The Drawbacks to Hiring for Culture Fit

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Whether or not hiring for culture fit is effective or not is hotly debated in the field of HR. On one hand, finding employees who align with your company is every recruiter’s dream. On the other hand, there’s a persistent worry that culture fit is simply a way to disguise personal preference. 

This, however, is a false dichotomy. There are ways of finding top talent that can build upon your organization’s culture without relying simply on culture fit. Today we’ll be discussing the drawbacks to hiring for culture fit, and a few alternatives that can boost key metrics.

Culture Fit is Not An Objective Metric

One of the biggest issues with hiring for culture fit is the concept’s ambiguity. A condition for choosing which candidate to hire needs to be fairly objective for it to be effective, and there’s no consensus among HR members as to what culture fit really means. 

Some argue that culture fit is related to the values your company strives to embody — but what are those exactly? A passion for their work? Communication is key? Many of the values that are associated with culture are simply necessities not beholden to a single company. 

Hyper-specialized and hobby-centric businesses are generally the exceptions here. For example, if your company makes custom skateboards, and everyone who works there loves skateboarding, you’ll naturally hire new employees who feel the same. In a more corporate setting, this is unlikely to be necessary.

Hiring for “Fit” May Perpetuate Bias

This lack of objectivity can often result in unconscious bias entering the hiring process — most likely based on who a recruiter clicks with more. In a recent Forbes article discussing culture fit’s propensity to push bias, Paul Spigelman says of culture fit:

“As the concept of culture fit became more popular, it veered into buzzword territory. Many companies that believe they are hiring for culture fit are actually just hiring people they identify and “click” with. When a candidate shares a particular trait, background, or life experience with the hiring manager — think a common sports team or hometown — they mistake alignment between themselves and the candidate for alignment between the candidate and the organization.”

Recruiters and interviewers are experts, yes, but they’re also human. Without clear instructions on what constitutes culture fit, they’re likely to take personal freedoms with the definition. This can result in a sub-optimal candidate being hired, or worse, a discrimination lawsuit. Don’t let either of these happen. Either set objective boundaries on what culture fit means or remove it from your hiring process entirely.

You Lose Out on Diversity

Diversity is an important metric. It is representational of your company’s open mind, its acceptance of the backgrounds of others, and its financial health and stability. Your employer brand, both internally and externally, benefits greatly from this. 

The increased cultural awareness that diversity brings makes candidates and employees from all backgrounds comfortable. Retention rates are likely to increase because of this — an extremely desirable effect considering the “Great Resignation” is still in full effect.

Moreover, diversity in the workplace is linked to increased productivity. Having a cast of different minds at work, all with different backgrounds can be challenging at times, but the reward is worth it. More processes and ideas cross the table, more options become open, and the individuality of each employee comes into play.

Encouraging hiring for culture fit will likely decrease your internal talent pool diversity. People naturally gravitate toward others that are similar to them. This has been extensively proven over the last decade and can extend to any manner of situations — including hiring. Giving culture fit a place in your hiring process will most likely result in a decrease in diversity and all of its benefits. 

The Alternative: Hire for Culture Add

Culture add takes the opposite approach to culture fit when it comes to hiring. Culture add looks at what the company is missing when hiring new candidates. Whether it be a specific experience, a new and unique mindset, or any other type of diversity, hiring for culture add emphasizes the new and improved. 

Due to its focus on diversity and inclusion, culture add has many beneficial effects. You won’t be losing money from a discrimination lawsuit, won’t suffer a blow to your company/employer brand, and are less likely to have poor retention rates. Hiring for culture add, rather than culture fit, can allow your recruitment process to reach new heights.

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