Why You Should NOT Consider Culture Fit When Hiring

Your hiring managers may be trained to consider how well a prospective employee “fits in” with a work group, but it may be time to change that training. Screening for culture fit sometimes can push out the most qualified candidates because they don’t have the same background as others in the work group.

An article published a couple weeks ago in the Huffington Post makes the point that “culture fit” can be code for ensuring all new employees fit into the same cultural mode as existing employees. This often translates into a requirement that new employees have similar life experiences and a similar perspective as existing employees, thereby often eliminating women and minorities.

“Unfortunately, when companies prioritize how a person fits into their preexisting culture, it maintains the status quo, which for generations has given historic and systemic educational and economic advantages to white workers. The status quo still over-selects for white men…That’s not only robbing qualified candidates of opportunities, it also can contribute to a hostile environment for diverse employees who do land jobs. And it weakens businesses: Research has found that companies with diverse teams of different races, genders, and sexual orientations are more likely to capture a new market, develop new products, and understand target end users who are diverse, too,” Monica Torres writes.

A better approach, Torres notes, might be to focus on asking questions related to how an applicant would handle hypothetical, or real, challenges he or she faced in the past. The less productive, and yet still common approach, is to say to an applicant, “Tell me about yourself.” That kind of question encourages a manager to make the hiring decision at least partially on the person’s background and culture, rather than on his or her ability to do the job. Let’s say the applicant tells the manager about a background completely different from her own—one the manager can’t relate to. Where does that leave the applicant? Is it likely the manager will hire a person she doesn’t feel she has anything in common with?

Some hiring managers like to introduce applicants to the team of employees they would be working with. Years ago, my sister was asked to go out for drinks with the people she would be working with if she got the job. It can be nice to see ahead of time how well a person mixes socially with people they would be spending significant time with. However, getting along well in a social setting doesn’t tell you whether the person will be able to do the job.

A more effective way of using colleague input would be to have the potential colleagues sit with the applicant in a room in the office, with questions directed at the applicant related to each of the colleagues’ responsibilities. After the applicant leaves, the hiring manager then can ask the colleagues whether they think the applicant will help or hinder them in their work. That way, a future co-worker of the applicant can note that the applicant’s approach to a past challenge concerns him, or another future co-worker could notice that the applicant’s work habits would fit in nicely with her own. This is a more objective approach than asking potential future co-workers, “So, how did you like him?”

There are too many stories to pick just one to tell in my own career of colleagues who were well liked, but horribly unproductive. It’s nice to think that well-liked goes hand-in-hand with a job well done, but that’s often not the case.

An employee who may take a little longer than others to get the conversation started at the bar could be an employee who surpasses peers in the quality and output of work. If applicants are interviewing for a professional job, they should be treated as such, and assessed based on their likely ability to do the work you will assign to them—not on how easy it is to chat with them. It’s a job interview, not a sorority or fraternity rush.

How do you train managers to keep the focus where it should be during the hiring process so you end up with the most qualified set of employees?



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