One tech CEO claims that she focuses on cultural connections as much as technical capabilities when she is interviewing prospective hires for her software company.

She asks questions like, “What are you most and least proud of from your work history?”

She tries to gauge a candidate's level of risk aversion.

Why? It's all in the name of cultural compatibility with her existing team.

A Perfect Fit

It got me wondering whether that sort of cultural bar would be even more important for more creative, "touchy feely" professions on the creative end of marketing.

That’s assuming that techies are not creative. Tara Kelly, the aforementioned CEO of Calgary-based SPLICE Software, explains that her team is on the creative and innovative end of the spectrum.

Hence, her interview questions about risk. She wants professionals who embrace risk and failure all in the name of bigger and better ideation.

"What is critically important is what processes they use to determine acceptable versus unacceptable risk, acceptable failure versus unacceptable failure,” she added.

“To progress, you need to take risks, but you do need to make sure they are 'safe.’ The magic is in the evaluation and execution process around what is safe.”

When she gets the evaluation process right, she and her team add someone who can riff during collaborative work — "those moments when you build off of one another and get somewhere you never would have got had you all been working alone," she said.

Behind this "synergy" is also curiosity, integrity and trustworthiness, all qualities that make sense in a tight-knit, highly communicative culture.

Ideal Team Members

It turns out such qualities — ethical, authentic, supportive, original — are valued among marketers, too.

John Arnold, author, educator and vice president of marketing at FullContact, recalls a past hire who seemed "very smart, professional, passionate and driven to succeed."

The problem was that the person rubbed the creative side of the team the wrong way. At first Arnold believed the problems stemmed from the creative folks being "feelers" and the individual being a "doer."

But it turned out, the individual lacked empathy, authenticity and support for colleagues' goals.

"Since then, my interview process includes questions aimed at demonstrating past experience and a general worldview centered on the cultural qualities I believe are keys to success," he said.

Calculated Risks

You can add risk-taking to the list of shared characteristics.

"Look for a trueborn marketer: This is someone who possesses aggressiveness, a sense of urgency and is not afraid to take risks," advised Erika Kauffman, partner, general manager and executive vice president of New York City-based 5W Public Relations.

In Arnold's view, culture, the brand as it's represented internally, is the thing in a company that can bridge the gap between technical and creative people, between the business side and the support side, between the manager and the individual. Or it can be the wall.

Culture is also what drives team members to succeed, or at least get out of bed on bad days.

"It is also about the emotion and passion people put towards their work that creates an environment people want to come into every day," Kellys said.

Whether you’re writing code or a blog. 

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Title image by Brooke Cagle.