4 Ways to Learn if Candidates Fit Your Culture

Have you ever hired that dream candidate who met every criteria of the position, was courted by the hiring manager, and who negotiated that huge sign-on bonus and then crashed and burned within a few months?

There are hundreds of stories like this. Candidates with great education, experience, and who have worked for all the right companies often fail miserably because they don’t fit into the culture of the company.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, believes his success has been in finding the right people — the ones who fit comfortably into the corporate culture. So do a growing number of recruiters, hiring managers, and CEOs.

Ten years ago we didn’t hear very much about fit, although it has always been a concern and a part of the decision on whether to hire someone or not. But recently it has become the most important concern, often overriding technical skills or experience. As we move to flatter organizations, more team and project work, and increasingly collaborative work environments, finding people who get along with others and fit into corporate culture are essential to success. They keep harmony, they build community, and they create trust, all important ingredients for success in innovative global and competitive environments.

Personal fit should be an integral part of your candidate assessment process. Fitting into a culture, organization, team or job is not always easy. Some people feel more connected and more included than others, and those who feel the most connected and involved tend to be the ones who perform well and stay. People who feel that they belong to something important — something that engages and excites them — make organization more successful.

Candidates experience the corporate culture almost from their first contact with the organization. They see it in how they are treated, how diligent and caring the employees are, and what the work environment is like. As soon as they meet the hiring manager, they are assessing his or her style and values. When these are in alignment, good performance follows.

Likewise, recruiters and hiring managers are subconsciously assessing candidates from the moment they meet. That gut feel we frequently have about a candidate is probably based largely on how we see them fitting into our team and how well we think we will get along with them. This is often partly based on people who have similar interests or hobbies, who have had similar experiences, or who have known the same people. The more common connections with a candidate, the more likely they are to fit into our culture.

But the first step in more objectively assessing culture fit is to articulate what makes up the culture of your organization.

Know Your Culture

Most firms do a poor job of figuring out what makes up their culture and whether candidates would be comfortable in it or with a particular manager. Many factors make up the corporate culture. Some of those are as basic as work schedules and travel demands, but perhaps more significant are the ethics and values the organization believes in, the style of everyday management, and how communication takes place.

Take the time to understand what the ingredients are of your true culture, not the espoused one, and then you will be able to assess candidates with far greater success.

Four Ways to Assess Fit

Here are four ways to determine whether or not a candidate fits your culture.

Article Continues Below

Realistic Job Previews. Some firms rely on realistic job previews, where candidates get a glimpse of what it would be like to actually do the work. The Shaker Consulting Group has created these for firms such as Key Bank and Starbucks. Previews allow candidates to select themselves “out” of the interview process and also, when combined with testing, allow organizations to determine the potential quality of fit of a candidate. The downside is that but often candidates overlook potential mismatches and move forward.

Use Referrals and Internal Connections. Referrals have been widely written about here on ERE and elsewhere. They can be a gold standard for cultural fit because current employees, or even those who may not be employees but know your organization well, typically choose to refer people who will fit the culture. You can simply ask employees to focus on people who would be a good fit, rather on people with high skills levels or experience. The downside of referrals is that you can overuse your network and run out of good candidates, and it is always hard to get referrals consistently. It often requires a “push effort” to get people motivated and once the push goes away, effort falls back to low levels.

Use Social Networks. Social networks are a potentially highly effective way to determine cultural fit or at least to see whether or not a potential candidate communicates and interacts in a way that fits. By developing a Facebook or LinkedIn page and then engaging candidates in conversations, recruiters can learn a great deal about communication skills, language ability, and motivation. The downside is that these require time and effort; often, more than an average recruiter has available. However, it is probably true that candidates who have joined your network and participate in conversations at all are a better fit than those who do not.

Fit Testing. There are many tests of cultural and personal fit that can streamline assessment and that add a quantitative dimension to the selection process. These tests have been around for decades and have a solid track record when used properly. Of course, the downside of testing is the candidate’s acceptance and the time needed on both the candidate side as well as on the recruiters to interpret the results.

But whatever method or combination of methods you decide on, making sure candidates will be comfortable in their work environment and with their hiring manager should be a key consideration.

By getting candidates who are aligned to your culture, you will experience faster time to productivity, deeper involvement in problem solving, greater innovation, and less turnover.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


24 Comments on “4 Ways to Learn if Candidates Fit Your Culture

  1. I really enjoyed your post and could not agree more. The more transparent the whole process is – both for the job seeker and the potential employer – the more likely you are to get a good match to a company’s culture. I’ve had many companies ask me about creating realistic job previews, but that’s a lot easier for some positions than others!
    Cheers, Kim

  2. Thanks, Kevin. I tell hiring managers that they need to establish only two things with a potential hire:
    1) Can they do the job we need them to do, and do it well?
    2) Do you like them, i.e., would you feel comfortable working with them for an extended time-period?
    Don’t hire the person unless the answer to both questions is “yes”.

    Here’s the $64M Question: how do you get a good enough cultural fit to have organizational harmony and functionality, but not so much much that you have group-think and a “corporate cult” instead of a corporate culture? I worked at a place where diversity meant; “We hire all types of upper-middle class (mainly white) people, just like us!”


    Keith “Won’t Drink the Kool-Aid” Halperin

  3. Absolutely, Kevin. There seems to me increasingly wide acknowledgement that fit matters. We know that in 81% of cases where people leave their job – fired or quit – it is due to fit and in only 11% is it due to skill. But fit means more, much more than cultural affinity or emotional connect. Fit is all about the purpose of the organization, its serious work, aligning with the values and talents and desires of the person. It’s our core work, making the match or fit between person, in a deep and honest sense, with the job, similarly assessed in a deep and honest way. It makes all the difference.

  4. Kevin, our whole person assessment takes applicants about an hour to complete on the Internet and only a few minutes of the hiring manager’s time to review. A hiring decision can be made immediately; hire now, don’ hire, or keep looking until a better match becomes available.

  5. Hi Kevin, great article

    I sure do agree with the statement: Take the time to understand what the ingredients are of your true culture, not the espoused one, and then you will be able to assess candidates with far greater success.

    Problem is, “taking the time” is not enough. You can ask 10 different people what is the culture and you will get 10 different answers. The only way to truly measure the culture is to use a validated cultural assessment that measures qualitative and quantitative data. This way the numbers support the stories and the stories support the numbers.

    There should also be a section to measure values alignment. Including the companies stated values (plus others) and having the employees chose the values they experience gives an immediate gap analysis between stated and experienced values. Once a cultural assessment is completed then the development of a culture fit tool will be authentic and congruent with the true culture.

  6. @Everybody:
    I believe the assumption here is that the existing culture is both functional and optimal. It ‘s often only one, rarely both, and what may be very optimal and functional today may not be the case 3 mos, a year, or 5 years down the road.


  7. Employers need to determine an applicant’s…
    1. Corporate Match
    2. Skills Match
    3. Job Match

    Ignore any of the three and hiring becomes random and Bell Curve ranking then makes sense.

  8. I could not agree more with this observation, since at Karel&Company we have been perfecting this science for the past thirty years. We a created a formula, “25%-70%-5%” ™ that exactly performs this process, matches the candidate with our clients’ companies chemistry, character, and temperaments. However, putting this formula into practices is only part of the equation; there is a step or two that must be used in conjunction with our “25%-70%-5%”™ formula for the entire process to work in order to achieve the desired objective to hire and keep the best candidates performing at peak desired levels, and to get your best R.O.I., beside we guaranty it.

  9. @Stephen:

    Sounds good. Is it easy to use in untrained hands? How much does this cost:
    Would it be cost effective for a:
    1) “Mom and Pop” business hiring a jr.bookkeeper?
    2)Severely financially stretched urban school district lookiing for some beginning HS teachers?
    3) Fancy club looking for an experienced bartender?
    4) General residential contractor looking for a joist specialist?
    5) 7 person startup looking for a RoR developer?



  10. Keith:

    The cost is zero (0) for any clients. I do not think it would be cost effective for the level positions that you asked about. Nor could an untrained or unskilled person be capable of engage or dope out the process. Our “25% – 70% & 5% Formula”™ must be used in conjunction with our “Needs Analysts”™ in order to get the desired results, which is a long last hire. The information is proprietary in nature.

    Stephen A.

  11. Thanks, Stephen.

    ISTM that the majority of assessment tools don’t seem to be cost-effective for most ordinary positions, or usable by non-skilled practitioners.

    A viable, effective (as determined by objective studies, NOT anecdotes), assessor/assessee-friendly system that works for a wide range of ordinary positions and is affordable (a few hundred dollars) for virtually any small business to use for up to (say) 10 positions…. If that’s not possible/feasible, show me why not…



  12. Keith:

    You get what you pay for…

    On the other hand, if one know their clients’ company’s personality and character traits, and also is astute at knowing and understand their candidate’s personalities plus is knowledgeable with: emotional behavior testing, emotional intelligence, aptitude awareness, body language, etc. you would not need to buy “add-ons”. I would bet that there must be some cost effective testing sorters out there for your purpose. However, if I can be of assistance you, please contact me, and I will try to be of much help to you as I can.

    Stephen A.

  13. Keith, I keep offering you a chance to learn about an assessment that satisfies all of your criteria but you never ask so I wonder if you are really serious.

    – viable

    – effective (as determined by objective studies, NOT anecdotes), assessor/assessee-friendly system that works for a wide range of ordinary positions

    – is affordable (a few hundred dollars) for virtually any small business to use for up to (say) 10 positions….

    Your last criteria is confusing. Employers that assess for job related talent assess 3 to 5 job finalists for each position to be filled. If we were to use the assessment to fill 10 position, the number of assessments used would be 30 to 50. Are you looking for an assessment that costs $6 to $10 an assessment? My clients would love to have a successful recruiter who is paid $6 to $10 per candidate. Come to think of it external recruiters get paid a heck of lot more, 30+/- times more, than the cost of assessments yet it is the assessment that allows hiring managers to avoid costly hiring mistakes.

  14. Mr. Babuskin:

    Even if the candidate was the Albert Einstein, or the I.M. Pei, of their discipline if the did not fit “in” the chances are the would be fired within six months time. A good fit is 70% of a hiring a good hire. If you are interested that the other 30% of a hire hire is; 20% is their résumé, experience, background – who they can bring to the table, and the last 5% is LUCK!

    P.S. If you would additional information about hiiring the “best talent”, contact me and I would be happy to send you some information.

    Stephen A.

  15. @Stephen:
    Sometimes you get far less than you pay for, and sometimes you get far more, but you don’t want it. Not everybody can afford a Porshe, sometimes they want/need a Cruze.

    Bob, I don’t control the purse strings.
    My company has currently over 1000 openings, most of which are low-skilled, high-volume hires, but we have around 20-30% or so which aren’t high-volume, if the assesment were as mentione, and takes away drudge work from recruiters as opposed to adding more.



  16. Keith, users of assessments save time and money, a lot of money. Even for low-skilled, high volume hires an assessment saves time and money while increasing retention and reducing management problems. Assessments shift time from the employer to the job applicant since it takes the applicant about an hour while it takes the hiring manager only a few minutes to know whether or not to make a job offer. Hiring managers do not need to wait until all applicants are screened before making hiring decisions which is an improvement for those who do not get the job offer.

  17. @Bob: This sounds very good.
    So, how much per assessment or per person does it run? Alsom anybody else who has assessmnts: I ask you the same question for your product/service….

  18. Keith, some employers choose an annual fee agreement so that assessment usage does not change their annual cost. Some employers choose to pay as you go while other employers choose to take advantage of quantity discounts. Once an assessment center is set up assessments can be scheduled and completed without paying to score them. If an assessment needs to be scored, then a Meter needs to be purchased and Meters are purchased ten or more at a time. I’ll send you pricing data by email.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *