Is cultural fit important in the recruiting process?



When interviewing prospective candidates, there are multiple factors to weigh as you move through the process. The candidate’s experience, skillset, and location all play a role in whether they’ll make a good match with your team. 

While the factors of experience, skillset, and location are all relevant and tangible, there’s another important, intangible component of the recruitment process: assessing a candidate’s cultural fit with your company. According to one survey, 84% of recruiters said cultural fit was one of the most important factors in the hiring process, and nine out of ten recruiters moved on from candidates they felt were not a great cultural fit. 

So how do you determine whether the candidate is a cultural fit, and why is that important? 

What is cultural fit and how is it defined? 

Cultural fit is a bit more of an abstract concept than some other hiring considerations – if the role calls for 8-10 years’ experience, it’s easy to look at the candidate’s resume to see if they have it. But determining whether a candidate fits your company’s culture – and whether your culture is a fit for them – takes a more nuanced approach. 

A company’s culture is made up of multiple parts, including:

  • The type of work you do
  • Your mission
  • The priorities of your customers
  • Your values
  • The type of traits you value most in your employees
  • The way employees are treated throughout the organization 

When it comes to defining your company’s culture, only your company can do that. First you must agree on a mission and a set of core values. These values must then be reinforced through everything you do, from the top down. Your CEO must emphasize them when they communicate with the company. Individuals and teams should write their goals to align with these values. Your company’s culture should impact everything you do – from how you work, the type of clients you pursue, and how your employees are treated. 

These are important questions to consider throughout the recruitment process, as they’ll permeate every aspect of your work. They’ll also permeate how you approach candidates as well as the type of candidate you’ll look for. 

Is cultural fit important? 

For an idea of how important cultural fit is in identifying a candidate, it may help to look at how a few different organizations handle it before, during, and after the hiring process. 

Take Zappos, for example. They’re a company with a strongly defined culture of ten core values. Those values are emphasized throughout both human resources and the companies’ various teams. If those values don’t suit a particular candidate, Zappos is fine with moving on.

They don’t just use an interview to determine this, either. They have candidates attend a Zappos work event outside the office to let them meet the other team members and get a feel for the cultural fit. If the candidate doesn’t pass this cultural fit component of the hiring process, it doesn’t proceed any further. If the interview proceeds, they ask the candidate behavioral-related questions that allow them to gauge the cultural fit. If the candidate is hired, they emphasize the expectations to maintain their company culture throughout the employee’s time at the company. 

It’s also important to evaluate the culture of the company your candidate came from to determine if they might fit. An example of this occurred at Apple. They hired Mark Papermaster, senior vice president of mobile devices at IBM, to run their same shop. Despite working for a company as highly regarded as IBM, Papermaster left after 15 months at Apple in frustration.

Where was the disconnect? The answer lied in the culture clash. Apple’s culture focuses on its employees following their passion, whereas IBM is very career-focused. The mindset that serves your candidate well at their past company may not work in your corporate culture. 

Identifying someone who will integrate well with your culture isn’t just important for you, either. It’s also important for the candidate. Research has shown that employees who feel like they “fit” with their company report higher levels of satisfaction, retention, and performance

It’s not enough to get someone who’s going to do the job. You have to get someone who’s going to do the job the right way, and in a way that’s going to reflect positively on the entire organization. Otherwise, you can’t be sure they’ll be able to uphold the values your company believes in. 

How to address cultural fit in the interview process

Even for skilled interviewers, it can be difficult to assess a cultural fit during an interview. Here are some suggestions of how you can assess a candidate’s fit throughout the hiring process: 

Try to identify cultural fits prior to the interview

While the interview is probably the most important part of the hiring process, there are ways to include cultural fit as part of your pre-screening process. The first step is to have pre-employment assessments in place that consider potential employees’ personality traits and how those fit a specific job’s requirements. Tools like Bryq offer customization options that allow you to incorporate your company’s unique characteristics helping you to get the best candidates at the interview table and disqualify those who don’t fit. It saves time for both you and the candidates. 

Assess their values 

Once the interview begins, ask the candidate to describe their values. This allows you to ascertain how well they align with your company’s belief system. 

Here are  three things you should keep in mind as you assess how your candidate’s values align with your culture: 

  • Your company’s values. Do your values match up, or is there a potential for a problem? 
  • Assess the candidate holistically. Get as comprehensive a picture of the candidate as possible. 
  • Hire diversely. Don’t hire the same person, over and over. Diversify the style and type of candidates you target and hire. 

Describe the company’s culture for them

Once they’ve had a chance to describe what matters to them, give them a comprehensive description of what your company values most. Watch how they respond to this – not just verbally, but also with their body language. Doing this establishes a clear line of communication that sets up the appropriate expectations if they’re hired. 

Use hypothetical questions 

Finally, ask your candidate about difficult situations such as “How do you deal with a demanding client?” “How would you handle an unruly customer?” “How would you choose to engage an unresponsive contractor?” This gives you an idea of not just how the candidate works, but about their personality and temperament. 

What culture does NOT mean

While there are traits you’ll want all employees to have (approaching work ethically is one pretty universal cultural touchpoint for most companies), your culture shouldn’t look to create a set of clones. Not everyone on your team is going to work exactly the same way, and that’s okay. 

Cultural fit is about building the right team, not stocking your organization with 100% like-minded team members. In fact, building a strong culture actually relies on not having everyone thinking in lockstep. This helps you build a team with diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and approaches to how to get the job done. 




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