For a Thriving Workplace Culture, These 3 Interview Questions Can Make All the Difference

When you are dedicated to creating a thriving culture at work, it’s essential that you hire employees who will contribute to your overall organizational wellbeing. To ensure a good cultural fit, look for candidates who embody your company core values, are intrinsically motivated, and who are interested in contributing to something larger than themselves.

Successful organizations understand the importance of cultivating and protecting their healthy workplace culture. For example, Zappos considers cultural fit the most important part of the hiring process — even above background and skills. If you hire people who have great skills but don’t embody your core values or fit with your desired culture, your culture can erode as quickly as a pile of sand in a storm. Not that you don’t want qualified people, but skills can be taught; culture fit is a deal-breaker and will trump skills every time.

How to Determine if There’s a Fit

One of the best ways to determine if a candidate is a fit is to center the interview process on completing some sort of work assignment; this allows you to see how the person performs relevant to what the job requires and can minimize inherent interview blind spots. It also lets you see how the candidate approaches work and challenges and can provide valuable insight as to whether or not his/her style will complement and enhance the team. Additionally, to see how a candidate will fit and contribute to a thriving workplace culture, you can ask these 3 questions:

1. “How often do you feel the need to work more than your standard number of hours per week and why?”

How candidates answer this question can reveal how likely they are to be engaged at work, or as we like to say, “to bring their best selves to work each day.” When you are committed to a healthy organizational culture, you need engaged employees. (According to the latest research, some 70% of U.S. employees are not engaged, which is costing businesses billions of dollars every year.) Two critical components that determine whether or not an employee is engaged are:

  • The ability to replenish energy. Whether it’s taking a short nap, taking time for meditation or reflection, taking a walk or socializing and integrating play into breaks, productive and engaged employees find ways to recharge during the day in a way that is effective for them.
  • The ability to integrate work and family life. When people feel constant strain from competing commitments between their work and family life, not only do they experience more negative stress, but work performance and engagement suffers. But when they are able to integrate their two worlds effectively, they and the organization benefit.

People who take time to recharge during the day and effectively integrate work and family life are less susceptible to workplace burnout, stress, health issues, and they will be more engaged and productive at work. In fact, according to Ron Friedman in The Best Place to Work: “The future of great workplaces lies in helping employees fuse their personal and professional lives in ways that position them to deliver their best work.”

Be aware that many people will assume that the “right” answer to this interview question is something like, “Yes, I work in the evenings and on weekends — however many hours it takes to get the job done well!” If you get this answer, ask follow-up questions to discern whether this is due to workplace expectations or whether the candidate believes that working extra hours is necessary and valuable.

Your ideal new employee will answer this question something like, “I don’t typically work more than my scheduled hours per week, but there have been times where I’ve put in extra hours in order to meet an important deadline. I take pride in doing my job well, but I also value the importance of setting up healthy boundaries so I have time to relax with my friends and family.”

2. “How do you see the job you are applying for fitting into the company’s overall mission?”

This question may catch people off guard. After all, how can you expect someone who doesn’t know your organization very well to have a good answer? Begin by reiterating your organization’s mission statement and core values. (Bonus points for the candidate who has researched it beforehand!)

The point of this question is not to assess whether the candidate can accurately gauge how the job fits to the company’s mission. You are trying to determine whether the person demonstrates an appreciation for your organization’s mission and values, and understands that each employee plays an important part in creating a thriving workplace culture.

While a candidate might have all the skills necessary to do the job well, without an appreciation of the greater organizational goals and values, he or she won’t contribute to a thriving workplace culture, and may even be detrimental to the organization’s progress.

3. “How do you solve problems?”

Leaving this question open and generic will likely provide the most telling response. Encourage the candidate to talk about solving any kind of problem, not necessarily only those related to work. You can follow up with a question like, “When you have a problem at work, do you prefer to ask a superior for guidance before you try to solve it on your own?” But be sure to ask enough follow-up questions to determine whether the candidate would like to solve problems on his/her own but isn’t encouraged to do so at a current workplace or whether the person is always looking for external sources for motivation.

People who are motivated by external sources (like punishments and rewards) lose the ability to leverage autonomy, mastery, and purpose, the three elements necessary for intrinsic motivation. The loss of intrinsic motivation in turn reduces employee engagement.

Pay Attention to the Questions You are Asked

Another important way to gauge the potential for employee engagement in an interview is to pay attention to the questions asked of you. People who are curious about your company are interested in more than just a paycheck — and a person who is engaged in the interview will be more likely to be engaged on the job.

Listening closely to the answers to these interview questions will help you weed out candidates who don’t align with your core company values. And when you hire for a strong cultural fit, you’ll benefit from more productive employees who think critically and creatively to ensure they are contributing everything they can. Your employees will benefit by feeling valued, appreciated — and motivated to bring their best selves to work each day.

For more tips on building a thriving workplace culture, read What every HR and Wellbeing Professional needs to consider to support a thriving workplace culture.

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Jon Robison, PhD, MS, MAJon is an accomplished speaker, teacher, writer and consultant. He has spent his career advocating that health promotion shift away from its traditional, biomedical, control-oriented focus, with a particular interest in why people do what they do and don’t do what they don’t do. Jon has authored numerous articles and book chapters and is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences. He is also co-author of the book, “The Spirit & Science of Holistic Health — More than Broccoli, Jogging and Bottled Water, More than Yoga, Herbs and Meditation.” This work formed the foundation for one of the first truly holistic employee wellness programs — Kailo. Kailo won awards in both Canada and The United States, and the creators lovingly claim Jon as its father. Contact Jon at: or

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