How To Hire For ‘Cultural Fit’

Corporate Culture

In this Point of View Vivian Maza, chief people officer at Ultimate Software, looks at how cultural fit helps ensure new hires will be long-lasting, valuable members of your organization.

Hiring is one of the most important — and challenging — roles of HR, and there are many important criteria to consider when evaluating a candidate’s potential fit.

Of course, you need to look at relevant job experience and career history, the specific competencies required for the position and perhaps a certain degree of technical skill. There are soft skills to consider too, such as communication, creativity and emotional intelligence — personal qualities that can play a critical role in a potential employee’s ability to succeed.

We can always provide resources and tools to help employees get better at their jobs, but we can’t teach them to align with our cultural values. #HR #HRTech @UltimateHCM @UltiMaza Click To Tweet

But over my 28 years at Ultimate Software, I’ve found that the most important factor in hiring doesn’t fall into any of these categories. It’s not just me: Research increasingly shows that hiring people for “cultural fit,” or seeking out individuals who align with your company’s unique culture and values, is an essential part of effective, strategic hiring.

One study found that 84 percent of recruiters agree that cultural fit—not the time and cost to hire for a role—is one of the most important recruitment factors, and nine out of 10 reported passing on applicants who didn’t feel aligned with their companies’ cultures.

Why Does Cultural Fit Matter?

Vivian Maza
Ultimate Software’s
Vivian Maza

When you bring someone new onto the team, you want that person to be a long-lasting, valuable employee within your organization. In our view, we can always provide the resources and tools to help employees get better at their jobs, but we can’t teach them to align with our cultural values.

Yet, that’s who we want to join our work family: individuals who value people, understand our customers’ priorities, work well together and look out for others’ best interests before their own.

If this sounds like your company’s priorities, there are several ways to build cultural fit into your recruiting and hiring processes.

Define ‘Culture,’ And Share It

Company culture—and what it means for a candidate to be a cultural fit—can be a tricky concept to define, but there are certain key elements that will help outline it both internally and with candidates.

The central pillar of your corporate culture starts with your company’s mission. At Ultimate, we put our people first, and we’ve created a sophisticated HR platform that empowers other companies to do the same. Our core values and principles as a company stem from this central mission: trust, respect, care, communication, transparency, a positive attitude, determination, commitment.

What values and beliefs map back to your company’s mission? Answering that question provides the guidelines for determining whether a candidate is a cultural fit, rather than just relying on “gut feeling.”

Once you’ve established these guidelines, don’t just look for those shared values during interviews. Leverage digital tools to make your organization’s mission statement, values and goals clear to job seekers everywhere. From third-party job sites to social sharing, if job openings are always paired with a clear sense of what makes your culture unique, you’ll attract candidates who are already excited about your mission.

Ask The Right Questions

The interview is the most critical tool an HR leader or manager has to determine whether a candidate fits. Listing past accomplishments and skills is often easy, but how do you get at the more intangible elements of an applicant’s personality and values?

Consider the questions you’re asking, and incorporate open-ended questions surrounding the qualities your organization most important values. For example, questions we frequently use include:

  • What do you value most at work?
  • What do you like most about working on a team?
  • Can you give an example of when you went out of your way to help a coworker or create a positive experience for a customer?

And remember that interviews are two-way streets: Candidates should demonstrate their capabilities and their values, but interviewers should clearly define the overall mission of the company and hit home on culture. Emphasize things like your core customer service ethos, how your company recognizes achievement or certain expectations for working (or not!) overtime or on the weekends.

Human, Collaborative Interviews

To engineer an interview process that prioritizes cultural fit, think beyond the traditional. Interviews don’t need to always take place across a table in a conference room. If you want to get to know candidates as people, take them out to chat in a more informal setting, like coffee or lunch.

Have candidates meet their prospective teams and potential teammates as part of the interview process to see how they gel before you officially welcome new members into the family. These are the people they’ll be seeing and collaborating with daily, so you want to ensure everyone prioritizes respect and there’s a mutual positive feeling among team members.

Remember What Culture Fit Is Not

Finally, it’s important to remember where diversity fits into this equation. Hiring for cultural fit comes down to making sure employees treat coworkers with the respect that your company values, or mirror your startup’s sense of hustle. What it doesn’t mean is overlooking different cultures and lifestyles, or dismissing personal values you don’t agree with.

On the surface, an older father of three might not fit what you think is the “culture” of young, single people willing to work late into the evening—but he likely brings some of the best historical knowledge of where the industry has been, or a better sense of what customers actually want. Managers should regularly ask HR to review culture fit-based decisions to ensure you’re not accidentally building a team of people who all think, look and act the exact same way.

You want your people to be united by your company’s shared mission, but cognitive diversity, different political beliefs and varying backgrounds push your team to actually achieve it–tackling problems in new ways, thinking outside the box and ultimately bringing your culture to life.

Vivian Maza has served as chief people officer at Ultimate Software since 2004. Before then, she was Ultimate’s office manager since the company’s inception in 1990. Prior to joining Ultimate, she was a systems analyst for the wholesale division of ADP. Based in Weston, Fla., Ultimate Software is a sponsor of the HCM Technology Report. To learn more, click here.

Sign up for our newsletter here.

Image: 123RF