Culture fit vs. Job fit – which is the most important?


We all hanker for a perfect world where candidates are not only highly skilled but also fit seamlessly into the culture of their new workplace. Unfortunately, we can’t always have it both ways, and all too often we need to choose one over the other.

But which one is the most important? And why is cultural fit such a big deal these days?

In bygone days when offices were devoid of casual Fridays, and everyone minded their Ps and Qs, recruiting a new hire was a much simpler task. Find the person with the right skill set and a few good references; then put them to work. These days, however, we have the added worry of the workplace culture.

Will they fit in?

Are they a team player or a lone wolf type?

Are they the right kind of crazy for this madcap office environment you’re hiring for?

Recruiters and hiring managers now ask themselves these questions an untold number of times daily and with very good reason.

You see, workplace culture really is that important. But hang on, we’re not for a second suggesting that you start skipping over the qualifications sections of those stacks of resumes in your inbox. What we’re suggesting is that you pay just as much attention to the personality of your candidates as you do their qualifications when it comes to the interview phase and here’s why.

Why is cultural fit so important in the workplace?
In 1975 organizational psychologist John J. Morse studied several groups of employees to determine the effect of congruence – the fit between personality and organization – and the results were interesting.

Morse found that employees who were, unknown to them, placed in what he called ‘congruent’ jobs that suited their personalities reported feeling more competent in their roles and showed telltale signs of higher self-esteem. This in turn allowed them to not only complete their tasks without a hitch but also to exceed expectations, and all while being quite the happy employee.

Now not every recruiter or HR manager has heard of Morse, but they will certainly understand the effects of congruence. Once a candidate is onboard with the company’s values and culture, then they will perform at their highest level of competence.

Interestingly though, it’s not always down to the employee to fit the culture as we learned from the recent revelations regarding what some call Uber’s ‘bro-culture.’ Indeed, in this instance, according to Susan Fowler’s account, it was the company that failed its employees in terms of work culture by allowing an employee to suffer in a negative environment that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

And what has this led to? Well, it painted a very dark picture of Uber’s attitude towards harassment in the workplace not to mention the fact that many major media outlets such as The Guardian, and The New York Times picked up on it. Now Uber is suffering in a big way, and we can only imagine how many professionals will never consider working for them as a result.

There are, of course, many companies that get it right by not only considering themselves and their public image but also the feelings of their current and even prospective employees.

Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos sums up this type of approach perfectly.

“A company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. What goes around the office comes around to the customer. We wanted employees that really believed in our long-term vision and really felt like this was the right culture for them. The conditions of the training encourage people to take a real look at what Zappos is like and to think about a thing like happiness in the larger picture of their overall employment. It encourages people to go home, talk to their friends and family and ask themselves “Is this a company I really believe in? Is this a culture I really want to be a part of and contribute to?” 

In an ideal world, every company and organization would follow Zappos lead, but unfortunately many don’t, and so it’s left to recruiters to find the right people to fit the work culture.

So how to choose between skills and cultural fit?
This is a fine balancing act that we probably should have included in our post on recruiter superpowers. Recruiters and hiring managers must, of course, consider a candidate’s skill set as the primary qualification for a position but like we said earlier, once those are determined, then it’s time to focus on the cultural fit or pay the price later down the line.

So the simple answer is; You can’t choose one over the other.

What you can do though is take the sensible approach of creating a set of standard questions designed to determine whether a person (candidates are human after all) is a good fit for your organization.

Here are a few ideas to get you started
• What motivates you at work?
• Who was your best boss and why?
• Money, stability, challenges. Which is the most important?
• What kind of volunteer/unpaid work have you done?
• On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?

The idea behind each question is to give you an insight into how this person thinks and if their attitude towards certain aspects of both life and work are in tune with those of your company. And yes, even the weird aspects count.

So what if an employee doesn’t fit your workplace culture?
There are times of course when one slips through the net. A candidate that had the skills and impressed in the interview but now plainly isn’t the person you thought they were. They simply don’t fit the culture, and now you’re worried that things might get a little weird.

Like Brexit, this can go only one of two ways. Do they stay or do they leave?

If they are incredibly talented and getting work done that you’re not quite sure anyone else could handle, then it might be counterproductive to lose them. So there is a strong case for allowing them to stay on with the company.

You could also argue that a person that is simply keeping their head down and doing the required work should stay too. If they’re not causing anything other than a slight awkwardness in the coffee room, then why let them go? Maybe the rest of your team should accept that they are a little different and so change their attitudes towards them.

If on the other hand, it’s an antisocial issue or a reluctance to help the team, then perhaps you could minimalize their contact with other team members by having them work on a project that they can handle themselves.

Ethical matters, however, are where the waters get a little cloudy as it’s difficult and also unreasonable to expect a person or company to change their opinion or policies based on the other’s feelings.

It’s difficult to let go of talent that you have so painstakingly recruited but sometimes you just have to admit defeat.

People have a natural tendency to group together particularly in the workplace. But when your new employee simply won’t mingle with their colleagues, this can lead to discord in the ranks. And an unhappy ship is a sinking ship (yes, we just made that up, feel free to steal it).

Then there’s the possibility that an Uber-shaped problem arises that will cast a shadow over the company and harm your prospects of landing the best talent in future recruitment drives. Nobody wants that.

We’d argue that the best course of action would be a gentle parting of the ways as no matter how well you can cover the cracks, for now, things will come to a head in the future. Besides, keeping an unhappy person in a workplace that they feel uncomfortable in is simply wrong for everyone involved.

While a cultural fit is something that only you the recruiter and your candidate can decide upon in person, you can always speed up the qualifying process with TalentDash.  now, and we’ll scour the talent pool for the best candidates to suit your requirements leaving you more time to devise your all-important culture fit questionnaire.

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