Trend: Companies Hire For Cultural Fit Over Qualifications

Mar 1, 2013
6 Min Read

One of the more stressful tasks that managers face is hiring or replacing employees. Companies are more strict about who they hire today than in previous years because of the economy and the cost of hiring. If you choose the wrong candidate, then it takes time to fire them and hire someone else, while your current employees have to fulfill those unresolved tasks until the job is filled. Today, it's not just about finding the person that can do the job, but finding someone who can fit into the corporate culture. When there's so many applicants to choose from, managers are smart to select those that they can get along with and who can work well with the other employees because they will stay longer.

A recent study by Lauren Rivera, a management professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, found that hiring managers evaluate candidates based on cultural fit over qualifications. Employers want to hire those who want to "hang out" with them rather than strictly focusing on the person's capabilities for getting the job done. Rivera interviewed 120 employers at elite U.S. investment banks, law firms and consulting firms, and more than half ranked "cultural fit" as the most important factor in an interview. Cultural fit includes having a similar background, interests and self-presentation to the hiring manager. She noted that employers hire in a manor closely aligned with choosing friends or romantic partners.

In addition to Rivera's research, Glassdoor collected 285,000 common interview questions that hiring managers asked in 2012. The top four questions were: "What’s your favorite movie?," "What’s your favorite website?," "What’s the last book you read for fun?," and "What makes you uncomfortable?." As you can see, all of these relate to cultural fit and aren't asking if the applicant can actually do the job and perform at a high level. This is part of the reason why college alumni networks are extremely important. College alumni like hiring other college alumni because they took the same courses, have similar experiences and come from similar backgrounds. Employees want to work with other people like themselves, naturally.

Here are a few reasons why you should hire for cultural fit:

1. You can match expectations easier.

It's easier for new hires to adapt to a new company if they already know people who work there and don't have cultural differences. If they can fit in right away, they will feel more at home and be ready to work on day one. Give applicants an idea of what your culture looks like before they apply by using social networks to communicate it through pictures, text and video.

2. You can keep them longer.

Employees who have a sense of belonging to a company will stay longer. If they have strong friendships at work, they won't want to lose them to get a job elsewhere and start over.  In a sense, your office becomes a second home to them. Employees who don't fit in, fade out.

3. You can't train for cultural fit.

If an employee doesn't fit the mold, then it's going to be near impossible to force it on them. They will eventually get frustrated and quit because they will want something that you can't provide them.

4. You can gain a competitive advantage.

If you have an entrepreneurial and innovative culture and want to attract employees who have that mindset, then you have to hire for it. Those are the ones that will succeed at your company and everyone else will end up being held back and eventually not last. Know who you are and target the right applicants so you don't waste your time or theirs.

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