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How To Hire For Cultural Fit

Or: Why the best candidate may not have the most impressive resume.

Cultural Fit

When it comes to hiring, every employer’s goal is to hire the best-possible candidate. But what makes someone a great candidate can, and should, vary from employer to employer, due in large part to what’s called “cultural fit.”

A candidate who’s a good “cultural fit” for an organization is someone whose values and behaviors are aligned with those of the organization; someone who “fits” within the company’s culture.

Unlike more concrete factors like education and experience, cultural fit is something that can be hard to quantify, and infinitely more subjective. Case in point: If a job description states applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree, recruiters and hiring managers can easily find out whether an applicant meet this requirement by reading through his or her resume. Determining if a candidate’s values and behaviors align with the company’s culture, however, requires a more thorough assessment than any piece of paper can provide.

Defining your company culture

It’s impossible to know whether a candidate is a cultural fit without first defining what your company culture is.

John W. Allen, G&A Partners’ President & COO reflected on how employers can define their company’s culture in an guest article for the Houston Business Journal back in 2011:

“A strong company culture, good or bad, reflects the values of the company, its leaders, and its employees. What values define your company? What matters most to you and your employees? Profits, innovation, making a difference, operating with integrity? If you don’t know, you should.”

Culture is like the proverbial iceberg: what you can see is only one small part of something much bigger. When it comes to culture, the “visible” parts include things like a company mission statement, employee policies and procedures and published processes.

But just like the iceberg, it’s what’s beneath the surface that truly defines organizational culture: the shared assumptions, the cultural norms, the unwritten rules that somehow everyone knows without them ever being formally discussed. These intangibles are not only what makes defining a company’s culture so difficult, but also what makes each organization unique, and why two businesses doing virtually the same work can have vastly different cultures.

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Defining your ideal employee

Once you understand all the elements and ideals that set your workplace apart from all others (i.e. your company’s culture), the next step is to figure out what skills and attitudes a person needs to have in order to mesh well with the culture of your organization.

Figuring out what would make someone an ideal candidate for a given position is the easy part – just ask the hiring manager what qualities they’d like their new employee to have, and odds are they’ll come up with a laundry list of favorable attributes: a self-starter, someone with lots of relevant experience, someone with good customer service skills, a team player, a fast learner, etc. (Bonus points if all of that is already in the job description for the position!)

Hiring for cultural fit requires looking past individual positions to think about what qualities someone needs to have to succeed in the organization as a whole. Does the work your company do require your employees to move quickly? If so, your ideal employees are likely people who can cope with stress well. Do your employees frequently need to work in teams or collaborate across departments to complete projects or service clients? If so, your ideal employee probably isn’t someone who prefers to work in a more isolated environment.

An easy way to do this is to think about your organization’s standout employees, the ones you’d like to hire another forty exact replicas of, if you could. Think about what characteristics make them so successful within the organization, and start writing those down.

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Assessing cultural fit

Pre-employment screenings, applications and resumes can only provide so much insight into how well a candidate will fit in with an organization’s culture. That’s why face-to-face interviews are one of the most crucial elements of a hiring process that’s looking for cultural fit. But how can you figure out whether a candidate is a good match during the length of a one or two hour interview?

The Harvard Business Review proposes these questions to assess culture fit during the interview stage:

  • What type of culture do you thrive in?
  • What values are you drawn to (in a prospective workplace/employer)?
  • What would your ideal workplace look like?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What do you think of our culture based on what you’ve seen so far?
  • Is our culture a fit for what you’re looking for?
  • Have you ever worked for an organization where you did not feel like you were a strong cultural fit? If so, why do you think it wasn’t a fit for you?

Final thoughts on cultural fit

Not every employee has to embody every single quality you’re looking for, but every employee should feel comfortable with and a part of the cultural fabric of the organization in some way.

To simplify things: Employees who connect with the company’s culture and values are more likely to be happy at work. Happy employees are more likely to be engaged in their work. Engaged employees are more likely to be productive employees. And the more productive, engaged, happy and connected employees you have, the more successful your company will be.

Want to become a recruitment and hiring pro?

Check out the recap of G&A Partners webinar: “Recruiting & Hiring 101.”

7 responses to “How To Hire For Cultural Fit”

  1. Sally says:

    This is a great article and really shows how important the organizational culture is.

  2. Tammy F says:

    We are working to change our culture. This is a great article on just how important that is and the impact it has. I love this quote by John Allen. ““A strong company culture, good or bad, reflects the values of the company, its leaders, and its employees. “

  3. Thanks, a helpful set of questions to ask myself, and our candidates.

  4. Barbee says:

    Great article. In the manufacturing business it is sometimes “Just get a warm body to fill the spot”. It is better to have an empty position than to fill with one that is not suited for the positions or the company. In my opinion it seems that we think many hands to do the job faster,when a few less would accomplish the job just as quickly.

    • G&A Partners says:

      Thanks for the comment, Barbee! It’s definitely easier sometimes to fall into the “anyone will do” mentality you described, but not being thorough in the hiring process from the beginning does often result in bigger problems (and costs) down the road in terms of employee turnover and unemployment claims. We agree that sometimes being shorthanded until the best possible candidate is hired can be more efficient than .

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