How Can a Company Effectively Hire For Cultural Fit?

hiring cultural fit

While cultural fit is often lauded as the most important part of hiring for both recruiters and candidates, it’s not always done in a way that truly puts the company’s cultural values before personal opinions. A recent New York Times article about hiring for cultural fit explores this idea further.

Here at gothamCulture, we’re not quite ready to give up on the importance of cultural fit, however. While many companies may struggle to set aside personal bias, cultural fit is a critical part of our hiring decisions.

Whether you realize it or not, every new employee has an impact across any organization, and we want to ensure that the changes we put in place align well with our overall culture and values.

In addition to more traditional ways of vetting job applicants, we ensure every candidate is part of a team interview as an opportunity to get to know his or her potential coworkers. This ensures that both the team and the interviewee are comfortable with their potential relationships and roles in the company going forward.

But, we understand that not every organization functions this way. So, we asked our team to share their answers to the following question:

How can organizations ensure that they are hiring for cultural fit?

mark-emersonMark Emerson, General Manager

I don’t think an HR manager who gets a requirement from a department head about a new hire can possibly be able to assess cultural fit, but that is usually not the role of HR.  Their job is to assess work history, credentials and technical skills to actually perform the work. It’s then generally the role of the manager to assess the cultural fit.

And this is where I think the process can break down.

I hired someone a long time ago who was fully qualified for the role, but I didn’t read the culture of my team properly and it ended up being somewhat of a disaster. I vowed not to make that mistake again and instituted team interviews. The team was taken aback at first but over time, began to really appreciate the fact that I valued their judgment and wasn’t simply throwing someone new into their established culture without their input. They quickly took to the process and we ended up with some outstanding teammates.

It’s cumbersome and logistically more difficult to do team interviews, but I can’t see not doing them. The team has valuable input, insight into their daily work, and might see things that the manager doesn’t.

Simultaneously giving the team a chance to vet applicants and giving the applicant the chance to vet the team is a win-win. It allows everyone to ‘see the field’ and it prevents the hierarchical nature of a manager solely deciding on the fit of a candidate.

arthur-kimArthur Kim, Engagement Manager

Most companies don’t spend enough time or effort on their hiring practices. Unfortunately, many don’t even hire until they are barely able to keep their heads above water with all the business activity they have coming in.

When it comes time to interview candidates, they either have a random manager speak with the candidate or the hiring manager is so busy that they haven’t had time to properly prepare. As a result, the interviewer has little or no knowledge of the job that the interviewee is applying for.

It’s important that every interviewer knows the position being applied for, but more importantly, they need to fully understand the culture and values of the company so they can convey that message and see if the candidate fits into those characteristics.

It’s also important for upper management to prep interviewers with what needs to be asked, what to look for in a candidate, topics of conversation and what questions they’re allowed to ask.

If cultural fit is a priority, they should design the interview to vet those characteristics, rather than generic problem-solving or skills-assessment questions.

pamela-faragoPamela Farago, OD Intern

A company becomes who it hires, so the future culture of an organization is strongly tied to the kinds of people it selects to represent it today. However, a potential employee’s “cultural fit” in the organization should not be determined by their certain talkative type of personality or their specific love of baseball.

The values and goals that a company holds are what should be assessed when determining a potential employee’s cultural fit, not their hobbies and hometowns.  If employers merely hired new workers who they wanted to hang out with and who shared all their same thought processes, an organization would become an army of clones, both incapable of innovating and prone to making poor decisions due to limited information.

To ensure that company values and goals are the criteria used to make hiring decisions, a business should consider several steps.

First, the organization should sit down and document what their values and goals actually are.  Then, the organization’s determined culture should be communicated not only to its current employees, but also to its potential employees. This allows potential employees to make a preliminary judgment of whether they should even apply for a job with this company.

Finally, the business should assess the fit of potential employees’ values and goals to the values and goals that it holds using an objective assessment, such as a structured interview or checklist. This would decrease the potential for interviewers to make subjective decisions about candidates based on either their own definitions of “cultural fit” or their favorite sports team.

chelsea-weberChelsea Weber, OD Intern

Working for an organization where I feel like I “fit in” has deepened my ability to lean into the work, take risks, and perform.  There are deep benefits on both sides of the equation—when employees and their employers are on the same page as far as “the way we do things around here,” everyone gets to spend time on deeper conversations.

And yet, a word of caution when using “cultural fit” as a singular benchmark for hiring: If an organization is not explicitly aware of the culture it seeks to fit, hiring managers and supervisors risk letting implicit biases seep into their hiring practices. Be wary of the words “cultural fit” becoming a veil for discrimination.

Companies should ask themselves: Are we aware of what we’re looking for when we hire for “cultural fit?” Are the things we look for measurable? Truly based on what will drive performance in our organization?

Consider doing exercises to uncover those implicit biases—there are online tests and conversations you can have to be honest with yourself and your team about what might get in the way.  Finally, remember that cultural fit is a conversation. Uncover what the person you’re hiring is looking for, and ask candidly if that matches what your company offers.