How To Hire For Cultural Fit (and When Not to Hire For Cultural Fit)

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When you hire a new employee; you’re making a serious investment in your business. Research suggests that costs of hiring and engaging the wrong employee can be equivalent to 6-9 times their monthly salary. A mistake in the hiring process, particularly in small businesses with shallow pockets, can have a huge impact on the bottom line and prevent your business from achieving its objectives which, in turn, can be even more costly.

How to Improve the Chances of Making The Right Hiring Decision

One of the easiest ways, to improve the odds of getting that hiring decision right, is to look at “cultural fit”. Most interviews and hiring processes tend to focus just on getting the skills and aptitudes of a candidate in line with the expectations of the job instead of examining how a candidate will contribute to the organization as a whole.

What is Cultural Fit?

Cultural fit is a term that gets used by many people but it’s often ill-defined and that can lead to confusion when you start implementing a search for “cultural fit” in the hiring process. A simple definition of “cultural fit” is that the employee behaves in a way and has the right personal beliefs to support the organization’s culture and core values.

Why Does Cultural Fit Matter?

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Years ago, some friends of mine ran a recruitment consultancy. They regularly put seemingly excellent candidates forward for a long-standing vacancy and without fail each candidate was rejected. When they probed the reasons behind these rejections they discovered that the company was looking for someone who would fill the role for the next 7-10 years – there were no promotion prospects or career opportunities that would be open to the chosen candidate.

They’d been sending over candidates who were young, highly-qualified and ambitious, they expected to be management within 2-3 years not stuck in a going nowhere role. There was no cultural fit between the candidates and the position and that’s why it was left empty.

Armed with this understanding; they found a lady who wanted to return to the workforce after raising her children and who just wanted a stable position which would allow her some independence and to pay some of life’s little luxuries.

Employers need the right person for the job and that doesn’t mean that the “right person” is the best person on paper. It means that the person they select should fit their needs across the board. There’s plenty of research that says when a cultural fit is found – the employee finds greater levels of job satisfaction and is more productive. Employers also find that it’s easier to retain employees who are a great cultural fit.

Hiring For Cultural Fit

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You can’t hire for cultural fit unless you spend some time thinking about what “cultural fit” means within your organization.

There’s no point in advertising for “dynamic young things” if you’re a staid accountancy consultancy where everybody is over 40 and brings a huge client list to the business when they join. The only time when you’d be looking for “dynamic young things” there is if you were undertaking a cultural change program.

It’s better to be honest about what your culture is than to try and pretend it’s something that it’s not.

What are your organization values? What sort of organization are you? Are you a dyed-in-the-wool traditional hierarchy or an evolving startup where everyone is free to express themselves in any way they want?

You don’t need to worry about not appearing hip and cool in this process. There are plenty of talented people who love to work in traditional hierarchies; the funky startup doesn’t have a monopoly on talent but the people who enjoy one, probably won’t thrive in the other.

Once you know what your culture is about – you can start to communicate that. Your job postings, your website, etc. should reflect what you are about as an organization. This makes it easier for talent to recognize an environment that they’d be happy working in and to avoid applying for work in an environment that they don’t think they’d be happy in.

You also want to communicate the culture in job descriptions sent to candidates. Don’t just send out a dry list of skills and aptitudes and qualifications; talk about the kind of person in the role. Do you want an innovator? Or would you prefer that someone was steady and dependable? Then say so.

When you have job applicants and reach the interview stage – you’re going to want to test for cultural fit. Whatever you do – don’t just ask a candidate something like; “You’re going to need to be a cultural fit – can you explain how you would go about that?” Those questions are very easy for someone, who has done their homework, to give a model answer to without necessarily being accurate in their response.

Instead, you need to examine specific situations in the candidate’s past where they have shown the kind of personality traits that you’re looking for. When has an innovation they’ve created had real business impact? What were the personal implications of that impact?

The deeper you dig into someone’s life and their behavior and personality; the more likely you are to determine whether they are a real cultural fit or just saying what’s necessary to get the job offer.

When Not to Hire For Cultural Fit

There is a very big danger in organizations which focus all their efforts on “cultural fit” of becoming a homogenous place to work. This can quickly lead to a “yes” culture where no conflicts ever arise. While that might sound like a good idea at first – this can kill companies (it very nearly killed that smartphone giant BlackBerry and they were in a better financial place to come back than most businesses are).

You need a little conflict to generate ideas and alternative working methods. Sometimes it’s a good idea to hire people who aren’t a cultural fit specifically because they aren’t a cultural fit. Sure, they’ll rub some people up the wrong way every now and again but if they’re talented enough; they’ll also bring balance to your organization.