Why you should stop hiring for cultural fit

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
October 8, 2020
min read

What is cultural fit?

‘Cultural fit’ is a fuzzy, ill-defined metric that recruiters often use when hiring people. On the face of it, it means whether or not a candidate shares the values and goals of an organisation. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and it comes to signify whether or not a candidate closely resembles existing employees – perhaps in appearance, class, race, education, or a multitude of other arbitrary factors. The result of hiring on cultural fit (whether consciously or otherwise) is therefore a fairly homogenous workforce, and as we’ll see, this has some serious consequences. 

Hiring for fit

Company culture is important. It helps to define a workforce in its attitudes, outlook, and direction. Getting it ‘right’ paves the way for increased growth, whilst getting it wrong (or simply not fostering it) can spell disaster for a company. 

Either way, measuring a candidate’s worth by how much they fit with the current company culture is simply misplaced. As we’ve already said, it leads to new hires mirroring existing employees – in essence, zero progression in terms of diversity. 

And, just in case you haven’t read our other blogs, diversity is incredibly important; aside from widening the experience pool and skillset of a workforce, increased diversity has actually been shown to improve the bottom line of companies across various industries. It’s so important, in fact, that 86% of candidates consider it when weighing up potential employers. 

(Unconscious) cultural fit in the workplace 

The main problem with ‘cultural fit’ is that, more often than not, it’s driven by unconscious biases. These are implicit judgements that hover below the surface of our consciousness, based on little other than stereotypes and prejudice. And we don't have any control over them – they’re just part of our nature.

When it comes to hiring on ‘cultural fit’, the most common unconscious bias that recruiters experience is called ‘affinity bias’. This bias leads recruiters to favour candidates that resemble them in one or more aspects, whilst negatively assessing those that are different. If a candidate looks, talks, and thinks like you, or shares an understanding of certain social cues indicative of shared class, then you’re more likely to positively appraise their abilities and ‘cultural fit’. If they’re somehow different to you in the same aspects, then the opposite is true. 

When left unchecked, hiring based on cultural fit can lead to a workforce completely lacking in diversity.

Hiring cultural fit vs hiring for skills 

A much, much better way of hiring is by assessing candidates on skill alone. By limiting the space for our unconscious biases to creep in and zoning in on raw ability, we’re more likely to select the best applicants. And this isn’t just rhetoric – it’s backed up by data. Our own research has shown that the best indicator of a candidate’s future performance is how well they complete work-based samples rather than how well they fit with company culture or how good their CV looks.

How to hire for skill 

The good news for recruiters is that there are many tried-and-tested ways to strip out unconscious bias (and cultural fit) from the hiring process, and concentrate solely on ability. 

Applied’s process, which has been designed specifically to do this, steps away from requirement-heavy jobs ads, redundant CVs, and chit-chatty interviews, and moves towards a fairer, more data-driven hiring approach. By placing a greater reliance on work-based samples and structured interviews where candidates aren’t goaded into mirroring recruiters, our process helps recruiters to pick out the best candidates based only on ability. 

Whilst this leads to increased diversity and better results, it also helps companies to reframe their ideas about ‘culture’ – rather than assessing candidates in terms of how well they fit with culture, they start viewing them in terms of what they can add to it. ‘Cultural fit’ therefore becomes ‘cultural add’, and isn’t used to bar the way for the most able candidates. 

Interested in learning more about how Applied can improve your hiring processes? Start a free trial to see how our hiring software can save you time and money, whilst increasing diversity and the quality of your new hires.