Companies Shouldn't Hire People Because They’re a ‘Culture Fit’ — 3 Things They Need to Do Instead

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Amy Elrod-Lahti528
HR Professional | Coach | Consultant/Advisor
April 13, 2024 at 1:10AM UTC

A few years ago, conversations about hiring employees centered around the idea of “fit.” Rather than focus solely on someone’s work history, skills and qualifications, some talent “experts” said hiring managers should focus on whether or not a job candidate would be a good “culture fit” for the organization. I saw people define “culture fit” in different ways, but one trope got repeated: “The candidate should be a person your employees would want to go have a beer with after work.”

In hindsight, I am sure we can all recognize how problematic (I’ll use the word “cringe”) that statement is. What if the person has excellent knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), but is an introvert, and comes across as shy rather than gregarious? What if someone is an excellent technical contributor, but just doesn’t have a lot in common with their teammates on a personal level? You get the idea. This was an extremely subjective – and as it turned out, biased — way to evaluate candidates.

The end result of “hiring for culture fit” is that many managers now had a built-in excuse for hiring the same type of person over and over again, without worrying about the diversity of their team. “This person fits with our culture” got interpreted as “this person looks like us, talks like us, dresses like us, grew up in the same kind of environment and went to the same kind of schools we did. Let’s hire them.” 

The problems with this are myriad, but just to name a few:

So if you don’t look at “culture fit,” how can you know if someone is a good fit for the job you have open, your team and your organization? How do you avoid making a bad hire?

1. Revise your interview protocol.

Interview thoroughly and really pay attention to what people say in interviews. I am intimately familiar with the pain of making a bad hire. One of the worst ones could have been avoided had I listened to my gut when the candidate gave a questionable answer to a straightforward question. I had a gut-level reaction to it at the moment, but we needed to fill the position and the candidate had interviewed spectacularly (a little too well, in hindsight). So I, and the other members of the hiring committee, pushed down our doubts and moved forward with hiring the candidate. And it was an unmitigated disaster. Had I listened to my gut, and asked more questions to probe the weird response, we could have avoided the bad hire. 

Tip: use behavioral interviewing questions – here’s a good list – and ask follow-up questions, like “Why do you say that?” or “How could you have handled it differently?”

Always, always, always do more than one interview. Six interviews is way too many, but one is way too few. I have had candidates who had a shining first interview eliminate themselves from consideration in a second. Also – if you’re doing remote interviews, interview people with cameras on. Reading body language is important when making hiring decisions.

2. Check references.

I already know what some folks are going to say about this – it’s useless; they can be faked; people won’t say anything useful. Do it anyway. Ask for 3-4 names and phone numbers (not email addresses!) and try hard to get the person on the phone. If they don’t say much, that’s fine. But do the due diligence; you may be surprised at what you hear. I have actually had people tell me when I’ve called for a reference “this person is ineligible for rehire” or “I would not work with this person again if I had a choice.” 

3. Use a defined set of hiring criteria to make your hiring decision. 

Making a big decision is always easier if you know in advance what outcomes you want from the situation, and what outcomes you definitely do not want. Creating a simple rubric for evaluating a candidate doesn’t take much time and is well worth the effort. Rubrics and formalized candidate evaluation forms are excellent tools hiring managers (and committees) can use to eliminate bias in hiring.

We all want to find excellent candidates who will do good work for our organization and be a great team member. But instead of focusing on “culture fit,” it’s more important to focus on the person’s ability to do the job – the KSAs they’re bringing to the table, their background and professional experience that will allow them to offer diverse perspectives and fresh ideas, and their abilities to innovate and collaborate.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

What do you think of the term “culture fit”? Do you use it at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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