Basecamp's CEO on the art of hiring for culture-fit

Hiring for hard skills is pretty straightforward: look at a candidate's resume, past projects, maybe give him a skills test. But hiring for culture-fit? That's a whole other art form.  

I recently connected with the CEO of Basecamp, Jason Fried, and wanted to know how he hires for culture-fit, particularly because his company is entirely remote. I wanted to know what practices he relies on, or what queues he looks for when he can't meet a candidate face-to-face. 

His answer came quickly: "It’s sort of an art. It’s similar to if you were to ask someone how to pick friends. It’s not like they’d said, 'Well, I go through these six steps.' It’s more like you just get a feel for someone. You meet someone, you talk to them, you get a feel for them, and friendship sort of evolves from that point.

"It’s similar when we hire. When we interview people, we’re not just looking for skills. Obviously they have to have skills, but when you’re talking to them, asking them about their life, you just start to get a feel for someone."

Many people are skilled, but few will fit your culture

Fried emphasized that while a lot of people are highly skilled, it's the combination of skill and personality that makes someone a prime candidate. 

"Skill never really comes first because there’s plenty of people with plenty of skill.

"It’s got to be the balance. If somebody isn’t somebody you want to be around, isn’t someone you want to hang with, isn’t someone you can’t trust, isn’t someone you want to represent you, then I don’t care how good they are, they’re not working here." 

The importances of references

Fried notes how critical references are to hiring the right cultural fit. Talking to a former boss is a great way to dive deeper into the character of a person, and pick up on traits—good or bad—that they might not self-proclaim in a resume. 

"One of the questions I like to ask when I talk to references is, 'What’s it like to disagree with this person? How do they handle disagreement?' 

"The answer will help you develop a sense for if this is a good person or not. You can tell, are they really ego-driven? Are they really obsessed with themselves?"

Over to you: How do you screen for culture-fit? 

We'd love to know what sorts of things you look for when hiring for culture. What types of indicators do you look for? What clues give you an insight into someone's personality? Shoot us an email at editor(at)hrisdead.com or send us a tweet at @HRisDeadHQ to let us know.