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Hiring for cultural fit

Collaboration & Team Management

You’re looking to grow your team and you have already interviewed a few candidates. That’s awesome – it means that your business is on the right track. Growth is always a good sign, as long as it’s sustainable. But the choice you’re facing right now will dictate your team’s future performance and will also decide wether you’re going to make or lose money. Cultural fit is one of the vital things you need to assess in order to avoid a bad hire.
But before we go on to define cultural fit, let’s take a look at why it’s important to avoid a bad hire.

hiring cultural fit puzzle pieces

The cost of a bad hire

Not only can bad hires demoralize the rest of your team, but they can also cost your company a lot of money.
You are essentially trying out all your employees – that’s what the probation period is for – but you want to aim for employees that you will keep after the probation period, unless you find out they really undermined your expectations. You can even calculate for yourself to see how much money a bad hire can cost your business.
Add to this the possibility of lost leads, dissatisfied customers, low productivity and reduced quality of work, and you can see why it’s absolutely vital for your business that you avoid hiring an incompatible employee.

Defining your company culture

After you have gone through the first round of interviewing and have decided on the candidates that have the best skill set for the position you’re filling, you will want to look at which candidates are best aligned to your company’s culture. This process can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. Generally, you simply want to see that the candidate is not so different from the rest of the company that your other team members won’t be able to work with him/her or that you will be spending too much time and resources on integrating them into the team.

But cultural fit can only be defined in relation to your company culture. As a small business or startup, your company culture might be something you haven’t really thought of yet. Here are some things you can consider in defining your company culture:

  • Your mission statement and your slogan will give you insight into the values that your company cultivates.
  • Think about the product/service you offer. It will help you define what you’re about, especially when you think about what makes you stand out from your competition.
  • Take a look at your current employees – what are a few common adjectives that would describe them?
  • Assess the degrees of hierarchy and urgency in your company. How fast do your projects move from idea stage to completion? How would you describe the channels of authority within your company?

Now that you have given company culture a thought, you’ll want to surround yourself with people who are like-minded but can also think critically and independently.

Ways to evaluate cultural fit

Evaluating for cultural fit will reveal how compatible the prospective employee is with the company culture. It’s not just about aligning with company culture, but also about the fit to co-workers and supervisor. You want someone who will
complement and enhance your current team. I have gathered some examples of how other companies evaluate cultural fit. Feel free to use these practices alone or in any combination you feel is necessary for your needs.

Sunday Test

Online payment startup Stripe evaluates cultural fit with what they call “the Sunday test”. Stripe CTO Greg Brockman explains: “If this person were alone at the office on a Sunday, would that make you want to come in just to hang out with him or her?” Of course, few people actually come in to work on a Sunday. But the idea is to force you to evaluate how interesting/nice/cool you find this person to be – at work and outside of work.

Oddball Questions

Oddball questions have been a favourite in the tech startup world since the early 2000s. While some questions are usually justified, others seem to be completely ludicrous. But it’s not about the question itself, or about the answer you get. It’s more about seeing how the interviewee thinks and reacts. Do they try to find a solution to your question, or do they simply say “it can’t be done”?
Combine oddball questions with other behavioural questions without making them obvious nor obsolete. SimplyHired suggest that you “ask questions that uncover competencies that you can’t train for, like being a self-starter, possessing good judgment or having personal integrity.”

The Myers-Briggs Test

The Myers-Briggs Test is a personality test based on Jungian typology. This test will give you an insight into the personality of your candidates – do they have a preference for introversion or extroversion? Do they have a predilection toward thinking or feeling? If you want, you can also get your current employees to take the test and keep the results on file to determine how compatible the new employees are with the current team. You might want to find employees who have different personality types from your current team, in order to diversify your team.
There is also a version of the test targeted at businesses, where you can get a pre-employment personality test for your candidates, if your budget allows for it. It even assesses compatibility between two employees!

The Joke

This one is easy. Well, for you, but it might get your candidates sweating a bit. Jennifer Walzer, CEO of Backup My Info! asks candidates to submit a joke with their resume and cover letter.
You could even make it harder by asking the candidates to tell you a joke at the end of your interview. Now, you’re not looking for the next standup comedian – just a healthy sense of humour, little to no nervousness, and absolutely no inappropriate jokes. You want to hear something that you’d be comfortable to have a client of yours hear.

Group Interview

Group interviews are nothing new, but the way you make use of it can really reveal how your candidates fit with the company culture. Apple bases the first phase of the retail recruitment on group interviews – only that they’re called ‘events’ instead.
These ‘events’ constitute a three-hour group experience that gauges candidates’ team-work, presentation and leadership skills.


Get the prospective employees to have lunch with the other people on your team or invite them to your Happy Hour outing. You will get to see a side of them that you probably haven’t seen before. You will also get a chance to see how they act around your other team members and scan for any red flags (i.e. Do they drink until they slur their words? What kind of personal anecdotes do they share? etc).

A word of caution

Don’t use culture fit as an excuse to exclude a certain group of people. Of course, this requires you to be absolutely honest with yourself and to clearly define what your company’s culture is all about. Shanley Kane, director of product management at Basho, wrote an essay earlier this year that tackles the problem with cultural fit. In an interview with FastCo.Labs, Kane reveals why you absolutely need to define cultural fit.

“People will say “not a culture fit” without having to define what that means. It’s almost this sacred space which lets them uncritically reject people from the company or from the team. On the surface level it tends to mean “We just don’t like you. You’re different from us. We don’t want to figure out how to work with you.” “Not a culture fit” gives us a really easy way to disregard your experience and you as a person.”


Want to read more hiring advice for startups and small businesses? Check out A Guide to Hiring the Right People and How to interview and hire junior developers.

Do you have any fun and interesting ways of defining cultural fit? Share them with us in the comment section below.


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  • Employers often hire the best applicants they can find, i.e., the best and the brightest from the best schools. Then the employers promote the best and the brightest (the ever popular high-potentials) based on their job performance doing the work of the employees they will then manage after the promotion. But which ones get promoted into management? The best talker first, the second best talker next, and then the third best talker. The only problem is that the third best talker makes the best manager. Why, because the first and second best talkers talk too much, listen too little, and managers need to listen more than they talk otherwise they never hear what is going right or wrong. The end result is that the best managers never make it into management or if they do they report to senior managers who are not well-suited for management either.

    The solution to the leadership shortage is to stop hiring the best and the brightest applicants and start hiring competent applicants who are well suited to be leaders. It is more about who the people are than their degrees.

    I wish I could take credit for the insight that the best talkers get the first promotion into management but that goes to Dr. Neal Thornberry of Babson College who studied how engineers get promoted into management. I talked with Professor Thornberry after I read his article, “Transforming the Engineer into a Manager: Avoiding the Peter Principle” Civil Engineering Practice, Fall 1989. Dr. Neil E. Thornberry asserts that, “young engineers are judged on technical merit and accomplishment and that promotions go to the technically proficient and verbally expressive engineers, while less technically proficient and verbally expressive engineers wait their turn.” Neal told me that he received many phone calls from countless professionals lamenting the state of employee selection.

    80% of employees self-report that they are not engaged.
    80% of managers are ill suited to effectively manage people.
    The two 80 percents are closely related.

    Employers keep hiring the wrong people to be their managers and then they wonder why they have so few engaged employees. Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employee lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent

    Employers do a…
    A. GREAT job of hiring competent employees, about 90%
    B. good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture, About 80%
    C. POOR job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job, about 20%

    Identifying the talent required for each job seems to be missing from talent and management discussions. If we ignore any of the three criteria, our workforce will be less successful with higher turnover than if we do not ignore any of the three criteria.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent

    There are many factors to consider when hiring and managing talent but first we need to define talent unless “hiring talent” means “hiring employees.” Everyone wants to hire for and manage talent but if we can’t answer the five questions below with specificity, we can’t hire or manage talent effectively.
    1. How do we define talent?
    2. How do we measure talent?
    3. How do we know a candidate’s talent?
    4. How do we know what talent is required for each job?
    5. How do we match a candidate’s talent to the talent demanded by the job?

    Most managers cannot answer the five questions with specificity but the answers provide the framework for hiring successful employees and creating an engaged workforce.

    Talent is not found in resumes or interviews or background checks or college transcripts.

    Talent must be hired since it cannot be acquired or imparted after the hire.