The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

February 16, 2012

The Question of Cultural Compatibility

In a previous Abacus Group blog post, we discussed candidate selection strategies for employers, including some brief guidelines regarding the assessment of cultural fit. However, more in-depth information is necessary for hiring managers to adequately understand and properly apply the notion of cultural fit to the hiring process. Cultural fit specifically refers to how well the candidate’s personality, attitudes, values and beliefs align with the non-business aspects of the organization, and is just as vital as other traits such as experience, education and technical skills. As an employer, you can significantly improve hiring effectiveness with a deeper understanding of the following:

  • Assessment of your own organization’s culture.
  • Evaluation of a candidate’s ability to mesh culturally within the firm.
  • A keen understanding of why cultural fit is important to candidate selection.

In order to logically make cultural fit conclusions about candidates, you must first have an in-depth comprehension of your organization’s culture. Without this understanding, you lack part of the basis on which you can appraise candidates. You may find this process difficult, as the firm’s cultural elements have likely become imperceptible and routine to you by now. Start by taking note of some tangible aspects, like work schedules, travel requirements and the physical office or desk setup. Also review the company’s hierarchical structure; in particular, look at the levels of management and the extent to which various employees have achieved promotions. From here, you can move onto the assessment of action within the workplace, including careful observation of communication and project completion. Specifically, pay attention to how employees actually correspond with one another, their use of tones or expression of certain emotions and the frequency of interaction among employees. Be aware of how projects are accomplished within the organization as well; do most people work independently, or are there usually multiple tasks that require collaboration between two or more employees? In addition, study the degree of urgency in which projects must be carried out to gauge the organization’s sense of efficiency. Finally, spend a considerable amount of time focusing on the company’s values and determine what shared aims exist within the company. Examples might include an emphasis on supreme customer service, the production of high-quality work or a strong team-oriented mentality.

Once you have developed a strong understanding of your organization’s cultural environment, you’ll be able to apply your knowledge to the candidate selection process. Much of cultural appraisal will take place during interviews, which function to expand your evaluation beyond the candidate’s resume and prerequisites. However, other techniques are also helpful. Below are several recommended techniques to assess cultural fit:

  • Ask questions about behavior in past work scenarios. The candidate’s self-described actions and supporting details will help you to determine their congruence with your specific organization. Assume, for instance, that you ask a candidate to discuss a past solution to a personal conflict in a work environment, and they describe their success in tactfully confronting a colleague to resolve a sensitive difference. If your organization relies heavily on interpersonal communication, such a candidate would be an excellent match for that specific aspect of your corporate culture.

  • Have candidates relay some characteristics of their ideal professional position. In their answer, note any similarities between their desired role and your organization’s values. A response that includes, “I would like a position in which my work requires frequent collaboration with colleagues” would be perfect for an organization that highly values teamwork.

  • Take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the candidate’s personality when speaking with references. Past employers can offer some personal insight into the candidate’s professional competencies and behavior that is otherwise unavailable.

  • Social networks are another helpful tool for determining cultural fit; the manner in which candidates represent themselves virtually may reflect their real-world communication skills and interests. Take the time to browse the candidate’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles if publicly available.

  • A final consideration is to administer fit tests, which can be created internally or purchased externally, to candidates. Such tests can help you to better analyze the candidate’s values and character, while adding a quantitative element to a process that is otherwise quite subjective.

As an employer, you also need to know why cultural fit is significant for both the hiring process and your organization at large. You might be under the impression that the most important part of hiring is the candidate’s alignment with prerequisites like years of experience, education, software proficiency and intelligence. Despite their vitality to the candidate’s ability to succeed, position requirements alone do not fulfill all considerations for hiring. Above all, your organization needs employees who align culturally with its daily functions and long-term objectives in order to thrive in the marketplace. Employees who mesh well with the cultural environment are more likely to enjoy their jobs and, therefore, produce better quality work. By hiring candidates who are a poor cultural fit for the organization, you directly stifle the company’s performance. While you may be tempted to overlook the cultural aspect of candidate selection, be advised that the benefit of a convenient hiring decision may be outweighed by the individual’s later dissatisfaction or lack of motivation.

Cultural assessment and application is an ongoing process that requires review on a regular basis. Changes in the organization’s upper management, quantity of staff, market performance or adaptation of new technology will repeatedly alter a company’s culture. As a hiring manager, you should consistently monitor adjustments within your firm in order to select the best possible candidates for your organization. The incorporation of effective cultural assessment into the hiring process may not be easy, but with the proper tools and knowledge, you can contribute to your organization’s success through the selection of candidates who are both well qualified for the position and compatible with the firm’s culture.

Fyock, Catherine D. and Joan P. Brannick. “Assessing Organizational Culture.”
Heathfield, Susan M. “Assess Cultural Fit When Interviewing Candidates.”
Heathfield, Susan M. “How to Understand Your Current Culture.”
Lewis, Alan. “How My Company Hires for Culture First, Skills Second.”
Wheeler, Kevin. “4 Ways to Learn if Candidates Fit Your Culture.”

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