Hiring for cultural fit


While it’s an increasingly common buzzword these days, cultural-fit is something many of us find hard to define, and it’s often even more difficult to build into the hiring process. Steve Smith, MD EMEA, Sterling looks at how companies can use talent strategies to bolster constructive company culture

Why are company culture and fit important?

Cultural fit is something that can’t be ignored by businesses, an assertion supported by numerous studies and statistics. Susan Heathfield, co-founder TechSmith Corporation and best-selling author highlights the broad definition of a candidate with cultural fit as one “whose values, beliefs, outlook and behaviour are congruent with those existing within the current organisation”.

It seems that identifying and actually hiring this candidate can prove far more difficult.

In fact, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the result of a hire that turns out to be a poor fit can cost an organisation between 50-60% of the person’s annual salary. In addition to this, low-level engagement as a result of a bad hire can lead to a 33% decrease in operating income while, conversely, a highly engaged workforce can improve a business’s performance by up to 30%. The paramount importance of company culture was also outlined in a write up of the SHRM research in the Harvard Business Review, with the author stating that “culture fit is the glue that holds an organisation together. That’s why it’s a key trait to look for when recruiting.”

Steve suggests there are many ways that organisations can use talent strategies as he has experienced first-hand at Sterling. Many companies undergo significant cultural change in order to transition from an environment of siloed activity to one of greater collaboration, by using a variety of methods to build this into the recruitment process.

Defining your purpose

Once you’re clear on the importance of company culture, what’s crucial before embarking on any hiring activity, is to define your purpose. This means being clear on why your company exists, what it stands for, and where you want to go as a business, and then ensuring this is aligned with all parts of your employee life-cycle. How this is best achieved will be depend on the dynamics of your firm. You could run focus groups, surveys or workshops involving the whole company, for example. It’s best to draw from as many internal resources for this stage of the process, and canvass opinions from all levels of the organisation – not just the C-suite. What’s important is that you end up absolutely certain of your purpose, values and mission as a company, and the culture you need to build to realise this.

The recruitment process

Once this has been achieved, the next step is to build cultural fit into all levels of the recruitment process. This is arguably the most crucial part of cultural transformation as every new hire you make will have an impact on your culture. One of the most effective ways to do this is to start introducing interview questions based on values. This will help you tease out candidates who are more likely to be a good cultural fit and give you something more objective to look at as a safeguard against bias.

Here are the type of questions that will help assess cultural fit in an interview. These will give away key indicators of whether a candidate is a good fit for your workplace:

  • What type of culture do you succeed in?
  • What values are you attracted to and what’s your ideal workplace?
  • How would you describe our culture based on what you’ve seen?
  • What best practices would you bring with you from another organisation? Do you see yourself being able to implement these best practices in our environment?

Alternative hiring methods

Another method to embed company culture in the recruitment process is by using technology to enable alternative hiring methods. Have candidates send in videos instead of cover letters, or conduct interviews over video instead of phone. These methods are most effective if they get a candidate to display elements of your company values and affinity to your culture. Using these preliminary screening methods to put across your culture in a more explicit way will also help you screen out many unsuitable candidates before having to assess them in person.

Background screening

Finally, picking the right background screening package can play a large role in ensuring that your recruit will gel with the company. Background checks can be instrumental in this regard, often creating the foundation of trust and safety needed to nurture a great company culture. Furthermore, the way you go about your employee screening process says a lot about your company, and will contribute greatly to candidate experience.

Simple but effective

Ultimately, finance executives already know the importance of a productive, engaged workforce, and the value of not only bringing in the best talent but also fostering growth and engagement among the current workforce.  However, without a well-established set of values, and dedicated approach to building these into the hiring process, this goal is going to be much harder to achieve. By sticking strictly to the simple guidelines above, you can rest assured that the candidates you eventually bring in are a perfect fit for your company culture.