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How to Hire for "Job Fit" over "Culture Fit"

Let’s be honest — when you’re hiring a new person, or bringing an existing employee from another team or department onto your team, you’re always trying to get a sense of that culture “X factor.” Will this individual smoothly integrate into this team/organization? Will the team dynamic be seamless or awkward? Will I like working with this person? In other words, we try and gauge “culture fit.”

We all do it, and we can pretty easily justify it. After all, bringing on a new hire is a process that is already taking up a lot of managerial time; isn’t it just more efficient to hire someone who can hit the ground running from a team cohesion perspective? Isn’t it just better for overall team morale to hire someone that everyone likes?

But there has been a lot of push-back recently on the idea of hiring for “culture fit.” Let’s dig into the controversy, and why you might want to step away from the use of the term “culture fit,” and use “job fit” instead.

The dangers of “culture fit”

Facebook has prohibited interviewers from using the term “culture fit” as a blanket term when providing feedback on what they liked or disliked about a candidate. Instead, interviewers are required to provide specific feedback that supports their position.

“Culture fit” was a revolutionary idea when it first stepped into the scene, and was praised as a competitive advantage for many organizations, especially in the tech industry. However, the term has taken on a sort of exclusionary definition over the years, as highlighted by the Facebook example. Interviewers were using the term arbitrarily, to — consciously or unconsciously — select people whose personalities and backgrounds maintained the status quo. "Culture fit" can sometimes end up meaning "just like us."

The danger of a “just like us” mindset in the interview process is that it perpetuates bias and stifles diversity. Confirmation bias occurs when interviewers make unconscious judgements about a candidate’s suitability for the role within the first seconds of interaction, and then spend the rest of the interview seeking information to confirm this first impression. These biases can be triggered by a variety of factors, including their gender, race, what they’re wearing, their mannerisms, their level of extroversion, and more.

When interviewers and hiring managers see the candidate only through this lens of initial biases, they gather proof to confirm why the do or do not like the candidate. The outcome of this confirmation bias can too easily be “Well, they just weren’t a great culture fit.”

Facebook recognized this, which is why they require their interviewers to more clearly tie their answers to Facebook’s core, objective cultural values, rather than using the term “culture fit” as arbitrary criteria.

Switching out “culture fit” for “culture add”

Many organizations, such as Salesforce and Pandora, are recognizing the dangers of “culture fit”, and are switching to language of “culture adds,” “culture add-ons,” “culture additions,” etc. This shift exemplifies the collective lightbulb turning on, as organizations increasingly recognize that diversity is critical to business success in a global market (after all, McKinsey found that organizations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns than their competitors).

Organizations that have made this shift from “culture fit” to “culture add” tend to be a lot more future-focused, too. After all, “culture fit” connotes hiring talent to fit the status quo — in other words, the same old, same old. “Culture add,” on the other hand, suggests that there is a future-oriented organizational culture in mind, and the goal is to hire and deploy talent that will drive the company to where it needs to be.

"Culture add" suggests that there is a future-oriented organizational culture in mind, and the goal is to hire and deploy talent that will not keep the company where it's at, but drive the company to where it needs to be.

Hiring for “job fit”

Whereas “culture add” applies across the organization, “job fit” is job-specific. “Job fit” does not negate the benefits of “culture add;” rather, it builds on top of “culture add” to address job requirements and business needs.

“Job fit” simply refers to using reliable selection methods to make hiring, promotion, succession planning, and other talent mobility decisions in order to accurately predict if an individual will have the skills, knowledge, and talent to succeed and engage in the role. In other words, if they will be the right person for the right seat.

Changing your approach

Checking for “job fit” requires a slightly different framework than checking for “culture fit.” You might have some questions - we've got some answers.

If you’re trying to avoid hiring for “culture fit,” do you have to do away with looking internally?


Short answer - no. “Job fit” just means that you’re going to want to use reliable metrics to make talent decisions. Looking internally is a fast and reliable way to find candidates - but unlike “culture fit,” you can’t rely on your employee’s word that their referral’s the right person for the job.

Is there a difference between hiring for “job fit” and checking a candidate’s skill set?

Yes! Job requirements + business needs are what account for “job fit” - and the former has to be measurable. While a skill set includes something like using a certain software, or technical writing, measuring candidate’s talents includes things like innovation, persuasion, teamwork, adaptation, communication, and so on. Tests that measure a candidate's talents (as opposed to a list of their skills) ensures you’re using metrics to measure a candidate’s fit for a particular job - avoiding the “just like us” problem and also holding your team to objective standards.

When you’re considering a candidate’s “talents,” how do you make sure you’re not being biased?

The most pervasive problem with the term “culture fit” is that it perpetuates unconscious bias - so, necessarily, solving for that means relying on something other than your gut. Measuring candidate’s talents (including innovation, persuasion, teamwork, adaptation, communication, and so on) is much more reliable (and importantly, less biased) than the old gut check.

 

“Job fit,” when it’s quantified addresses both the need for “culture add,” as well as ensuring that every individual who contributes to organizational culture is also contributing to other business needs by operating with excellence in their specific role. Not to mention, when an individual feels engaged in their company culture and is thriving in their job-specific requirements, that individual is much more likely to love coming to work — and therefore, provide long-term value to the organization as an engaged employee.

Originally published on the Plum.io blog.

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