How to avoid hiring a toxic leader – screen for culture fit

In a market where senior talent is hard to find it can be tempting to fall for someone who ticks all the skills boxes and comes across as highly motivated to succeed. However, unless they fit or can contribute to the organisation culture they will likely fail. Some will make progress as they have a flexible leadership style but they’ll probably leave sooner rather than later. Either way it’s an expensive business to re-hire and re-train, up to 150% of the yearly salary.

So, it’s all the more reason to ensure you screen for culture. Typically, this is done by “gut feel” which is reasonably valid providing those interviewing are very experienced in both interviewing and in the culture of the organisation. However, it pays to add a section to assist in culture screening by using and scoring values-based questions.

What are values-based interview questions?

Most people have a set of values that guide them. Likewise, businesses generally have core values that they follow. To find out if a candidate’s values would conflict or mesh with your client’s company, ask valued based questions.

Value-based interview questions can examine how the candidate feels about things such as:

  • Adaptability
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Dedication
  • Integrity
  • Responsibility

Before asking values-based interview questions

Here are some steps you can take to make a value-based interview more effective:

  1. Understand your organisation culture
  2. Draft value-based interview questions
  3. Test these questions to verify the validity
  4. Review and improve

Before you ask value-based questions, you need to understand your own company culture. Take into account the espoused values and check this with the line-manger, peers and team in case a sub culture is present.

After conducting a candidate interview, review candidate answers. Compare their answers to the company’s values and determine whether their answers would help or hinder your organisation culture. Look for red flags, such as an individual-oriented candidate who is interviewing for a team-based position.

Talk with your hiring team about any red flags you caught during the interview. Although you aren’t looking for candidates who are all the same, you need to weed out candidates whose values directly conflict with your organisation values.

Value-based interview questions to ask candidates

To get started, check out the value-based recruitment interview questions below. You can ask these questions during the interview or use them to help come up with your own. Again, you should tailor some questions specific to your client’s company.
Below are common value-based interview questions, divided into categories.


What is most important to you in the workplace? Why?
Are you flexible when it comes to workplace changes? Describe a time when you adapted to change.
Tell me about a time when you were unable to adapt in the workplace. Why?
What are some negatives to change that you’ve encountered in your job? Tell me about them.
Have you ever had to change a project around at the last minute? What did you do? How did it work out?


Do you prefer to work alone or with a team? Why?
Tell me about a time you disagreed with your teammates. What happened?
Describe a time when you had to work with someone you didn’t get along with. What did you do? Did things go smoothly?
Describe your ideal teammate. Have you ever worked with someone who embodied these characteristics? Tell me about your experience.
What role do you typically take on while working with a team? Give me an example.
Describe a time your team failed to complete a project on time. What would you do differently, if you had the chance?
What would you do if you had to work with a person, you didn’t get along with?


How would you describe your communication skills?
How important are communication skills to you in the workplace?
Tell me about a time when a miscommunication resulted in a setback. What did you do? What did you learn from the situation?
Describe a situation where you needed to convey an idea to a co-worker. What did you do to get your point across? Were there any setbacks along the way? Tell me about a time when you had to sell an idea or opinion to someone in the workplace (e.g., boss, co-workers, or customers). What was the result?


Tell me about a time you became disengaged at work. What happened?
Describe a time you were happiest and most productive at work. What responsibilities were you doing?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Tell me about an achievement that was difficult to reach. How did you accomplish it?
Have you ever taken the initiative to learn something new for a job? Tell me about it.


Please define “integrity.” What does it mean to you in the workplace?
Have you ever been put in a situation where doing the right thing would make you look bad? Tell me about how you handled it.
If you saw a co-worker doing something that would hurt the company, what would you do? Has this ever happened to you? Please explain.
If you knew your manager was doing something unethical, how would you handle it?
What would you do if you were asked to do something that went against your values?
Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma at work? If so, what was the issue and what did you do?
What would you do if you saw a colleague stealing stationary from the company’s stock?


Have you ever had to juggle more projects than you had time for? How did you prioritize?
Tell me about a time when you had to pass your work onto a co-worker because you couldn’t meet deadlines. What did you learn from the experience?
Describe a time when you were late for an important meeting. What happened?
Tell me about a time when a co-worker’s work was passed onto you. Were you able to get the work done? What was your reaction to the situation?
If you made a mistake that could cost you your job and nobody knew it was you, what would you do?
Describe a successful team project you worked on so far. What was your contribution? How would you react if your team received negative feedback about a part of the project that was entirely assigned to you?


Describe a situation where you were facing a technical issue and your normal troubleshooting method wasn’t working. What did you do?
Can you give me an example of a well-designed product? What features make this product unique?

Customer orientation

Describe a time you managed to calm an irate customer. How did you manage to maintain your professionalism and address their complaint?
How would you reply to a customer who enters the store or calls just as your shift ends?

Tips to assess candidates’ answers

They can’t support their arguments. During job interviews, most candidates will claim they are “good team players” or having a “strong work ethic.” But if they can’t give you examples that prove these values, they might be simply floating buzzwords.

Their values don’t match the position’s requirements. Employees with an out-of-the box way of thinking might be great fits for a product development or marketing team that seeks to engage new customers. But they’ll likely be hard to retain in a process-driven company or team.

They seem inflexible. New hires could (try to) adjust to your way of working, as long as they’re willing to do so. If, however, they have strong opinions that don’t match your core values, that’s a red flag for your future collaboration.

They show signs of arrogance. Being negative toward criticism and/or demonstrating a bossy attitude are indicators of people who prioritize their own values over others’. These people mightn’t meet your culture requirements or in the long run and end up creating a toxic work environment.

Article written by Robert Ferry, CFR Global Executive Search Ireland

Photo source: Freepik


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