Founder’s Corner #10: Hiring For Culture

By Max Thomas

Recently I spoke with an entrepreneur who recently built up and sold a successful medical technology company. I asked what he found to be the biggest challenge and he promptly replied “culture.” At the peak, his company had 75+ employees. He explained how the organization had two big “turning points:” The first was when they passed 20 people and the second came at 50. At both times, the company experienced “growth challenges” that were a reflection of its culture (or, strength, weakness or lack thereof). He said that they hired for resume and talent, and then figured culture would come later. But, in short, they found that you can’t ask people to support a culture if they didn’t buy in to it from the beginning.

I think this begs the question, “Is it possible to hire for culture?” In short, the answer is “yes.” In this month’s Founder’s Corner, I talk about our hiring process at Thunder and how we’ve fine-tuned it to hire for culture from the beginning. I won’t say it’s a perfect process, but we’ve definitely found it helpful in hiring great talent that also fits with Thunder’s approach, style and overall culture. We have learned that the strength of the company comes from the people and how well we work together. As such, it’s vital that new candidates understand Thunder’s culture from the beginning of the hiring process. It helps make the team that much stronger.

Following is a graphic that highlights the steps of our hiring process. It also includes the percentages of each “filter” from some recent hires. As you can see, responding to the questions in our job postings (step 1) cuts out about 85% of applicants right off the bat. I think it’s fair to say that attention to detail is definitely part of our culture.


Lastly, the entrepreneur from earlier said that every successful company he talks to these days is focused first and foremost on building their company’s culture. It makes sense.

If you have suggestions or want to share insights from your company’s hiring process, please leave them in the comments below or tweet me at @thundermax.


Hi, Max Thomas from Thunder. Welcome to this month’s Founder’s Corner. Today, we’re going to talk about culture and actually hiring for culture. Many companies value culture, and when they hire, they hire for resumes and for talent, and then the new candidate gets in to the office and they’re given the culture and they’re expected to adapt. As we know, it doesn’t always work. So rather than trying to force culture onto people, we decided how can we bring culture into the interviewing process.  

So what we’re going to talk about today is how we have baked culture into interviewing, and there are two big pieces that sort of make our process a little different we feel. One is that we incorporate as many people from the team as possible into the hiring process. So Thunder Cats actually get involved in reviewing resumes and actually conducting the interviews. So it’s not a distant department, but actually everyone’s involved.

 The second is our hiring, our interviewing process is organized around what we call mini case studies or work skill case studies that provide interaction with the candidate about real world examples from our campaigns. So to give an idea of how this flows through, I have written out a diagram that shows actually the basic steps, and then the scale here is in terms of how many applicants from a recent hiring process we had, what the sort of filter process is.  

The process starts with total applications here, and all applications include five questions and very clear instructions about how to respond. We learn a great deal from these questions. In fact, we learn so much. We learn how well people read the instructions, because typically from here to here, in terms of applications with the answers, that cuts out about 85% of applicants. So already we’ve learned a great deal and filtered our pool.  

Out of this, we look at the questions and the background and determine who moves forward to the next step, which is the phone case study. This is the first time a candidate speaks with someone from Thunder and vice versa. This is 20 minutes, and the entire phone call is organized around a case study from a campaign that we’re working on. So it’s a real world example of what we do. It’s an example for both of us to hear our thinking process and how we approach situations. It also gives the candidate an opportunity to hear the kind of work that we do.  

From here, we move on to the in office work skills. This is the first time a candidate comes into the office. Again, the interview is organized around a case study, but this time it’s a full hour. The candidate is given 30 minutes to review an assignment and given 30 minutes view to do their research and compile their findings. Then they present for about 30 minutes to a group of 3 to 4 people from the office.  

Again, it creates dialogue and conversation around the actual kind of work we do because the goal here is that we all know I can have a beer with you and have a great time, but working with you may or may not be so great. So our goal here is to find out what is it like to work together as best we can.  

After this point, we move on to the final step which is the in-office group interview, and this is when everyone can ask any question they want. It’s actually unstructured. It’s usually one or two hours, and this is when people can ask any question they want from the kind of beer they like to actually how do you manage a database. It’s completely open.  

From here, then we move to the final stage, which is actually making an offer and cow-a-bunga, getting our awesome new Thunder Cat.  

So I hope you found this interesting. It’s taken us a while to develop this. It’s working great for us, and we look forward to refining it. Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll see you next month.

Read all of our Founder’s Corner posts.

Share with Your Colleagues:
Max Thomas

By Max Thomas

Max is a nationally recognized digital marketing specialist who is an expert on search engine optimization and data-driven digital marketing who has spoken at SMX and SMX Advanced, LMA Southeast, LMA Tech in San Francisco, WordCamp and other industry recognized conferences. As the founder and CEO of ThunderActive, Max has lead his team (with offices in San Diego and New York City) to success for clients in legal, real estate, life sciences, consumer goods and new tech. A Columbia undergraduate with a Yale MBA, Max is an Impact Circle Member for The Trevor Project and is an advisor to start-up companies and angel investment networks, including Gaingels and Serval Ventures in New York.

Wanna connect? See you on Twitter or Foursquare.