How important is hiring for cultural fit?

Demands of the employer in the modern job market have evolved from pure competency and aptitude-driven hiring to culture-driven hiring. Likewise, the modern candidate will consider a healthy work culture a prerequisite when applying for a job.

But what do we really mean by cultural fit? Some would describe it as hiring a post-work cocktails kind of person. In some ways this is true but hiring for cultural fit is also about employees who share the same core company values, along with a common purpose and understanding of the work processes.

Some view hiring for cultural fit as a way to discriminate against people with different personalities. Others see it as the determining factor when it comes to recruitment. 

Whatever the strategy, it’s important to analyze cultural fit from all angles.

In this blog, together we’ll uncover how important is hiring for cultural fit amongst other things…

Company culture

Every company starts out with a small group of people coming together because there is an awesome idea and a vision about how to put this idea into practice. The initial company culture is formed at this very moment with this group of people. It is the combination of behaviors, personality traits, and skills that create the essence of what makes up company culture. To be able to effectively hire for cultural fit, it is important to first understand and define the core elements of what makes your culture unique. This way you are able to understand what a prospective hire would need in order to be able to thrive within your company. 

Culture may not be tangible but it shows up in behaviors and conversations, it is visible and you can hear it. 

  • How are your team members acting in meetings or team gatherings? 
  • Do they ask questions? 
  • Do they offer their opinions? 
  • How do your leaders react when challenged by a team member or offered a different perspective? 
  • Are your employees comfortable with raising a concern or an issue? 
  • How do they make decisions or share knowledge? 
  • How do they speak with your customers?

Culture is what makes employees wake up with a smile on their faces each working day. Furthermore, it is what motivates people to put in the extra effort when it is required and help out a coworker when they need it. 

Most importantly – chase the mission the company is chasing. 

Why is strong company culture so important?

Organizational culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by the organization’s leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors, and understanding. Simply speaking, a company’s culture is the sum of all individual behaviors, it determines how people do their work, what type of environment they prefer, how they interact with each other, and what they value.

Your culture is your DNA that provides guidelines, boundaries, and expectations for your team and your customers. It is the primary platform for inspiring and motivating your people and is the most powerful resource you have to attract, recruit, hire and retain the best of talent

A strong culture isn’t a culture set in stone. A strong culture is a culture that has a strong fundament but is continuously assessed for possible improvements.  According to a global survey by PwC, strong cultures drive better business outcomes.

And if you think about it – it really makes sense. Once employees feel truly connected to their company, its purpose, as well as each other, they feel more positive. These positive emotions can then energize effort and lead to notable change.

The greatest people always want to work with the best companies, and the best people are the catalyst for creating ongoing business success. And that stems heavily from culture.

Shockingly enough though 82% of professionals have worked for an organization where they disliked the company culture. Why?

Well, the painful truth is that we choose to achieve targets over protecting culture. Hiring quickly over hiring sustainably. 

We don’t put our culture first.

Maybe in the short term, this results in more human power to execute your plans. In the mid- and long-term, however, new hires will walk out the door in no time, due to a lack of cultural fit. Even more painfully, the very first hires that helped you to go from 0 to 10 will leave, as they can’t identify themselves with your company anymore.

And as we all know, without a successful team, you will never build a successful company. 

How to reveal your company’s current cultural dynamics

A company’s culture is the sum of all individual behaviors, determining how people do their work, what type of environment they prefer, how they interact with each other, and what they value.

In order to reveal your company’s cultural characteristics, it’s important to map out the individual behaviors of your team members. 

Below you will find a template that you can download and fill in per team member or per team, helping you to understand the dynamics better. In this template, I included three important facets of culture:

  • How you interact with others;
  • How you cope with your working environment;
  • How you deal with challenges.

Template: Revealing your company’s current cultural dynamics

Cultural fit

What is cultural fit

So, what is cultural fit? Does it have anything to do with the compatibility of cultural backgrounds? Does it just mean you should hire someone that you could hang out with? Perhaps someone with a similar sense of humour? Or maybe someone that seems like you could have a chill beer with them after work?

Before you start wondering too much about this, let’s drill down to what exactly cultural fit in a hiring context means. Cultural fit is all about hiring people who match with your organisational culture. Like mentioned above, that would be someone that interacts, copes with the working environment and deals with challenges similarly as your current teams.

It seems quite simple, right – all you basically need to do is hire people that are almost the same in how they act, think and interact with others.

Long story short – hiring for cultural fit is hiring someone who contributes to maintaining the current culture (i.e. similar to the current team members).

Why do we hire for cultural fit?

An article by Forbes summarises the main reasons why we tend to drift towards hiring solely based on cultural fit. So here they are:

  1. We automatically assume someone with similar qualities as us and our current teams will thus be more likely to succeed within our company when hired.
  2. We often happen to be quite lazy when it comes to hiring (it’s easier to hire someone that fits in perfectly rather than someone that might cause some friction, right?).
  3. Lastly – it’s one of the easiest ways to continuously maintain the status quo. Yeah you read that right. Everybody’s always talking about change and innovation – but the thing is: humans are creatures of habit. And environments in which there is status quo are easier to manage.

How to determine cultural fit

But how can you determine a candidate’s culture fit by only looking at their resume or motivational letter? You simply cannot. 

No resume or motivational letter can fully assess cultural fit. Even if the candidates have the required skills and experience needed for a job role, their work style might not be suitable with the one required to thrive within the company. On top of that – a piece of paper cannot truly and to the full extent capture who someone is a person. 

So, if neither resumes nor motivational letters can reveal whether someone will be a cultural fit – what other options are out there?

Interview questions to assess cultural fit

That’s why you should assess candidates’ culture fit during the interview process.

To be able to effectively hire for cultural fit, it is important to first understand and define the core elements of what makes your culture unique. This way you are able to understand what a prospective hire would need in order to be able to thrive within your company. 

Once you have a full understanding of the above-mentioned, we have prepared a template with  21 questions you can use throughout interviews with candidates to assess their cultural fit!

Behaviours and attitudes Describe a work environment or culture in which you are most productive. What would be the characteristics of a great boss? Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team? When you work together with a team on a task/project, describe the role that you are most likely to play within the team? Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work and how you handled it. Define your ideal management style. In what format do you prefer to receive feedback? Tell me about a time where a situation was stressful at work and what did you do to cope with this stress? When was the last time you took a risk professionally? Describe a situation where you felt you didn’t communicate well. How could you have handled the situation differently? Values, beliefs and assumptions. Tell me a bit about yourself. What does a positive company culture look like to you? What does work-life balance mean to you? What are the five things that are most important to you in a job? What traits do you believe make someone successful? What are you the most passionate about? Do you believe it’s more important to work fast or get the job done right? What kind of work would make you excited to get out of bed on Monday morning? What’s your dream job? Do you believe it’s important to establish and maintain good relationships with people? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Cultural fit pre-employment assessments

Of course, there are also pre-employment assessments designed to help assess someone’s cultural fit with a company.

Pre-employment tests reveal the parts of individuals that you can’t reveal through a resume or a motivation letter, but that can contribute to whether someone will be a good cultural fit with your company or not. 

These kinds of assessments allow you to, in most cases, compare the personal values of candidates and their preferences regarding organizational culture to those of your actual culture. Or at least the culture you are striving towards achieving. 

The benefits of hiring for cultural fit

So, why should companies be hiring for cultural fit? 

Here are 4 main benefits of hiring for cultural fit!

Improved employee retention

For starters, research finds that employees who are a good cultural fit are far less likely to leave (81% in fact). This is a compelling statistic – it stands to reason that increasing staff retention rates will save time, resources and costs.

Improved employee job satisfaction

Similarly, employees who enjoy what they do, have the chance to work with like-minded people, and share the ethos and values of their company are always going to be more engaged at work. It’s therefore unsurprising that employees who are a good cultural fit also have higher job satisfaction and improved job performance (90% and 84% respectively).  

‘‘Hire for culture, train for skills’

An increasing number of people are subscribing to the philosophy that you should ‘hire for culture fit, train for skills’. There is definitely something to be said for this approach. If a candidate doesn’t quite have all of the desired training and skills you’re looking for but is an excellent fit with the rest of the team, they shouldn’t be discounted out of hand. It’s important to remember that upskilling is almost always possible, and a good cultural fit is likely to be much more of an asset in the long run. 

More productive, engaged and happy employees

Naturally, other considerations beyond culture need to be made during the recruitment process. But on a fundamental level, hiring candidates you believe will integrate well with the rest of your team and understand your company’s goals and values will lead to great benefits: 90% greater job satisfaction,  84% improved job performance, 81% less likely to leave, 78% increased respect for the company.

hiring candidates you believe will integrate well with the rest of your team and understand your company’s goals and values will lead to great benefits: 90% greater job satisfaction,  84% improved job performance, 81% less likely to leave, 78% increased respect for the company.

But what happens if you hire someone who is a poor cultural fit?

Examples of cultural fit: the good and the bad

Good cultural fit

  • An introverted, quiet person who prefers to work individually is hired to work at a company that has clearly defined goals and structures in place.
  • An extroverted, very outgoing, and social person is hired at a company that places a large emphasis on direct and frequent interaction with customers.

Poor cultural fit

  • A person who needs a lot of guidance and structure is hired for a company that places emphasis on independent work and relies heavily on the initiative on an individual level.
  • A quiet, private person gets hired for a company that works in small, collaborative teams and prioritizes innovative artistic approaches.

Obviously, as I mentioned previously – good cultural fit can bring many advantages. However, if a hire is a poor cultural fit, according to research conducted by Robert Walters Group, it can lead to:

  • A frustrated and unmotivated workforce
  • Employees more eager to quit sooner 
  • Lower productivity levels and job satisfaction
  • Higher levels of stress

And if that doesn’t sound bad enough already, if you decide to make hiring decisions solely based on cultural fit – you’re not in for a treat..

Here’s why.

What often goes wrong when hiring solely based on cultural fit

However, all that glitters is not gold – hiring only and solely for cultural fit can be a dangerous hiring tactic to use. Especially if the majority of management roles, for example, are held primarily by white men, hiring for cultural fit can often end up becoming a form of institutionalized way of reproducing inequalities. 

Why? Because we tend to assume which candidates will be a good “cultural fit” by perceiving cultural fit as looking for hires that are similar to us or remind us of ourselves. Thus, in reality, hiring is based on gut feeling rather than actual cultural fit.

Here are consequences you can face when hiring solely based on cultural fit.

Creating a homogeneous culture

“I just want someone that won’t rock the boat and fit into our culture like a glove

Sure thing. That obviously sounds great. But *drum roll* …

It’s not. 

A notable risk for hiring solely for culture fit is creating a homogeneous culture that feels more like a clique and not a team. In other words, it is easy to slip into the habit of hiring those who have similar behaviours, all at the expense of diversity and inclusion. Hiring for ‘fit’ is extremely ambiguous for recruiters, who may instead have their self-interests at heart and not the company ethos. 

Subsequently, a candidate’s skill set and experience is disregarded by recruiters who hire similar employees to the ones they already have. You may have hired someone that embraces every team social or craves that game of pool in the office with you, but being a part of a company culture is much more than that. 

Mistaking cultural fit with “Can I drink beer with this person after work?”

Candidate value sets are mistaken for individual character traits and hobbies. The organizational values no longer represent organizational values, but the individual recruiter and hiring managers’ experiences, social interests, hobbies, and qualifications. 

The term went from “Do we share the same values?” to “Can I drink beer with this person after work?” and “Does this candidate have the same hobbies as me?”. In fact, did you know that asking about a candidate’s hobbies during an interview can make you wrongfully hire based on stereotypes?

For example, there are two interviewers interviewing a candidate. The candidate gets asked the hobbies question and answers that their hobby is gaming.

  • Interviewer A does not like gaming, so likely, based on this would prefer to reject the said candidate.
  • Interviewer B loves gaming, so would, based on the fact that the candidate reminds them of themselves, they would prefer to hire the person.

What do you think this results in? Hiring decisions that are heavily influenced by our very own unconscious biases. And ultimately – mishires.

“Cultural fit” can be influenced by unconscious biases

Culture fit can be highly subjective, that’s why it is often heavily influenced by unconscious bias. Let me briefly explain what exactly this means. It takes one tenth of a second to make a wrong judgement about someone – that’s why they say “first impressions may be misleading” and “never judge a book by its cover”. 

Sadly, we all still do it – we trust our gut when it comes to making decisions or forming opinions about certain things and even people. The danger of this is also present when it comes to hiring. There are 3 unconscious biases that most commonly influence hiring decisions: halo/horns effect, similarity bias, and confirmation bias leading to a distorted perception of which candidates are or are not a culture fit. 

Hiring for culture fit vs Culture add

What is culture add

So, “Cultural Fit” doesn’t work so well in practice. Is there something else? What about Culture Add?

Culture add places importance upon hiring in a way that, yes you guessed it, adds to your culture rather than perfectly fits it.

The difference between hiring for culture fit and culture add

Hiring for culture fit is hiring someone who contributes to maintaining the current culture (i.e. similar to the current team members). 

So, asking “What this person is lacking in terms of culture fit” to then, later on, use that as a valid excuse to disregard this individual from proceeding further in the funnel.

In contrast, hiring for culture add is hiring someone who has certain aspects that your current culture lacks (i.e. different from the current team members). 

Thus, shifting the question to “What can this specific individual bring to the table?”.

An example: A highly collaborative team

Let’s assume that your current team is highly collaborative, meaning that the majority of your team members are more collaborative rather than individualistic.

There are some dangers to keep in mind when having a team that’s either very collaborative or very individualistic.

Very collaborative team

Pro: Collaborative teams tend to succeed especially in situations where sharing interpersonal knowledge, expertise and information is crucial for a successful outcome.

Con: In situations where speed and efficiency are important, teams that are very collaborative tend to struggle more than individualistic teams, as collaborative teams will spend a lot of time on finding consensus. 

Very individualistic team

Pro: Individualistic teams tend to succeed in situations/projects where speed and efficiency are the primary goals and where each team member can be given a specific responsibility based on their skillset.

Con: Learning from other team members and compensating for each other’s weaknesses, which are behaviors associated with increased team performance, tend to occur less in teams that are more individualistic.

Now, let’s go back to having a very collaborative team

This definitely says something about your culture. The way we collaborate with each other tells us a lot about how we interact with each other, how we treat each other, and how we help each other grow. Therefore, it’s tempting to hire for culture fit, which means that you will again hire a very collaborative person. 

When hiring for culture add, you might decide on hiring a more individualistic person – of course not entirely on the other side of the spectrum, but at least someone who scores a bit more different from the rest. This sounds scary, and you might be afraid of this person not fitting the culture, but it does create a healthier team balance.

So, if a collaborative mindset is important for you, then try to hire someone who scores neutral. This won’t impact your culture that heavily, but it does add significant value to the team. And most importantly, your team members can also learn from that!

How to hire for culture add

First of all, look for traits on which your team scores very consistently and extremely (left/right). It can be, for example, quite dangerous to only have extremely collaborative people in your team. Neurodiversity is a proven business case, and this can go perfectly hand in hand with culture.

Is your team extremely flexible? Try to look for someone who’s more in the middle. Or do you have a very systematic team when it comes to solving challenges? Then it might be nice to look for someone who might not be the perfect problem solver, but does bring some speed and experimenting to the table.

Also, it could of course be the case that Discipline indeed is a core value, which requires conscientiousness, while most of your team members aren’t conscientious. In this scenario, hiring a more conscientious person would have a very positive impact on your core value. 

Most importantly – when hiring for culture add, remember you’re not looking for copycats, you’re looking for individuals who will add to your culture & help in shaping it!

Begin hiring based on what matters the right way

In fact, according to research, hiring solely based on culture fit is barely indicative of who will be the best performer at a company and end up sticking around for longer.

You may have hired someone that embraces every team social or craves that game of pool in the office with you, but being a successful employee is much more than that. At the end of the day, you are not hiring people to only have drinks with them.

You are hiring them because they value what you do as a company.

I am a big fan of objectifying hiring through data, as that massively reduces bias in the hiring process. I have to make a confession here though – I might be a bit biased in saying this, as objectifying hiring is exactly what we do at Equalture.

How to assess cultural traits & soft skills objectively: Gamification

We help companies get to know their candidates’ skills, behavior, cultural traits, and personality in an objective way, rather than having to guess this through an interview. We have built a library of scientifically-validated gamified assessments, which candidates are asked to complete right at the start of the hiring process (this takes around 15 minutes). 

This ensures a first impression based on science, instead of wrong assumptions based on blindly guessing whether someone is a culture fit or not.

Look beyond your bias & hire objectively!


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Cheers, Anete

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