The Culture Interview

March 13, 2013 Kalia Garrido

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

SproutLoud is growing. Seriously growing. Explosive growth. The kind of growth that Alice experiences when she takes a bite of the “Eat Me” cake. At any given time these days we seem to have at least one or two open positions. This means we are consistently hiring; searching out cool, intelligent new people to add to our crew.

Our culture:

The culture at Sprout is super important. In a previous blog, Great Company Culture = Increased Productivity & Sharing, we shared a little bit of what it’s like to work at SproutLoud. I may be biased here, but I think we have a pretty stellar culture going on. We work hard together, through both the fun times and the stress. We play hard together too, making it all the more imperative that we identify and hire the right kind of person. We spend all day, almost every day, together. So before we send out that offer letter, how do we ensure that we have chosen someone who can fit in with our eclectic bunch? The answer is the culture interview.

How it works:

When we have identified a group of potential employees, we invite them all into the office at the same time (gasp!) for an informal group session. In this session, we have a few seasoned Sprouts, and a group of nicely-dressed, sometimes-nervous new employee candidates. The candidates always look around and size up their “competition,” obviously trying to mentally adjust to the whole “they brought us in here TOGETHER” mentality.

Much to their surprise, we don’t discuss work history, personal strengths, or what their 5-year career plans are. Our questions are a little different. We want to know what Superpower they would choose for themselves, what their most embarrassing moment was, and what they would do if they won the lottery today. It might seem off the wall, but we to get to know the candidates first, not their resumes – how well they would fit into the SproutLoud culture, how comfortable they are in a group, and how quickly they can think on their feet.

That last one is crucial. SproutLoud is a marketing company. We need creative and talented people who can juggle eight chainsaws at once, and not panic when someone throws a ninth one at them. Anyone can prepare to recite a time when they failed at something, or their biggest fault. And everyone does. You can’t prepare for questions about a recurring dream you have, or who would win in a fight to control Earth, zombies or dinosaurs.

Make no mistake – we use work history and experience to qualify candidates for the culture interview, and we eventually have a “normal” one-on-one session in which we take a deep dive into work experience, professional strengths and career plans. But by that point, we already know a lot about one another, and the conversation is usually more relaxed and friendlier than in a traditional interview. And of course, the honest truth is this: if the candidates don’t appear to us to be a solid culture fit, they would not get invited back for the one-on-one session (even if, on paper, they would be a perfect fit for the job).

Growing up, but staying fun

SproutLoud is growing up, but staying fun. In our current period of explosive growth, it’s more important than ever for us to preserve our culture. We commit a lot of time and resources to make sure that our new additions have what it takes to hang with our colorful and amazing crew. We are an oddball family of sorts, but it works for us, and we want to make sure it stays that way.

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