Designers · Hiring

How to Hire for Culture Fit in a World of Coding Challenges?

TalentSnap Co-founder of TalentSnap : A Talent Marketplace

Last updated on February 13th, 2017

The challenge is how to choose between the best of the technical talent and the really important for startups culture fit.

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TalentSnap Co-founder of TalentSnap : A Talent Marketplace

Last updated on February 13th, 2017

We all know there’s no substitution for refined, tangible skills. The kind of expertise that can only really come with years of experience and a mastery of one’s craft. When hiring for an engineering role, one which requires a deep understanding of the intricacies of computer science fundamentals, for example, a technical test is often the best way to ensure the candidate you’re interviewing is as qualified as his/her resume has led you to believe.


The good news is, once someone successfully passes your coding assignment, you with a pretty high degree of certainty that you’ve found a solid technical match. Maybe the assignment even gave you some insight as to the candidate’s ability to lead a team, break down a project, or make high-level architectural decisions. It’s a great evaluator of the core skills needed to be an effective member of the team. Well, that may be the case in larger organizations where individuals operate in silos, often independently of one another. But does the same hold true for smaller companies, namely tech startups of the Series A, B, or C variety? In taking a closer look at what shapes these businesses, the short answer is no. Technical skills will only take you so far - if you’re not fitting in with the ‘family’ that many of these startups are trying to create, you won’t be around quite as long as your experience might suggest.
Imagine an environment where you arrive early, you leave late, you eat most of your meals with the same group, and with whom you grab drinks afterwards.


This is a group where people share in each other’s passions, interests, and motivations. As much as what I’ve described might seem like a sports team that shares a common bond, or a family that truly loves one another, I’m talking about the makeup of a typical tech startup. The ones that can combine the ability to screen for raw technical skills and for culture fit in the organization are the ones that will have the most success. We can look at examples of companies like Facebook, FitBit, and RapidSOS that are taking this approach to hiring, and what it’s done for their overall team dynamic, and ultimately the way they excelled in their respective fields. Each is obviously at a different stage of maturity, and each is driven by a different mission, but they’ve all come to evaluate potential candidates as intensively on the culture scale as they have on technical abilities.


I’d like to leave you with a few tips on how I’ve seen dozens of companies successfully employ techniques to screen for culture fit, and hopefully the next time you interview someone for your startup, you’ll try them out yourself:

  1. Take your candidate out for breakfast. I tend to think this can be an even better move than going for drinks after work, but that’s just me. Where I’ve had clients take prospective candidates out for breakfast over the weekend, I’ve seen amazing connections and bonds form in a matter of hours. There’s very little pressure, you get to actually sit face to face with each other in a [hopefully] quiet environment, and just get to know each other.
  2. Be transparent with your vision. Throughout your interview process, you cannot forget the importance of courting a strong candidate. You’re always selling yourself, and it’s important that the candidates you interview know who you are as a business, and what the people on the team are all about as individuals. The mission of the organization is often the strongest bond that members of a startup share, so drive it home at every step of the process and listen carefully to see how the candidate responds. Are they simply telling you what you want to hear, or can they speak as emotionally about their vision as you can?
  3. Meet the whole team. While this is a tough guideline to follow in the bigger startups out there, it’s certainly not beyond the scope of an on-site interview for a Series A hopeful. you don’t need to ask everyone in the office to participate in the evaluation, but you should take a close look as how he/she interacts with the group. Your team might only be 10-15 people, so it’s important that the team dynamic fills the room.

In dealing exclusively with Seed to Series C funded startups for the past few years, my team at Synapse has seen the value in hiring for culture first-hand, but do not confuse that with ignorance of technical chops. Without the core skill set, you can’t let someone’s cultural fit cloud your judgment. You’ve got a business to run, and must ensure that every member of the team is filling a need.

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