Recruitment: how to make sure the new faces fit

25 Nov 14
New year, new recruits? As public sector teams get ever leaner in size, matching individuals to a workplace’s culture becomes even more important. Both employers and prospective employees need to understand what’s required, writes Gill Kelly

By Gill Kelly | November 27 2014 

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New year, new recruits? As public sector teams get ever leaner in size, matching individuals to a workplace’s culture becomes even more important. Both employers and prospective employees need to understand what’s required, writes Gill Kelly

Fewer resources and smaller teams feature heavily in the modern day public sector workforce.  Changes wrought by austerity and budget cuts have reshaped the public sector, driving efficiency and transformation, and part of the outcome of this sea of changes is the rise in importance of cultural ‘fit’. Cultural fit is the ability of an employee to easily work in an environment that is compatible with her or his own beliefs and values. 

The test for employers is not only to find people who fit their work culture, but also to proactively shape a culture that will ensure the success of a leaner public sector. 

With this in mind, core qualities such as honesty and flexibility are growing in importance, because in smaller teams individuals must take responsibility for their actions and see the delivery process through from start to finish. Being open to ideas and discussion in a small team is vital and so recruiters seek out these characteristics during interviews. New recruits must also demonstrate flexibility and be willing to adopt a ‘can-do’ attitude. 

Cultural fit is also increasingly associated with positive outcomes and job satisfaction. Organisations, public and private, benefit from identifying and hiring employees who fit their work culture. Ultimately, if people are satisfied in their role and organisation they are more likely to stay, grasp new opportunities, share organisational knowledge, and have pride in their work and environment.

Assessing and managing cultural fit in the workplace may also form part of performance management methods in future years, as management teams embed values that shape their teams and structure.

Blending cultural fit assessment into the interview and selection process can be something of an art, as the questions asked differ from the norm and consequently so do the answers. Below are a few helpful hints for both sides of the process. 

1 Ask the right questions

Used well the right questions can draw out information to help both the employer and job candidate understand if they are a good cultural fit. 

They also give the employer a chance to discover more about the individual attending an interview and to select characteristics that reflect the work culture they are trying to cement. 

Cultural fit questions are different from traditional interview questions and involve delving into character traits and responses rather than a specific skill set. 

For example, rather than just asking: ‘What have you done in your career thus far that you are particularly proud of  and why?’ consider also asking: ‘What are you least proud of?’

Similarly, ask: ‘What is your idea of chaos and how do you deal with it?’ Or: ‘What appeals to your sense of humour? What makes you angry? How do you deal with any “blockers”?’

2 Understand the impact of attitude

Streamlined teams and lean resources are raising the significance of attitude during the selection process. 

Senior management teams need to ensure that they actively recruit people with a ‘can do’ attitude to be part of the new-look public sector. Without it, new recruits will not add value to a lean team, plus teams who do have people with the right attitude benefit from the positive input to the group.

3 Do your homework

It’s amazing how many people are not prepared for their interview. We frequently meet people who, having been successful in securing an interview, fail to do their homework.

Preparation is vital to securing a public sector role. Today’s interviewee must gather information and research the role, background and the employing organisation. 

Whilst the public sector provide candidates with information packs it’s important to not just rely on these, and to demonstrate awareness and interest in the organisation through additional research. Also, where there is an opportunity for an informal discussion with the employing authority, make sure to use it. 

4 Listen to the question being asked 

Remember to answer the question and not the question you had hoped or prepared for. 

As we head towards the new year, employers will be asking cultural fit questions that steer away from the norm, so it’s important to listen to what is actually being asked of you. If you don’t know the answer, be honest but perhaps consider using a helpful comparison. If it’s not helpful, don’t use it. Being interested, polite, positive and communicative will all help the interview process to run smoothly.

5 Build a rapport

Engaging with your audience by being an effective communicator is valuable for both parties during an interview. 

It can be easy to switch off, so don’t just appear to be interested. Make sure you are interested in the conversation, the potential employee or employer, and work hard to connect with your audience. Understanding the person you are communicating with helps employers to select individuals with the characteristics and personalities they need to underpin their organisation’s values. 

6 Bend a little

The rise and popularity of flexibility will continue to grow in 2015. 

The public sector needs flexible workers and, equally, employees want flexibility in the workplace. This characteristic is one that can be drawn out and highlighted during the interview. Encourage interviewees to answer cultural fit-styled questions to unearth whether they will be prepared to tackle a task, role or project for which they may not have the skill set to undertake from the outset.

7 Identify common values

Cultural fit and the values attributed to it vary from organisation to organisation, but there are shared attributes that modern employers are seeking – for example, honesty. 

In smaller teams there is a need for openness and honesty as there is, quite simply, no place to hide. Today’s public sector is shaped by fewer resources, smaller teams and a drive to shift away from a culture of blame. Responsibility for one’s own actions, a positive attitude and knowing what you are good and not so good at are also important. 

8 Seek out problem Solvers  

Keep an eye out for problem solvers. These individuals bring a sought-after quality to teams, namely an ability to confront problems in a calm and creative way with positive outcomes. 

People who are able to demonstrate this trait will be beneficial to a team with limited resources, adding qualities such as persistence and tenacity. Importantly, problem solvers need to blend analytical and creative skills to best advantage. Problem solvers are individuals who often work best in an environment that fosters trust, for example, a workplace where people are actively encouraged to put forward suggestions and ideas rather than being undermined through criticism. 

9 Value perception 

Working in smaller teams can be beneficial to individuals as well as organisations. However, these teams need to cultivate and hire people who are perceptive to their colleagues’ feelings and needs.  

In larger businesses there is room to manouevre if you need to create space between employees or if tensions between teams arise, but this is not the case when space, resources and teams are small and lean. Introducing perceptive employees will also help with performance management as these individuals will help senior management teams to identify issues early and to remove hurdles to performance. Engaging and managing people in smaller groups requires perceptiveness as a character trait. 

10 Fine tune your workplace culture

Public sector organisations, and private ones too, benefit from identifying and hiring employees who fit their work culture.

Fine tuning a work culture ensures organisational success by creating career opportunities, boosting personal and organisational development, encouraging collaborative working, helping to meet employees’ aspirations, building a positive environment and establishing continuity. 

Gill Kelly is associate director at CIPFA Recruitment Services

This feature was first published in the December edition of Public Finance magazine


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