Culture Fit Interview Questions: Why They Harm Diversity

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
June 4, 2021
min read

Interview Question Playbook

Why do companies ask about culture fit?

Culture fit is the idea that candidates should be assessed to determine how well they’d ‘fit in’ with an organizations’ culture. The thinking behind culture fit is to find candidates who will work harmoniously with the existing team and uphold the existing culture.

Culture fit interview questions usually ask candidates about their personality and goals and often encompass generally chit-chat as well as ‘meet the team’ tests.

The problems with culture fit interview questions

How you define culture matters

Are you currently assessing candidates’ culture fit? 

If so, ask yourself this: what do you mean when you say ‘culture’?

If you see company culture as a set of values carved in stone to be adhered to and preserved, then this could be problematic.

Why? Because if your current team is fairly homogenous, then these values are likely to be reflective of the dominant demographic.

This means that candidates from minority backgrounds, not currently represented in your organization are likely to be penalized for not ‘fitting’ your culture.

Culture fit is then essentially a test of how like your team a candidate is - which only perpetuates any diversity gaps.

Culture fit is used as a smokescreen for bias

Having a ‘bad feeling’ about a candidate and chalking this up to a lack of culture fit doesn’t sound controversial…

But your gut feeling is often just unconscious bias

Albeit subconsciously, we make snap judgements and associations about others which affects our decision making.

This is true of all humans, no matter how pure our intentions may be.

Since culture fit interview questions generally take the form of a casual conversation, biases will naturally creep into the decision-making process as candidates reveal more about themselves.

This can be as much about unfairly favouring a candidate as it is overlooking another.

Meet the team tests and informal culture fit conversations can be boiled down to an assessment of how well we get on with a candidate. Whilst being able to work with someone is a factor worth considering people typically enjoy hanging out with people like themselves.

This is how diversity gets hampered.

This is how organizations end up being homogeneous.

Culture can’t be assessed objectively

The research is clear: hiring is most effective when anonymous, skill-based and structured.

Predictive validity of hiring methods study

Culture fit interview questions, on the other hand, deep-dive into candidates’ backgrounds, put personality over skills and are often completely free-flowing.

Whilst there are ways to data-proof this kind of assessment, hirers often use culture fit as a shield to mask hiring decisions that may otherwise be seen as explicitly biased.

The best talent doesn’t come always in the packaging you might be expecting it to.

Waiting for a good candidate to ‘jump out’ at you, seeing if you ‘click’ or having a good ‘feeling’ about a candidate are all just another way of saying you’re being biased.

If we want to build diverse, high-performing organizations, we have to hire with science over gut… because more often than not, our guts are wrong.

How to test ‘culture’ objectively

At Applied, we use structured interviews to assess ‘mission and values alignment’ rather than 'culture fit'.  This is where all candidates are asked the same pre-set questions in the same order. The more uniform and skill-based your interviews are, the more predictive and fair they’ll be.

If you're interested in delving deeper into our approach of hiring for 'mission and values alignment', you can explore this topic here.

Applied is the essential recruitment platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymised applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

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