In an era in which costs continue to escalate, making bad hiring decisions can have serious and costly implications for companies.

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In a recent blog post about navigating a phone screen, recruiter Kristen Fife explained that “an HR screen is looking for communication and cultural fit, while a screen with the hiring team is usually ascertaining your functional fit.”

Hopefully, that statement got your attention and piqued your curiosity. Here’s more on the differences between cultural fit and functional fit interviews.

Cultural fit
Culture is loosely defined as the core values, behaviors and personalities that make up an organization. These are based on the beliefs, attitudes and priorities of its employees as well as how they view their work and themselves.

The interview to assess cultural fit is important, because company cultures can vary greatly, and not every employee will do well or be happy in every culture. For example, there is the “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness” culture of Zappos (acquired by Amazon in 2009), an online retailer of shoes and clothing, where everyone works in a cubicle and employees can be seen wearing shorts and T-shirts, even sporting pink or mohawk hairdos.

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Contrast this with the team-based and innovation-driven culture of W.L. Gore & Associates, a technology company where “there are no traditional organizational charts, no chains of command, nor predetermined channels of communication,” or the more hierarchical and formal cultures within the banking industry and government.

The goal of the cultural fit interview is to assess job candidates’ personal and social/work styles and preferences to ensure they are a good fit within the hiring organization’s culture.

Cultural fit questions
HR reps often conduct cultural fit interviews, but in small companies this responsibility may fall on the hiring manager. Examples include:
• Describe your ideal work environment.
• Explain a work environment or culture in which you would NOT be happy.
• Describe the behavior and characteristics of the best boss you’ve ever had.
• Tell me about your preferred work style (e.g., alone or on a team, with close supervision or allowed to work independently, fast-paced or slower)

Functional fit
Functional interviews assess job candidates’ knowledge, skills and experience for a specific job. Functional fit interviews may also include assessment tests to determine how well they perform in required areas, such as coding skills for IT positions or writing and editing skills for PR jobs.

Functional fit questions
Examples include:
• Sales role: Walk me through the most complex sale you’ve ever made and why you believe it was complex.
• Marketing role: What are some of the biggest issues you’ve encountered in product launch plans, and how did you overcome them?
• Administrative assistant role: What have you found are the most important skills for being successful in the role of an administrative assistant?
• Database administrator role: Walk me through your process of troubleshooting problems/issues.

In an era in which costs continue to escalate, making bad hiring decisions can have serious and costly implications for companies. A recent CareerBuilder study showed that of employers that reported having made a bad hire, 27 percent stated that a single bad hire cost more than $50,000.

Whether you’re the HR rep, hiring manager or job candidate, take the time during interviews to assess cultural fit as well as functional fit.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.