We’ve seen this topic discussed a lot lately: the importance of hiring people for “culture fit.” 

But what does the term actually mean? And how can you know a candidate will “fit” your “culture”? And what are the downsides of hiring someone who “fits”? (Turns out, there are some.)

What most people mean when they say “culture fit”

Here’s one definition: it means “employees’ beliefs and behaviors are aligned with your core values and company culture.”

Well, that’s – ahem – clear. And most definitions we’ve found are similar and not clear at all. It’s as if it’s a case of “you’ll know it when you see it.” But that’s not enough, is it?

After all, we’re sure you’ve hired someone who interviewed well, who had all the tech skills, education and work experience you could hope for. Who “got” your mission and was excited to be a part of what your company is trying to accomplish.

And then he or she left in four months. Because the person Just. Didn’t. Fit.

There’s obviously more to culture fit than employees “getting” your values and culture. A lot more.

Example of not fitting: extrovert in an introverted office

Let’s say you’re an extrovert. Or you’re an introvert with definite extrovert tendencies. And you start working in a department – even an open office – where no one talks to each other. What’s more, office lights are kept low and curtains drawn because there’s a lot of glare coming in through the windows and folks can’t see their computer screens.

How happy do you think you’d be? Your coworkers are terrific – when they do talk. But they don’t chit chat. They’re focused on work. In the dark.

You talk with your supervisor. Who explains you saw the office before you accepted the offer. This is your problem.

It sure is, and so you start looking for another position (and are careful to vet the office environment thoroughly) and leave as soon as you can to a chattier, sunnier work environment.

(By the way, this is not a made-up scenario. It happens all the time!)

A danger in hiring for culture fit: subconscious bias

The above scenario could have been fixed from the get-go if the supervisor had talked about the culture in her office and if the candidate had been honest with himself about needing sunlight and talkative co-workers.

But there’s another risk when hiring for fit: hiring people who are so much like you that you (potentially) could discriminate against candidates (at worst) and/or end up hiring people who bring the same-old outlook and ideas to the table (at the least).

In other words, while it’s important to hire employees who fit in with your culture, it can be hard to assess and evaluate how a job candidate fits in without avoiding unconscious bias, and possibly, discrimination.

Establish clear and quantifiable indicators of fit

If your “gut” is telling a hiring manager that a candidate isn’t a good fit, you must be able to quantify why. To determine your company’s true culture, look at your key performance indicators (KPIs). Doing so will show you exactly how your organization determines good performance and what makes good employees. Then take a look at how well a job candidate’s background aligns with your KPIs. You’ll soon enough see if the candidate can help you reach its goals and if the person can’t, you’ll have quantified why.

It’s also smart to have more than one person interview a candidate. Meetings with three or four people with different backgrounds are a good idea; they will be able to gauge how well they think a candidate fits in. If it’s not possible to have more than one person interview a candidate, quantifiable indicators of success are all the more important.

We can help you find the right candidate, every time.

We know that you and your hiring managers definitely aren’t sitting around twiddling your thumbs from a lack of things to do. Matlen Silver can help take many of the recruiting and hiring tasks from your plate, finding terrific people who are eager to join your team because their skills and outlook match yours. Learn more about the services we offer.