Recruitment: why ‘cultural fit’ is an essential requirement for assessing candidates

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While a candidate might be technically qualified to do a job, if they’re not a good ‘cultural fit’ for the organisation and the team, it can lead to problems further down the line. Here’s how companies can reflect their unique culture in their hiring process.

If recent statistics are to be believed, it appears that most employees aren’t satisfied in their current jobs. For example, the recent Hapiness Survey compiled by Personal Group found 56% of workers aren’t happy in their role.

This unhappiness can have huge knock-on effects. It begins with decreased productivity and ends with employees looking for new jobs, taking their skills, experience and contacts with them.

So what is leading to this unhappiness? Is it because both candidates and companies are making the wrong choices when it comes to hiring staff? Could this unhappiness be down to trying to fit ‘square pegs into round holes’?

The figures certainly seem to suggest this might be the case: 46% of new hires fail within the first 18 months. Of these failures, only 11% are due to the employee’s technical ability to do the job.

The rest of those failures, a huge 89%, are linked to cultural fit and soft skills. In general, it seems that companies are very good at identifying through their interview process who has the right skills to do the job, but what they’re not so good at is spotting the candidates who will be the best fit for the team and the company culture.

The importance of fitting in

The bottom line is that no one wants to join a culture where they feel they don’t fit. It’s miserable to feel on the outside, left out and isolated from your colleagues.  

A candidate may have outstanding experience and superior qualifications, but if their working style doesn’t suit that of the team they join, they will never be able to work to their full potential. They are likely to leave, sooner rather than later, triggering the recruitment cycle to begin again, costing the company valuable time and money.

Workplace culture is unique for every organisation. It is defined by how employees work and interact together. 

How can this negative cycle be broken? Our recent survey with senior HR professionals responsible for recruitment showed organisations are waking up to the fact that cultural fit is an important part of the hiring process.

In fact, 96% agreed that it was crucial, however only 11% said they were currently happy with how they hire for it, indicating this is an area that needs attention.  

Defining your company culture

The problem seems to be that organisations are struggling to define what their culture is. Without a clear understanding of what it is, it is impossible to measure against it successfully.

This confusion is illustrated by the fact that 77% of those who completed the survey admitted they were just going on gut feeling when it came to assessing candidates.

This means hiring managers are using pure guesswork to decide whether someone will fit in, going on their own intuition rather than any facts or objective data.

Liking a person and imagining they would be good company in the pub is not the same thing at all and is certainly not a good basis to judge cultural fit on.

Workplace culture is unique for every organisation. It is defined by how employees work and interact together. Unless the business is very small with just a handful of staff, there is likely to be different cultures that have organically developed in different teams across the organisation.

Understanding how each team works and documenting their preferences in a structured way will provide benchmarks to measure prospective candidates against, showing who is likely to be the best fit as compared to those who are already in the team.

Identifying your values

A number of organisations include questions focused on their corporate values in their interview process, but company culture is very different to company values and the two are not necessarily related.

Values are important ideas that set expectations and goals for an organisation, but culture is based on actions, what actually happens.

Spending more time on finding people who can not only do the job, but also most importantly, want to work for your organisation makes sense.

While company values can provide prospective candidates with a sense of what the business will be like, they are an aspiration that the company is aiming to work towards, not necessarily reflective of how the company operates in the real world.

Assessing candidates on these will only provide part of the picture. Looking at real world scenarios based on how the business and the teams within it operates will tell you far more about whether the candidate will fit into the organisation than hypothetical situations.

Encouraging diversity

The main objection that is expressed to hiring for culture fit is that it can lead to a lack of diversity, both in terms of demographics and ideas. At a time when this is so high on the news agenda, companies are quite rightly concerned with being seen to be taking the topic seriously.

Using objective measures, that are not based on factors such as age, gender or race, such as the way in which a person works or communicates with others, should help to overcome any recruitment bias and has the potential to lead to greater diversity. Using data is now part and parcel of many recruitment processes. It is often used at the initial stages to filter CVs and pick out candidates who have the desired skills or experience.

This may save some time in the early stages of the search, but as the figures around unsuccessful hires show, refining this part of the process is not really tackling the issue of finding candidates who are the best fit for the role and the company.

Matching your company’s DNA

Spending more time on finding people who can not only do the job, but also most importantly, want to work for your organisation makes sense.

Everyone has the perfect working environment that suits how they like to work and will allow them to fulfill their potential.

Every team has a unique DNA with the dynamics determined by its members and how they work together.

Organisations that understand this and look for candidates who have the closet match to this DNA, along with the capability and commitment to be effective in the role, will improve their recruitment process and be more successful in hiring the candidates that will drive their business forward.

Interested in learning more? Read Don't go with your gut: overcoming unconscious bias in hiring decisions

About Chris Platts

Chris Platts, co-founder ThriveMap

After spending nearly a decade in recruitment, Chris was curious to discover that most companies still rely only on ‘gut feeling’ when making hiring decisions. Passionate about workplace equity, talent technology and company culture, he wanted to create an assessment tool that was quick and easy to use to help recruiters make smarter decisions. Before devoting time to ThriveMap, Chris founded TalentRocket, an employer branding platform which helped hundreds of purpose-driven organisations to promote their unique company culture.

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19th Sep 2018 22:38

I think employees fitting the culture is critical not only for personal happiness, but as well as for the group as a whole. I have been in a couple of situations where it was just obvious that certain people did not fit our culture and anytime we were doing something as a group they were never around and always aloof which just left a bad taste in everyones mouth.

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