need to constantly innovate.

It can involve certain attitudes towards work environment and work-life balance.

It can even impact things like employer-sponsored education and career advancement.

Company culture is the unique set of shared beliefs, attitudes, morals, processes, and even terminology in an organization.Click To Tweet

Company culture isn’t always synonymous or even parallel to an organization’s brand.

For example, Apple’s brand to the world of consumers is one of impeccable engineering, innovation, creativity, and laid-back fun.

Considering this, it’s not surprising that according to a number of Apple employees quoted in Jim Edward’s Business Insider article “What Apple Employees Say About the Company’s Internal Corporate Culture,” the company culture places high value on:

  • loyalty to the company
  • protection of the company’s IP
  • aspiring to excellence

However, laid-back fun didn’t make it into the company’s reviews!

On the other hand, Kayak, the travel company that rocketed to fame with a series of low-budget yet hilarious commercials, has an unpretentious company culture that corresponds with its easy-to-use, no frills website.

As Peter Daisyme reports in his Entrepreneur article “The Unique Cultures of 10 Hugely Successful Companies,” though staff enjoy numerous perks like flexible hours, travel bonuses, and team excursions, all employees are expected to handle service calls in order to foster personal engagement with customers.

Another interesting example is Edward Jones, a century-old financial services firm that sets itself apart from most other finance and insurance organizations due to its personal, localized, equal opportunity approach.

Most of the firm’s associates—63 percent of whom are women— live in the small towns where they do business, instead of as close as possible to Wall Street.

Moreover, all associates have the opportunity to become partners.

Impressively, during the 2008 recession, Edward Jones didn’t lay off any of its more than 33,000 employees, opting instead to cut costs and keep everyone on board.

These are just a few examples of company culture.

Suffice it to say every organization has its own culture, though some are more apparent than others. And this is precisely why it’s so important for a new hire to be a good cultural match.

Because when a new hire’s perceptions of work, as well as values and morals, correspond to those of his or her colleagues, it facilitates a number of things including communication, collaboration, and working toward the common goal.

When these elements don’t align with the company culture, then it usually results in discord, eventually leaving the new employee ill at ease and unhappy,

For example, if Apple hires a new employee, and that person is fine with peer reviews and ultimate secrecy, then it’s a good match.

If he or she doesn’t respond well to constructive criticism from colleagues and prefers to share things about his or her work outside of the company, then the gig isn’t likely to last very long.

What does all of this mean for you, the hiring manager?

First and foremost, it means you need to hire just as much for cultural fit as for skills and experience.

The following tips will help determine how to interview programmers for the best culture fit within your organization:

Tip #1 – When creating a job listing, after including the required qualifications and experience, take a couple of hours to list cultural points.

  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Outlook
  • Behavior

Tip #2 – Note “must-have” qualities. For example:

  • the drive to innovate
  • the desire to collaborate with others
  • an empowered attitude

Tip #3 – It’s useful to describe the work environment, since this can set people at ease or drive them away.

  • Is the workplace casual with flexible hours?
  • Or, more formal with fixed hours?

Tip #4 – Describe whether your company has:

  • a hierarchical structure
  • a matrixed structure

Tip #5 – For the interview, think up some hypothetical scenarios and ask how the candidate would react. Does it sound like a match?


Tip #6 – Ask questions that aren’t work-related. For example:

  • what the candidate’s favorite movie is
  • what his or her ultimate dream vacation would be
  • who his or her favorite superhero is and why

Tip #7 – Ask the candidate to come into work for half a day or so. Observe how he or she assimilates and interacts with others. This should give you an idea of how well he or she fits in.


When you’re investing a lot of time and money in recruiting a new employee, then you don’t want lose this person due to a cultural mismatch.

Keep the tips above in mind, or, if you prefer to outsource this aspect of recruitment, bring one of our specialists in to assist you.


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