Why cultural fit shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all when recruiting

Recruiting the right person for a position, any position, is not an easy task. If it were, there would be no need for recruiters and solutions like Recruitment Juice.

Different recruiters approach the mission of finding the right person for the right job in a number of different ways and it can safely be said that this is a field that has been developing for a long time now. New practices and concepts have been introduced over the years, some of them purely theoretical and some more applicable.

Cultural fit explained

One such concept is the (in)famous cultural fit. It is a concept that rose to prominence back in the 1980s due to circumstances that are so complex and interconnected that it would require us too much time to explain.

In essence, the cultural fit was a concept introduced in order to fill a certain hole in the description of a candidate.

Candidates all came with their formal skills, education, and varying levels of experience that took care of the more “technical” part of that description. In addition to this, their personality traits were explored, such as their assertiveness, leadership qualities, the ability to work well with others and so on.

What was left was a certain hole that had a bit to do with their personalities, but that was not entirely influenced by this. It had to do with the cultural background of the candidate. More precisely, their upbringing, their core values, their hobbies, their interests and opinions on the more important issues. Depending on those, the candidate would be a better or a worse cultural fit within a certain company.

The usefulness of the cultural fit

There are quite a few ways in which the cultural fit can be a useful part of the candidate screening and interviewing process. If the candidate has a similar background to the people who own a certain company or who work in that company, the candidate will more easily understand what the company is all about, what its core values are, and its goals. More importantly, the candidate will understand more clearly which means are tolerated in order to get to those goals.

There are, for instance, a number of companies that have leadership which is openly Christian and which sometimes bases their decisions on their religion (for the purposes of our article, we will consider religion part of culture).

Chick-fil-A famously ignited a storm when their leadership publicly opposed same-sex marriages. West Paw Design is a pet toy manufacturer which is extremely environmentally conscious and which values awareness of this in their employees. It is safe to say that these companies put strong value on the cultural fit and that candidates that are a better fit in this respect will fare better when applying for jobs.

A strong cultural fit will also ensure that teams which work on the same projects will be more cohesive and thus more efficient. This will also lead to fewer mistakes that stem from poor understanding between team members. In addition to this, a person which fits the culture of a company will feel more invested in it and will make more of an effort than someone who does not care. New companies and those with limited resources can even use their culture to attract talent that they cannot afford.

The other side of the coin

While the cultural fit is definitely something that should be considered during the recruitment process, there is also the danger of making it too influential and prominent. As always, there will be people who will take a certain concept too far and there are quite a few reasons why this should not be done with the cultural fit.

Losing sight of what is important

The most common mistakes that are made by the recruiters and business owners who put too much emphasis on the cultural fit is that they lose sight of what is truly important. Namely, a candidate’s education, skills and experience are still much more important than their cultural background or the fact that they collect model airplanes just like the person who runs their future department does.

You are still recruiting people to do a certain job and not to be your (someone’s) new friend. Do not David Brent this.

“I’ve created an atmosphere where I’m a friend first, boss second. Probably entertainer third.”  – David Brent, Wernham Hogg Paper Company

Single-minded workforce

The need for a team to work together is well-documented and it really doesn’t require too much explaining.

That being said, putting too strong an emphasis on the cultural fit might make a team too-homogenous. Yes, there is such a thing. Namely, if you put together an entire team (sometimes this is the entire workforce of a certain company) which is made up of people who are too similar, you are risking creating an environment where you do not have a dissenting voice and that is never a good thing.

Too much patting on the back and high-fiving is never good for business and if you do not have at least one stickler in the mud, the entire team will become complacent. Furthermore, when put in front of an obstacle or a challenge, such a team will be approaching it from the same (or very similar) direction, often not seeing an obvious solution due to their uniformity.

Impenetrable workforce

Another reason why the cultural fit should never be taken too far is that such homogenous teams might also become a hostile environment for new people who might not share the same culture.

Imagine, for example, a small business where all 8 employees, including the owner are extremely progressive, open-minded, and secular. Now, imagine that someone pronouncedly conservative is hired due to the fact that they are the only person that can get a certain job done. They might find it excruciatingly difficult to work in such an environment and this can cause innumerable problems.

Faking it

There is another, much more pedestrian reason for not making the cultural fit the be-all and end-all of your recruiting process and that is the simple fact that it can be faked quite easily.

Today, when pretty much everyone is online and happy to share everything about their personal lives, someone who is looking to fake a cultural fit would need only a day or two online to come up with a persona that will seem perfect for the job based solely on this fit.

They can find who the business owner is, check their social media profiles, see what they are interested in, what they are passionate about, and take notes. They can do the same with the employees, taking their time to see if there is something shared by everyone that they can exploit. Spying on potential employers is so much easier these days.

The worst thing is that it is extremely difficult to verify someone’s cultural fit. There is not a degree that you can check or a reference that can be easily confirmed. You can end up with someone who is not only inferior to another candidate, but who might not even be the person they say they are.

Closing word

The cultural fit is a particularly tricky area of the recruitment minefield and like with real minefields, it is best to keep low to the ground and stay extremely, almost painfully careful. Also, make sure that you are not just using the cultural fit to discriminate.

James Burbank

James D. Burbank has spent a decade and a half in the trade show industry, seeing businesses all over the world succeed and fail. He has also seen innumerable facets of the employer-employee relationship. If you find the time, you can also check out his blog – BizzMarkBlog.

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