The Unexpected Downsides of Hiring for ‘Culture Fit’

Guest: Rachel Bitte Culture, Jobvite, Rachel Bitte

As we wind down from the thick of “the most wonderful time of the year,” we have a perfect opportunity to reflect on the year now past (and celebrate surviving yet another year of open enrollment). As we gear up for the new year and flurry of hiring to come, it’s also a great time to consider how we should evolve our hiring strategies.

One such trend in the recruiting world that is ripe for revaluation is the idea of ‘culture fit.’ The buzzy concept has been the talk of the town amongst recruiting types over the past several years, and, for the most part, is a well-intended idea. After all, who wouldn’t want to hire people that gel with the organization? But without defining exactly what it means to be a ‘fit’ at your company, the recruiting process can fall victim to forms of unconscious biases.

Left unchecked, a distorted vision of culture fit can lead to an organization full of individuals who look the same, think the same, went to the same schools and live in the same neighborhoods as everyone else in the office. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Here are some of the pitfalls that have become increasingly associated with hiring for culture fit, and some adjustments in strategy so the idea behind a ‘fit’ can work for you, instead of against you.

Pitfall: Personal connection with the candidate

It’s thought that newby recruiters can be guilty of overlooking candidates’ job-relevant skills and past work history for people they’d like to hang out with, but it’s actually hiring managers that tend to be the worst offenders. It has often been referred to as the “airport test,” or basically “would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person?” Too much weight given to personal connections can provide an edge toward candidates that share the same gender, race or background as the person doing the hiring.

Pitfall: Employee referrals

Employee referrals have long been the gold standard when it comes to hiring, and it’s no surprise why. In a way, you have already vetted the candidate against some previous criteria used to bring on another worker. Perhaps they’re a friend of someone, or attended the same university and come from the same company as another high-performing employee. Internal referrals can be a useful way to source quality candidates, but if you’re not careful it can also lead to a homogenous workforce that lacks unique viewpoints.

Pitfall: Overconfidence in credentials

In the battle for talent, recruiting and hiring managers alike can sometimes focus too much on assessing candidates’ credentials over their experiences and behaviors. But veteran business leaders know that a large percentage of new hires who fail is not due to lack of knowledge. Rather, it’s due to work ethic and attitude (or a combination of both). Over-reliance on hiring workers from certain educational backgrounds will do little to change the status quo, and leave otherwise qualified and hard working candidates on the outside looking in.

The best way to avoid the missteps associated with a warped view of culture fit is simple — define your company values. These values should focus on the behaviors that form a successful workforce, such as:

How do they communicate inside and outside of the organization? What is their decision-making process? Are they results-driven, and how do they determine success?

Not every person you hire can hit every value you’ve set forth, but it’s important in the recruiting process to transform your company values into behaviors that you can assess against. This will help determine the types of job-related skills, work experiences and attitudes that best reflect your company.

The latest Jobvite Recruiter Nation survey has revealed that a majority (57%) of recruiters believe implicit bias is a real problem within the American workforce, while research has increasingly shown that businesses with a more diverse workforce perform better in terms of innovation and profitability. However, only 13% ranked “increasing diversity at my company” as a top 3 priority for the next 12 months — that’s a major disconnect!

If you want to shake-up the status quo and truly hire new workers that will ‘fit’ your company, establish a concrete strategy to define your company values in the recruiting process. Do that, and you’ll be on your way to creating a more inclusive workforce and desirable employer brand in the new year.


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