The right question

10 November 2021

Tags: Ethical Values, Treatment of Employees

Read the latest blog by Mark Chambers, IBE's Associate Director (Governance).

Interviews have come a long way since I started work in the 1980s. My first proper interview was to join a City law firm as an articled clerk (a job title that left you in no doubt as to where you stood in the overall pecking order). The 60-minute discussion with a partner in the firm was an amiable but not particularly challenging assessment of whether he would want to have me sitting in the corner of his office for 6 months. It was all about cultural fit, with the firm having already made the perceptive assessment that at that stage I had very few skills and no relevant experience to bring to the role.

Since then, interviews have become precision exercises in mapping out a lengthy wishlist of competencies, responsibilities and achievements and rigorously assessing candidates against them. Interviews unpick each of these in turn, with the aim of ensuring an objective, fair and evidence-based assessment of each candidate’s fit for the role. Although there is still a long way to go, this has been transformational in terms of inclusion and better ensuring that everyone gets an even chance at a job. 

But have we lost something along the way?

At the start of my career, that partner took a bet on my potential, ignoring the notes of caution in my academic references and seeing someone who was keen to learn and smart enough to get by. But it was a much more sophisticated decision that he made on cultural fit. He sensed that I would be willing to commit all my energies to the job, that I would know my own limitations as I learned, and that I would have the resilience to survive the knocks and setbacks on the way. 

Cultural fit is essential. A new hire is unlikely to be their true self at work, unlock additional layers of discretionary effort, speak up when things don’t feel right and deliver on their full potential unless they feel that they are working for an organisation whose values are aligned with their own. 

We spend a lot of time in interviews assuring ourselves that the candidate already has the track record and transferrable skills to be able to do the job (perhaps an exercise in overkill when the role is, after all, likely to be a promotion). Would we get a better feel for the candidate’s potential and whether that potential was likely to be best realised at our company if we found a little more time for an equally rigorous test of cultural alignment?

Companies that have a strong culture and values, and have engaged colleagues at all levels to ensure that those values have a resonance and special meaning in the organisation, are best placed to do this. Many do it well. I would like to see other companies do even more and place ever greater emphasis on that assessment of cultural fit. With hybrid working now the norm for an increasing number of roles, ensuring that there is a consistent and thriving culture throughout the workforce is going to be more and more important for employers.

Candidates should be grateful too. Exercises to assess cultural fit give a candidate a real sense of what it will feel like to work at the company, what is valued and important, and how likely it is that they will feel able to contribute to, and be supported by, the culture. 


Mark Chambers
Mark Chambers

Associate Director - Governance

Mark brings 30 years of experience from a successful career in business to help grow the IBE’s interaction with boards, regulators and policy makers.

After graduating in Zoology from Oxford University, Mark re-trained as a lawyer and spent his early years at Slaughter and May in their London and New York offices before moving into business. During his career, he managed world-class global functions responsible for governance, legal and regulatory risk management in large, complex, regulated businesses. He was General Counsel & Group Company Secretary at RSA Insurance Group and at Worldpay Group, and held senior positions at American Express and GE Capital. He retired as Deputy Group Company Secretary of HSBC in 2018 to pursue a second career, which also includes non-executive and advisory work. 

For many years, Mark has had a successful career as a non-executive director. He is a member of the board of the Care Quality Commission, the independent regulator of health and social care in England, and chairs their Regulatory Governance Committee. He is also a non-trustee member of the Audit and Risk Committee of Maggie’s.

Previous roles included the Chair role at Amref Health Africa and Audit Committee Chair at WWF, where he also led the Committee that oversaw the development of the charity's exemplar new headquarters building. Mark was a finalist in the 2014 Sunday Times Non-Executive of the Year Awards.

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it. – General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

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