Why You Should Be Hiring for Company Culture in 2017


“It’s just a good fit.”

You’ve heard people say it when they are trying to explain why they have stayed at a job so long or why they are excited about a new job. And we know what they mean. Work is still work for everyone at times, but when a person finds a job with the right balance of encouragements for all the discouragements, he or she is far more likely to stick with it for the sake of the good.

What makes a good fit is highly personal and hard to clearly delineate. The business world has known about the power of fit for a long time, with formal psychological studies on the topic dating back the past hundred years. In that time, we’ve been able to nail down a whole range of fascinating observations (the varying importance of finding like-mindedness with a company, feeling satisfied/accomplished in the work itself, relationships with supervisors, etc.) but no formulaic, constant set of objective components that allow for a consistently good match between employees and employers.

“Fit” is trending again, with employees and employers starting to ask for “cultural fit” in new jobs and new hires, respectively. What exactly do they mean by that, and why is it such a priority?

Cultural fit is notoriously elusive, but you can catch a glimpse of it in companies’ increased advertising on mobile platforms. With varying degrees of success, companies are trying to communicate their unique culture to would-be employees, appealing to a particular kind of candidate, and thereby dissuading those who find a company’s promoted culture less attractive. The tone of the Twitter feed, style portrayed in Instagram photos, and stance of articles written and shared on Facebook, all work together to communicate “culture”.  

Employees report again and again basing their decision to stay at or leave a job on the culture of a company.  Companies have responded by increasing their efforts to clearly communicate their culture early on in the hiring process with the goal finding and keeping quality, “good fit” employees. And while studies cannot provide a formula for creating cultural fit, they agree again and again that a strong match of candidate and culture brings both satisfaction (for employer and employee) and longevity.

So how does a company begin the process of hiring with culture in mind?  We see two big misunderstandings that can immediately impede any business’s efforts in this area – misunderstanding your company’s unique culture, and misunderstanding “similarity” and “fit”.  Avoid these, and you’ll be one step closer to a more successful hiring process.

First of all, avoid misunderstanding your own company’s culture. What abilities and characteristics are truly necessary for an employee to find success in your company? What behaviors do you most value? You will not be able to discern how well a candidate fits into the culture of your company simply by looking at his or her resumé-listed skills. You may think, for example, that the culture of your company is matched simply by a candidate with certain academic achievements or experience with specific software or training. But cultural fit goes deeper than skillset – it requires an assessment of a company’s core values.

Fortune featured an interview with Sanjay Beri, founder and CEO of Netskope, in which he explains the power of hiring for cultural fit. “Any day of the week, I would choose a person who is a 10 on the culture scale with regards to collaboration, transparency, resourcefulness, and lack of an ego—even if he or she were only an 8 on domain knowledge. Leaders are often blinded by resumes and overlook red flags that indicate a candidate’s vision may not be aligned with the company’s future. As a CEO, I want high-energy, independent, driven employees, and I’ve made sure my hires reflect those values. Make sure you filter for those traits that are important to you, and your company culture will come together.”

Understanding your company’s culture will take time, and it will take even more time to figure out how to communicate it most effectively. Hiring for cultural fit will involve spending enough time with a candidate to know the values behind the achievements.

Secondly, be sure you have a good understanding of the difference between hiring for company culture and hiring for similarity.

For example, perhaps a business places high value on having a laid-back workplace. There are a wide variety of people who would thrive in a more casual work environment.  Don’t allow your hiring to grow too narrow, hiring only a single personality, or only people who share similar interests or certain minor values. Your business will suffer in the stagnation of employees who all think similarly. Your company needs diversity.

Lisa Calhoun expounded on this her article for Inc., explaining how to discern if you are looking for genuine cultural fit (what she calls “core values”) or sameness in your hiring process. She breaks down hiring efforts into two categories: efforts to discern if “you believe like we believe” or those asking if “you act like we act”, saying the key to non-stereotypical, non-superficial “fit” in a company is figuring out which candidates “believe like we believe” (even if they don’t “act like we act”).  

Explains Calhoun, “Companies that love ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘the Red Sox,’ prefer ‘wine down Wednesdays,’ or ‘in by eight,’ are all working with culture fit stereotypes, rather than with the clarity of defined core values.” This is a misunderstanding of what it means to hire for company culture.

Effectively hiring for cultural fit doesn’t happen overnight, and it will look different for every business. As you refine your understanding of your company’s core culture, you will be able to provide advertising that is more in line with that culture. This will influence the candidates who make up your hiring process’s applicant pool, and the people you hire will have their own influence over your company and its culture. The cycle is dynamic and will require regular evaluation, but the benefit is worth it, as more and more employees will find themselves saying about your company, “It’s a good fit for me.”
If you find you are struggling to discern or communicate your company culture, consider bringing in some professional help. Experienced recruitment consultants are full-time “good fit” seekers, and working with both candidates and businesses for years allows them to have greater insight into what makes a candidate-company match successful.

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