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The science of culture fit.


Meredith Stack


Four steps for finding candidates who will thrive

If you want a productive workplace you have to hire people who fit your culture. It’s a recruiting commandment we’ve been hearing for years, and it makes sense. When you hire people with a similar work ethic, values, and vibe it makes the workplace run more smoothly, which improves engagement.

Conversely, no matter how talented a person is, if they irritate their colleagues, can’t work on a team, or otherwise fail to fit in, productivity will suffer.

The trick is figuring out how to measure culture fit as part of the candidate screening process.

You won’t find proof of culture fit in a resume. Even if a candidate uses all the right key-phrases -- team player, strong collaborator, ‘gets the job done’ -- it’s more an indication of their resume-writing skills than how they actually work. No one will tell you they aren’t a team player, or that they will head home at 5 pm whether the work is done or not.

It’s also dangerous to think you can judge a candidate’s culture fit in an interview. When you make a connection with a candidate it can feel like culture fit, when in reality it’s just a sense of familiarity. They get your jokes, have similar life experiences, and look a little bit like you, and that creates a kinship (not a culture). This is how homogeneous bro-cultures get made.

How to measure culture fit

If you really want to hire for culture – without destroying diversity – you have to put some science behind your selection process. That means defining your corporate culture in terms that are distinct and measurable, then selecting candidates based on these criteria.

It’s not difficult, but it does require some digging into what your culture really is, and who works best within it. Here’s how:

  1. Clarify your values and priorities. Interview executives, managers and front-line workers about what they think the company values are, and whether they align with the company’s defined mission. If you find disconnects – i.e. execs say teamwork is important, but employees are rewarded on individual accomplishments – figure out which version is accurate to the way work actually gets done. You don’t want to hire team players if they are going to be penalized for the way they work best.
  2. Identify high performers at every level of the company. Using the accurate definition of your culture, ask employees who they think does a great job, or best reflects the company’s values, then use them as your benchmark. Have these high performers complete personality and cognitive assessments to identify their leading traits, and find commonalities between them.
  3. Choose the 3-5 traits that define your culture. Keep this list short and simple, and focus on the features that make-or-break success in the workplace.
  4. Build hiring profiles based on these traits. A hiring profile defines the personality traits and problem solving abilities that person needs to be successful in your company. When candidates complete pre-employment assessments you compare their results to the profiles, and to each other, to scientifically determine who will be the best fit for your company.

When done right, hiring for culture fit can be a powerful tool for engagement. Using data- driven assessments is the best way to find that fit while still ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace.

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