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A Deep Dive into Hiring for Culture Fit [Why & How]

Ninety-percent of employers believe finding people who are a good culture fit is “very important.” No matter what role you’re looking to fill at your company, make sure you’ve got a game plan for hiring the right culture fit. It might just be a solution to keeping your employees around for the long run. 

Use this guide to help you make smarter hiring decisions. We flesh out what culture fit is, why you need it, and how to hire for it the right way. 

Keep in mind, organizations either use the term culture fit or cultural fit. While these terms can be used interchangeably, for clarity and consistency purposes here at O.C. Tanner, we will use culture fit. 

What Is Culture Fit?

Culture fit focuses on finding a person who fits with your company culture. It involves evaluating a job candidates’ beliefs, behaviors, skills, experience, and values to determine whether they align with your business principles. 

Have you dealt with a toxic employee who threatened the bonds that keep your company culture intact? Have you met a group of introverted employees who struggled to keep up with a culture based on an open-office plan? 

These issues illustrate why culture fit needs to be part of your hiring process. Simply put, you want to find people who will support and sustain your company culture—the heart and soul of your business. Otherwise, you’ll just have disengaged employees who want to do the bare minimum. 

Why Is Culture Fit Important?

Let’s dive into the significance of culture fit. Here are four reasons why it should be a part of your hiring process: 

    1. Adds Value to the Employee Experience 

Think about it; if you don’t care to find the right culture fit, then you’re failing to focus on the people who matter most to your business—your employees. 

Businesses that invest in the employee experience are four times more profitable than those that don’t. Like relationships, finding the person who matches your needs and values creates a more meaningful partnership. You get happier employees who are motivated to bring results.

Not to mention, finding the right person makes their colleagues feel comfortable and happy with their new teammate. Seventy-eight percent of employers believe a poor culture fit causes disharmony among staff. 

    2. Boosts Engagement

Sixty-four percent of professionals hate coming to work because of poor culture fit. This leads to high absenteeism and low engagement that can impact customer care. 

Save money and time in the long-run by filtering out candidates who don’t align with your culture. Find out what makes your most engaged employees stay driven and use that to guide you. 

    3. Nurtures High Productivity & Performance

People who feel they are a good culture fit at their company are 36 percent more productive. When people are in a role and team they feel personally connected to, they’ll put their best foot forward. They’ll want to take on new challenges and perform their best. 

Moreover, the more comfortable employees feel at the company, the more likely they’ll feel confident to say “no” and raise concerns to management. The results? Less burnout and more fulfillment. 

    4. Improves Retention Rates

Seventy-three percent of employees have left a job due to a poor culture fit. Not to mention, turnover can cost 1.5 to 2 times an employee’s salary. Do you want to incur these costs? Hiring for culture fit matters. It helps people feel more engaged and perform their best. 

Eighty-one percent of hiring managers believe candidates are less likely to leave their company if they are a good culture fit. After all, we spend a third of our lives working—it’s important everyone feels fulfilled and happy with what they’re doing. 

How Do You Determine Culture Fit?

Determining a candidate’s culture fit requires tapping into your organization’s: 

• Values
• Purpose
• Mission
• Work environment 
• Employee experience

These factors define your company culture and should be used to evaluate your candidates. So if you haven’t already done so, solidify your culture. You can refer to these eight companies with great corporate cultures

You can then start to look for the right person for the job. This involves: 

• Researching candidates. Have they been a part of any recent projects that convey their work style and expertise? Do they have photos or posts online that support or oppose your culture?

• Asking the right questions during interviews. This involves a lot of thought and preparation. Don’t worry, though, because we cover several key questions you should ask candidates later on. 

• Involving current employees in the hiring process. Who are some staff members and managers who embody the company culture? Lean on them to help you make the right decision.

What Are the Pitfalls of Hiring for Culture Fit?

As much as culture fit is necessary and pivotal to your hiring process, it can backfire if not approached or managed well. 

Here are three main pitfalls you need to look out for: 

    1. False Pretense

People may exhibit the traits and expertise you’re looking for, but they might not actually embody them. In other words, they’re faking it until they make it. 

Why? You might offer the salary or benefits they’ve always wanted. They know they aren't a good culture fit, so they do their homework to learn how they can illustrate the desired qualities.

Therefore, it’s not always a guarantee a candidate will fulfill your expectations after being hired. The good news is, there are ways you can help mitigate this and give your team the best chance of hiring the right person. Keep reading to learn more about this. 

    2. Focus on Personality

When it comes to culture fit, some organizations fall into the habit of focusing on personality during the hiring process. The problem with this? You’re creating an intrinsically homogenous environment. 

Rather than choosing the candidate who holds the right values (values that can help drive the company forward), you’re selecting someone you’d be up to having a beer with. In other words, you’re just looking at personality (are they friendly? Do they get along with me?)—something people tend to equate with culture fit.

With this, you risk overlooking key traits, like work ethic, skills, and experience, that make someone a qualified candidate. Moreover, you run the risk of overlooking qualities that make someone different—diverse attributes and values that can potentially help shape impactful training strategies and career paths at your organization.

    3. Unconscious Bias

Culture fit can also foster unconscious bias. When employers have a picture of who they envision their future employees to be, this can lead to tunnel vision. This skews judgment, and we begin to use irrelevant and subjective criteria (like personality) to select employees. 

For example, say you’re hiring at a Silicon Valley start-up. Your candidate arrives with a button-up shirt and dress pants—items that are a bit too formal for a workplace where people don jeans and a t-shirt. 

They might not manifest the person you had in your mind. So you decide the candidate is not a good culture fit and move on with someone else. This unconscious bias makes you overlook the candidate’s actual talents and skill sets. 

How to Hire for Culture Fit the Right Way

Don’t be a victim of those pitfalls. How? Here are four ways to hire for culture fit the right way. 

    1. Don’t Be Quick to Judge

It’s easy to pass judgment like rapid fire the minute a candidate walks through the door. Or heck, even the moment you set eyes on a resume. Refrain from doing this. 

Take time to get to really know someone. Learn what matters most to them. Most importantly, look at the facts—their experience and skills. 

As we discussed earlier, you don’t simply want to put all of your cards into personality. You want to take a holistic approach to find someone you like AND who exhibits the right professional expertise and ethics. This takes some trial and error, but this iteration process is crucial in striking the right balance.

    2. Conduct Assessments & Ask the Right Questions 

Striking that balance involves understanding how to interview for culture fit. 

Interviewing for culture fit may involve having your candidates:  

• Share actual experiences/anecdotes that illustrate their work ethic, qualities, and skills. 

• Take a skills test (example: if you’re hiring a software developer, have them complete a coding test). This can help you avoid false pretense and objectively spearhead the hiring process. 

• Take an emotional intelligence test to assess one’s relationship-management and leadership skills.

Next are the interview questions. These questions should help you gain a comprehensive understanding of your candidate. 

Lucky for you, we’ve got 14 culture fit interview questions to help you get started: 

• What kind of work culture makes you happy? 

• Describe a work culture where you feel you didn’t fit in or felt unhappy.

• Describe your ideal work environment. What kind of environment helps you feel productive and creative? 

• How would your colleagues describe your work style? 

• Tell us about a time you had to help resolve a team conflict.

• What’s your management style like? 

• How would you give feedback to your team? (You may want to do some role-playing here.)

• How do you respond to feedback? 

• What kind of management style do you work well under? 

• What role do you tend to play in a group team setting? 

• How do you handle stress or tight deadlines? 

• Can you give an example of a time where you overcame a challenge? What was your thought process, and what were some of the tactics you used? 

• How do you prefer to communicate with your colleagues and managers?

• What’s been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your career thus far? 

    3. Objectify Culture with Data

To avoid unconscious bias and subjective assessments, objectify your culture. How? Map out each culture component to specific skills, abilities, values, and motivators.

For example, say your team is hiring for a writer, and your organization values a culture of giving and receiving feedback. 

You can map this to skills and motivators like: 

• Relationship building
• Interpersonal communication 
•Problem-solving 
•Sense of ownership of one’s tasks/responsibilities 

These should be tracked on a scorecard or HR software, so all hiring managers can measure a candidate's qualifications. 

    4. Be Open to Change

You will meet people who don't meet each and every one of your requirements. But guess what? They can still be a valuable asset to your organization and clients. 

Hire based on facts. And remember, your company culture won’t remain consistent for years to come. As time passes, trends, technology, and expectations will shift, which will ultimately change your organization’s outlook on what success looks like. 

If you meet someone who displays positive values and has a different perspective that your team can benefit from, be open to them. 

Attract the Top Candidates

Ready to hire the right culture fit? Use O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud to help you find people who align with the values of your organization.

It’s time to build your culture

Building and improving your workplace culture does not happen overnight. It takes a commitment to understand your current culture climate and then implement the types of strategies that will be most effective in improving the culture in your organization. As mentioned, the formula for success is different for everyone.

But keep in mind, building a culture of engaged, productive, and happy employees is worth the effort.

To learn more about common terms on the topic of how to improve workplace culture, review our Glossary of Corporate Culture in this guide.


Want to know the current state of your organization’s workplace culture? Take our Culture Assessment

Ready to start improving your company culture? Check out Culture Cloud

Read more about the latest trends in workplace culture in our 2021 Global Culture Report

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