Should organisations still be hiring for cultural fit?

The benefits of hiring for cultural fit are well documented: better staff retention, greater productivity and increased profitability. So, it’s no surprise that a recent survey found 96% of HR leaders say it’s crucial in recruitment decisions.

Yet with 89% saying they’re not getting it right and attributing hiring failures to cultural reasons, there are concerns that the term has become a ‘catch all’ and is unbefitting, discriminatory even.

By definition, ‘cultural’ describes the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a society, thus by focusing on ‘cultural fit’ there’s a worry that organisations could inadvertently be recruiting homogenous candidates.

As recruiters who are not shy of referring to cultural fit throughout our recruitment process nor promoting the benefits of a diverse workforce, it’s an important point to consider.

What do we even mean when we speak about recruiting for ‘cultural fit’ or describe a candidate as a ‘good cultural fit’?

In its traditional sense, cultural fit is about compatibility, and workplace compatibility does not require people to be the same as their colleagues, but rather to complement them.

What’s more, not all cultural similarities are created equal.

In our opinion, it’s far more important that a candidate shares an employer’s core values and has the soft skills to work productively with others in the organisation, than their passion for social events and office dog days. Notice that we said productively, not congruently; for a business to succeed, diversity of perspectives and ideas should be encouraged, not prevented.

The difficulty is often that organisations themselves do not understand or are not in agreement about what their culture is. This makes it harder to recruit someone with the right set of commonalities. Defining the core values and beliefs that are most important to their way of working can not only help these companies screen for more compatible candidates, but also help them assess whether current employees are able to work in a way that reflects them.

Even ‘cultural fit’ in its noblest sense shouldn’t be considered more important than a candidate’s skills and experience though. While these aren’t the be-all and end-all, they are still the more vital consideration in the screening process.

But unconscious bias can result in judgements about personal chemistry being confused with cultural fit and surpassing other considerations, often unintentionally. The result? Employers end up hiring people just like them. Working with an impartial recruitment partner can minimise the risk of this natural human tendency, as can keeping interview questions consistent.

Another good practice is to change the focus from outward to inward: ask not whether the candidate fits the culture, but whether the culture fits with the working patterns and practices of the people it needs. After all, creating a company culture is a collaborative process between employer and employees, and candidates also need to understand whether the culture is one in which they can thrive and do their best work.

One of the ways the 89% of employers in the survey cited above can improve their recruitment processes to ensure better cultural fit is by working with an external recruiter like ourselves. We can help businesses pin down the essential skills candidates need to complement their existing teams, refine the job description to attract them, and carry out thorough screening to ensure the most compatible candidates are shortlisted.  

So, yes: organisations should still be hiring for cultural fit. But first and foremost, they should understand their culture, keep the importance of cultural fit in perspective and ensure their criteria for a ‘good cultural fit’ doesn’t extend beyond what is absolutely necessary. 

To talk to us about improving your recruitment processes to find candidates who are culturally compatible, please get in touch.




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