When it comes to hiring, a candidate’s ability to do the job is, of course, a major consideration. However, technical skills and experience don’t speak to a candidate’s ability to do the job within your organization. That’s where cultural fit – “The likelihood that someone will reflect and/or be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that make up your organization,” per Harvard Business Review – comes into play.
Given the expense associated with hiring employees, it’s important to use every tool that’s available to make sure you get it right the first time around, and that includes adding the concept of cultural fit to your hiring strategy.
Here are a few examples of how hiring for fit can help your organization.
It Improves Employee Retention: Employees who are aligned with an organization’s culture (it’s values, mission, ways of working, etc.) are more likely to stay with that organization (or, at least, less likely to look for opportunities elsewhere). In some cases, employees place culture above compensation when deciding where to work. Hiring for fit, then, reduces voluntary turnover by creating a strong connection between employee and organization.
It Creates Stronger Teams: The shared mission and values of your company’s culture give your employees something to rally behind. Your culture also provides a roadmap for how people work together within the organization – how they face challenges, collaborate, solve problems, celebrate successes and so on. When employees fit within your cultural framework, they all share a common ground and purpose.
It Makes for More Engaged Workers: When an employee fits your organizational culture, they are more likely to thrive and succeed. By virtue of that, they are more likely to be engaged in their work. And engaged workers produce more and better work. Gallup found that organizations with engaged employees experience 21 percent greater profitability.
While the discussion here is focused on how hiring for fit can benefit your organization, it’s worth noting that your culture, in and of itself, can be a powerful recruiting tool. Assuming that it is healthy, genuine and desirable, your culture can attract top candidates who self-select for fit. On the flip side, a perceived negative culture can have the opposite effect.
For instance, TPD worked with a Vancouver-based tech startup that was having trouble competing with the likes of Microsoft and Amazon for talent. A big part of their problem was a not-so-great company culture based on a top-down leadership structure that strained trust between employees and the higher-ups. With TPD’s help, the company was able to identify and improve cultural issues, create positive employer branding and start filling vacant positions. (See the case study here.)
How to Hire for Cultural Fit
The first step to hiring for fit is putting your organization’s culture in front of the talent you want to attract. Your job ad, for example, should include a blurb about the company and its mission and values. Include cultural indicators when describing things like job responsibilities – words like “take ownership” or “collaborate” or “innovate” (or whatever terms are relevant to your company) speak to how things get done in an organization.
And, of course, interviewing for fit is crucial. During a job interview, ask culture-focused questions like:
- What do you need from a company to succeed?
- Under what type of culture do you do your best work?
- What are your core values when it comes to work?
Also, consider asking behavioral questions based on specific organizational values or cultural attributes. Let’s say that collaborative work across teams is commonplace for your organization, you may ask for examples of that from a candidate’s experience.
Through it all, you’re looking for responses that show alignment between the candidate and your organization’s culture.
Fit Doesn’t Mean Everyone Is the Same
It’s important to understand that cultural fit shouldn’t equate to everybody in an organization being the same.
“What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with,” HR consultant Patty McCord tells the Wall Street Journal. “You end up with this big, homogenous culture where everybody looks alike, everybody thinks alike and everybody likes drinking beer at 3 o’clock in the afternoon with the bros.”
While the kind of hiring behavior that McCord describes can stifle diversity efforts, it can also hurt innovation by keeping different perspectives and ways of thinking from entering an organization.
So, when we talk about hiring for fit, we’re not talking about surface-level similarities. We’re talking about how a candidate aligns with your organization's cultural values – and, hopefully, diversity is among those values.