Culture fit is always a big deal when you’re hiring but it’s particularly important for marketing jobs which areĀ notoriously difficult positions to fill successfully at a startup. Marketers are also really hard to interview – their great communication, interpersonal and sales skills make them potentially full of bullcrap very difficult to read.

I’ve been building a team where culture fit has been one of the biggest challenges. The folks I’m hiring not only need to deal with a TON of ambiguity (and a certain amount of chaos), they also have to be able to deal with a spectrum of language and culture issues in an environment where successful teamwork is critical to the job.

Here are some things I am working into my interview technique to help me asses culture fit that I think would be useful for anyone hiring a marketer at a startup:

  1. Process-related questions – in general I like process-related questions when interviewing marketing folks because anyone can say they did things like “developed and drove programs” but it’s hard to figure out what the person’s exact contribution to the effort was (especially when there was outside help involved). Asking things like “Walk me through the process you used to build that” or “Describe the steps you took to get that project done” are usually good ones to get into the details of someone’s role. They also let you see how a person sees themselves in the context of their own team. Are they working with other folks or just doling out tasks? How are they interacting with their management team? How are they making decisions and moving projects forward?
  2. Have them describe their best and worst jobs – Yeah, it’s a bit of a cliche question but I still like it because of the number of times I get a totally surprising response. Again, pay attention to the people-related stuff. Did they clash with other people on their team? I’m totally sympathetic to folks who have left a job because they didn’t like their direct manager but a repeating pattern of lousy managers makes me worry that the employee is difficult. What were the aspects of the teams and culture at their other jobs that the candidate loved and hated?
  3. Pay attention to the questions that folks ask – Personally I love it when candidates ask a lot of questions about the work and I worry when they ask a lot about the organization structure and/or compensation in early interviews. I find that star employees know that the job is the main thing and compensation and titles are something to sort out after you know the job is a great fit.
  4. Have them talk to lots of people – I think startups are better at this than big companies but sometimes they forget to do it with marketing candidates. Your company culture is the people you work with. If everyone can’t feel good about each other at the end of an interview, they sure won’t at the end of a product launch.
  5. Trust your gut – I have one critical position that’s been open for a while and I’ve interviewed so many candidates that I’m starting to let my guard down on this one. I have had a couple of mediocre candidates slip past the first interview stage because I’m starting to get desperate. The good news is that my team promptly shoots them down but I’ve still wasted everyone’s time with a round of interviews that never should have happened. Interviews are like first dates – everyone is on their best behaviour. If there’s something that rubs you the wrong way in the interview it is almost guaranteed to make you insane 2 months down the road. Always trust your gut if you feel like something doesn’t click.

As I was writing this I was thinking about how both sides (candidate and interviewer) have to be wary of the issue of fit and interestingly I think most of these questions work for both candidates and managers.

What do you think – do you have any interview tips to share?