Hiring for Culture Fit Does Matter


By Jeanne Kerr, Director of OD and Assessments

There have been many blogs and articles of late warning against hiring for culture fit because this strategy reinforces a lack of diversity. One the other hand, we know poor culture fit is a key reason for terminations and resignations. So what are hiring managers and human resources to do?

First, it is imperative that you define very carefully what you mean by culture fit. To put it simply, culture fit refers to the likelihood a candidate will be able to adapt to and perform well in your work environment. Will they thrive working under your cultural norms and be able to support your values? This is an important determination to make, right along with knowing if the candidate has the skills and competencies to do the job.

What we want are people who will become part of our teams quickly and move more quickly through the job “learning” curve. When people “fit” they are happier and are likely to stay longer. They also have a better chance of becoming a star player and a brand ambassador who will help you attract other talent.

How do you determine culture fit? Start by emphasizing your values. These need to be on your career website. All people involved in the interview should be prepared to discuss the values and how they relate to the role. Interview questions should target values in a way that allows the candidate to communicate how they are a good fit. For example, suppose one of your core values is teamwork. You might ask candidates questions such as: tell me about a time you worked on a very successful team. What was your contribution? How did being on this team impact your ability to perform? Also be sure to probe on the downside. For example, you might ask: what are some of the drawbacks to working on a team for most of your projects? What do you do to overcome some of those challenges?

Hiring managers can take this a step further and provide examples of how the company values play into work performance. For example, they can explain how important your value of customer centric behavior is and give examples of what that means on the job.

A realistic job preview is another way to expose candidates to your work environment and culture. If team meetings are an important part of your culture, you can invite top candidates to attend a meeting. Let them know they are welcome to participate. You will learn a lot from watching them and they will learn a lot from watching the team in action. Ask them to reflect on what they observed and also ask your team members the same question.

Culture fit is NOT about personality, where someone went to school, or past work experience. Focusing on these attributes can perpetuate bias and create a “sameness” environment. This is a common risk when we hire a large percentage of candidates from employee referrals. We tend to refer friends and colleagues who are like us; and hiring managers often select candidates most like them. Not only does this perpetuate bias, it results in homogeneous teams and homogeneous thinking, neither of which will drive innovation or inclusion.

Bottom line, hiring for fit is not about hiring someone you want to spend time with. Think instead how you can fill gaps on your team. Create balance, new perspectives, and activate energy and innovation.  Take a well-rounded approach when you hire: culture, personality, skills, experience, assessments, interviews, realistic job previews, etc. Don’t base selection decisions on one data point or perspective.