Workplace Culture: What Hiring for Culture Fit Actually Means

One of the most important questions to answer before hiring a candidate is, are they a cultural fit in our workplace? Yet, many hiring managers get the answer to this question wrong. I think we all can agree that someone who is a culture fit has a much greater likelihood of being happy and successful in your company or department. But what does it actually mean to be a culture fit?

Identifying a Cultural Fit in the Workplace

Hiring managers often mistake “hiring for culture fit” with “hiring someone who is just like me.” They tend to gravitate toward people who look like them, talk like them or share the same interests. They prioritize what they see on the surface, rather than diving in and really getting to know what drives the person they’re considering hiring. The best way to determine whether a candidate will gel with the rest of your team is to consider their values and operating norms. While it’s nice to work with people who share your interests and with whom you have a great personal rapport, those factors don’t influence long-term satisfaction as much as you’d think. If you hire someone whose values are misaligned with your company’s, or whose work style is out of sync with their colleagues’, they’re unlikely to stay with the organization. Equally concerning? The discrepancies may cause conflict and distress among your team, leading to lost productivity all around. It’s tempting to assume that because a candidate has a similar personality to you on the surface, they’ll naturally share your values. That’s not true, however. A person’s values – the things that are truly important and natural to them – are not necessarily apparent through an interview, even an in-depth, face-to-face one. The way they present themselves and communicate do not necessarily indicate what motivates them or how they will act on the job. To get a deeper level of understanding about a person, you have to probe for it – which is much harder and takes more thought and planning than just having a free-flowing conversation. But like everything in life, you get out what you put in, and a more structured conversation geared to flesh out these characteristics will serve you well in the long run.

“It’s nice to work with people who share your interests and with whom you have a great personal rapport, but those factors don’t influence long-term satisfaction as much as you’d think.”

Sure, it’s nice when a potential employee is relatable and easy to talk to, but if they hold the same principles as you, they will complement the organization because they’re committed to its mission and comfortable in the environment. And the last thing you want is to realize you’ve hired someone you’d enjoy hanging out with from time to time, but whose values aren’t in alignment with the team’s. So, how can you avoid these issues? Rather than making decisions off of instinct, define your company’s values and then script your interview process to carefully assess your candidates for these traits. The easiest way to start this process is by assessing your current team.

Define Your Values, Then Your Culture

At BVOH, we defined our company values by looking at traits common to our happiest, highest-performing team members. Who seems most satisfied and successful at work? What do they have in common? Perhaps it’s their communication styles or approach to problem-solving. Maybe it’s their temperament. Gathering this data about our current team really helped us clarify our ethics and purpose, and it now guides our approach to evaluating whether someone is a cultural fit for our company. Find those common denominators and then prioritize them in your candidate conversations. That’s what hiring for culture fit really means. To illustrate, one of our core values is taking the “high road.” We hire people who will always do what’s right for our clients and candidates and who consistently act in integrity with that principle. Hustle also gets a high priority in our company. When evaluating candidates, we look for people who act with speed and urgency and who have a track record of delivering results. A candidate who needs micromanagement wouldn’t do well here. Our team is self-motivated and deeply dedicated to serving our clients and candidates. These values aren’t always immediately apparent upon meeting someone, but we screen for them in the interview process. Our prescriptive interview approach took time to develop, but dramatically decreased the chance of making a mis-hire, when followed thoroughly. Only after you’ve defined your values and culture (in that order) can you think about what a cultural fit in the workplace looks like. Then, you can build a profile of the values, behaviors, and traits your ideal candidate will have.

Use Personality Assessments During the Hiring Process

In addition to thoughtful and prescriptive interview questions, you can also consider using personality assessments to dig deeper on a candidate. There are many on the market and they all provide insight on a candidate’s attributes and natural style. We took the same approach when defining targets with our assessment that we did with our values, analyzing our happiest and most successful people on the team’s results of their personality assessments. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can use the personality assessment as part of a three-pronged approach to making a hire: personality assessment, previous work experience, and your observations during the interview process (in no certain order.) Then, you can use these results to initiate culture-based conversations with the prospective hire.

“The better you understand a candidate’s values and their work style, the greater your chances of hiring someone who will integrate seamlessly into your team and be successful and happy long term.”

Here’s an example: At BVOH, our most successful people are fairly impatient and work at a faster than average pace to deliver strong results for their candidates and clients. The assessment we use calibrates someone’s natural patience level – are they more steady or are they more driving? People who prefer a slower, steadier, and more predictable day will not be happy with their job here. Being a recruiter involves constant re-prioritization and pivoting throughout the day because the nature of the work is incredibly dynamic. We’ve found that describing this pace in an interview and asking open-ended questions just doesn’t satisfy whether someone’s natural work style will match. However, the personality assessment doesn’t lie, and it has prevented us from making some hiring mistakes which would not have benefited anyone – our team OR our candidates. Another interesting aspect of personality assessments is contrasting the candidate’s results with how they think they should show up at work (which our assessment does.) People will sometimes bend their personalities to fit into a particular role, not even realizing they aren’t being true to themselves. Then, they go home exhausted and unfulfilled because they’re in a role or company for which they aren’t suited. This contradiction would be almost impossible to determine through a traditional question/answer interview process.  

Compare the Personality Assessment to the Interview and Experience

The personality assessments aren’t the only factor in hiring decisions. They’re powerful tools for getting insights into how someone works and thinks, but we look at their results in the full context of the interview as well as their prior experience to gauge whether they would succeed in our environment. People are happiest and energized when they play to their natural strengths, so ideally the role you are considering them for will do just that. While people can adjust to the task/need at hand, they have a higher likelihood of burning out or quitting when it’s a daily struggle to morph their natural personality and instinct to the job. Design your interview process to get to know your candidates deeply. The better you understand their values and their work styles, the greater your chances of hiring someone who will integrate seamlessly into your team and be successful and happy long term.

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