Should You Hire for Culture Fit?

A team discusses how to hire for culture fit.

When employers set out to hire for culture fit, they’re typically looking to add employees who will help to solidify and augment their existing company culture. The thinking is that candidates who are a “good fit” will have an easier time transitioning into their new role, collaborating with their new colleagues, and contributing to their new employer’s core mission.

The problem is that this is not how hiring for cultural fit tends to play out in practice. Instead, looking for a candidate who is a “good fit” all too often becomes an endeavor to find a candidate who “fits in” with the existing workforce. As a consequence, attributes that are largely irrelevant to aptitude, such as going to the same schools or vacationing in similar destinations, take on an outsized importance in determining who will be hired.

Even more damaging, when employee fit is viewed as a shared social, educational, or cultural background, it can hinder diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Hiring based on a superficial understanding of organizational culture can undermine the effectiveness of work teams, constrain innovation and creativity, and limit profitability. In addition, hiring practices that tend to exclude candidates based on characteristics such as age, race, gender, or religion can leave you vulnerable to legal liability.

That said, there is an argument for hiring for fit, as long as you define company culture as a set of shared values that support and promote your core organizational mission.

What Is Culture Fit?

The most useful way to think about company culture is as a set of values and work practices that are shared by employer and employee. By first determining whether your organization’s highest priority is customer satisfaction, technological innovation, or community service, you can more effectively articulate your core values to prospective candidates. Once your values have been clearly articulated as part of your employer brand, you’re more likely to recruit job seekers whose core values align with your core mission.

Cultural fit can also be thought of as an optimum set of conditions and processes that tend to support employees in ways that allow them to thrive in their roles. For example, some employees work best as part of a small team, whereas others prefer to work independently. Workers who know the conditions under which they work best are likely to seek out the type of organization they most enjoy being part of during their job search. Understanding and clearly articulating your management structure to applicants can lead to a better fit.

Interviewing for Cultural Fit

Standardizing your interview process can eliminate unconscious bias and thwart bad recruitment practices that tend to lead to an overly homogenous workforce. Employing interviewing best practices and asking behavioral interview questions can help you develop a screening process that leverages the best elements of culture fit while reducing bias-based gatekeeping.

Best Practices

  1. Follow a script that eliminates chummy small talk and asks the same questions of every candidate. This will avoid bias in favor of candidates with socioeconomic backgrounds similar to the interviewers’ based on traits that have nothing to do with competence, such as where the candidate vacations or attended school.
  2. Focus on what is being said and not how it is said. For example, the outmoded belief that eye contact is linked to trustworthiness might tend to unfairly eliminate from consideration talented autistic workers or candidates with a vision disability who may not be able to make eye contact during a face-to-face interview but would be a value-add for your organization.
  3. Ask applicants what working conditions they prefer. Do they thrive in a highly collaborative, team-focused working environment or a more siloed and independent one? Do they prefer a more formal, hierarchical management structure or an informal organizational framework characterized by open communication? These questions can help assess culture fit more accurately.
  4. Use a hiring committee that includes a peer interviewer to gauge collegiality and gain insight into how top applicants interact with team members and colleagues of a similar authority level across departments.

Interviewing for Interpersonal Skills

By asking a range of problem-solving questions during your interview process you can learn how candidates approach common work challenges, from interpersonal conflicts and relationship building to resource management and customer service. Using a combination of situational and behavioral questions, including the sample questions below, can help determine culture fit:

  • How do you handle work setbacks?
  • What is the biggest mistake you made in your last role and how did you resolve it?
  • How would you deal with a coworker whose work is unreliable?
  • How would you approach a conflict with another department?
  • Do you prefer working in a highly structured work environment or a more flexible one?

The answers to these questions can help determine whether prospective employees are likely to thrive in your company’s organizational structure, or whether they are likely to find your workplace culture and processes frustrating. The right interview questions can also help you measure the degree to which your organization’s core mission and values align with the candidate’s.

In this way, you can focus on a values and work habits-aligned fit rather than a superficial understanding of cultural fit that may lead to negative consequences for your organization, including a tendency to allow unconscious bias to creep into your hiring practices.

Integrate Cultural Fit and Values Alignment Into Your Employer Brand and Make Better Hires

Monster’s updated Employer Branding Guide can help you address culture fit in ways that facilitate your DEI goals and better articulate your core mission and values to prospective employees.