When you hire, you should primarily evaluate candidates on three things:
- Ability: Can they do it?
- Motivation: Will they do it?
- Culture Fit: Will others do it with them?
These are equally important in your hiring process. It doesn’t matter if someone has the skills to do the job if they don’t like the job. It doesn’t matter if they’re motivated, but they don’t have the fundamental skills to succeed. And it doesn’t matter if they can and want to do the job if they are not aligned with your company culture.
An employee not fitting the company culture is one of the biggest reasons for turnover. Even worse is when an employee isn’t a good match for the culture and they stay, diluting your culture or even creating a toxic environment for your team.
Netflix has a saying embedded in their own culture: no brilliant jerks. This is culture fit in a nutshell — if someone can’t work with the team, they can’t work.
Studies have shown that hires who are a good culture fit have better job satisfaction, higher job performance, and are more likely to stay.
In this blog, we’ll cover defining culture fit for your organization and how to determine if someone is a culture fit during your hiring process.
What is Culture Fit?
Company culture isn’t who you look like, your shared backgrounds, or even your shared interests. Culture is your shared values as a company. Culture fit means that someone is aligned with those values. That’s it.
Yes, there are more layers to company culture and fit, but without those connecting beliefs between the company and employees, anything else is fluff. Ping pong tables and cold brew on tap aren’t company culture. Valuing open communication or a giving spirit is.
Define Culture Fit for Your Business
Our first hiring best practice is, “Know who you are.” Before you think about who you need to hire, you need to step back and think about who you are as a company.
Start with your company’s core values:
- Where do you see examples of your core values being lived out by your employees?
- Study your team’s behaviors and see what actual values they collectively hold. You can do this even if you don’t have core values yet!
- Ask some of your team members about how they would currently describe your company culture. Note any words that consistently show up.
Remember that great company culture isn’t something you can dictate and slap on a wall; it’s something that’s built by employees and leaders in their daily actions.
Last year at CareerPlug, we took our core values a step further and identified four Culture Drivers. These are specific behaviors we believe all of our employees share. We specifically look for these traits during our hiring process:
Scrapper — passionate and persevering
Initiator — leads with action
Learner — exhibits a growth mindset
Giver — generous and unselfish
Though these official definitions are relatively new in our company history, the traits themselves are not. These four Culture Drivers were at the heart of CareerPlug’s identity a decade ago, and we’ve seen them exemplified in every successful member of our team. Today, they are our primary definition of culture fit.
I want to share a short story on how I’ve seen one of these Culture Drivers play out in our business.
I’ve been with CareerPlug for over five years, but there is a company habit that predates me that I love: every Friday we have an all-company meeting to share shout-outs. Shout-outs are a public appreciation for other employees, usually tied to our core values. For example, “So & so went Above & Beyond to help me with X this past week.”
The Friday company meeting has evolved over the years. It’s grown with our headcount, we’ve added office announcements, celebrated work anniversaries (we call them workiversaries), and occasionally given big company updates or presentations — but the shout-outs have stayed. We end the meeting, and the week, on gratitude.
It’s become a cornerstone of our culture and something we have protected as we’ve grown.
But here’s a different perspective on it. One former employee told me in his exit interview that he was never on board for the company meeting since he didn’t need the affirmation of the shouts-outs. It always felt a bit off to him. He acknowledged that he didn’t feel like he was a culture fit in that way. And he was right. He viewed the meeting as a time to receive praise, rather than practice gratitude.
At CareerPlug, understanding the Friday meeting — whether or not you’re vocal about your shout-outs — is a key indicator of culture fit. It’s part of our Giver Culture Driver: having a mindset of generosity and gratitude towards others.
In contrast, I’ve had countless new hires tell me that they loved their first Friday meeting. They appreciate that we take time to express gratitude each week — and they eagerly start giving shout-outs of their own.
We don’t have to be the right culture fit for everyone, and neither does your company. We do need to bring culture fit into the hiring process so that employers, as well as candidates, can make the right decision.
Evaluating for Culture Fit
Now that you understand culture fit, let’s see how you can infuse culture fit interview questions into your hiring process.
First, Share Your Culture:
On your Careers Page and in your job postings, talk about your core values, how you define your culture, and the characteristics you value in all employees. Ask employees to write testimonials about what it’s like to work for you and share them on your Careers Page, or ask employees to post a company review on Glassdoor or Indeed.
Next, Interview for Culture Fit:
Culture fit shouldn’t be evaluated on a gut reaction — that’s how you can fall into some easy hiring bias traps that lean towards they remind me of myself rather than they share my values. Use job interview questions that directly correlate to your core values or Culture Drivers.
For example, we might have a question like this for each of our Culture Drivers:
- Scrapper: Tell me about a time that you failed.
- Initiator: Tell me about a time you went Above & Beyond what was expected of you.
- Learner: Tell me about a time others knew more than you did. How did you close the gap?
- Giver: What does generosity mean to you in the workplace?
In reality, you’ll not only be evaluating for culture fit in the specific questions but throughout the interview process. The key is to have clear evaluation points in mind so you can look for values alignment in any answer.
Then, Let Candidates See Your Culture:
Let candidates witness your culture for themselves. Let them meet potential peers during the hiring process. Have them shadow an employee for an hour or an afternoon. How you hire should also give candidates an insight into your company culture. For example, if you ask applicants questions about learning and growth, they will know these are activities you value.
- Culture fit is not who looks like us. Culture fit is who shares our values.
- Hires who are a good culture fit have better job satisfaction, higher job performance, and are more likely to stay.
- Define culture fit by looking at your company’s practiced values and behaviors.
- Evaluate for culture fit by writing interview questions tied to your core values and intentionally sharing your company culture as part of your employment brand.