Culture Fit: Is it More than Just a Buzzword?

Culture fit is one of those terms that gets tossed around a lot as a key factor to consider when hiring the best employees for your team. The problem with “culture fit,” however, is that it’s not entirely clear what the term means. Work cultures are incredibly complex – there’s no easy way to measure what type of work culture your company has, just as there’s no easy way to measure how a particular person might fit into that culture based on their personality.

Hiring for “culture fit” can also lead to some less than desirable outcomes. When culture fit is interpreted to mean how well a person will get along with the current team, it often causes some unintended bias to enter into the hiring decision. This often results in a less diverse team, because hiring managers unintentionally end up hiring people that are more like themselves on a social or cultural level.

Biased hiring decisions are more common than you might think. It turns out that employers tend to hire people they’d like to hang out with. And while it makes sense that employers would lean towards candidates who are more similar to them, this doesn’t necessarily produce the best hiring outcome. Not only does it make it harder for diverse groups to break into certain roles or industries, but it also makes the hiring decision less objective by weighting factors that aren’t actually predictive of job success. In this light, focusing too much on culture fit might lead employers to unintentionally overlook the candidates who are best for the job based on what they have to offer on an objective level.

While culture fit within company culture can be a dangerous thing to overemphasize in the hiring process, the concept of being a “good fit” for a role is still a useful way to hire people. Personality tests are particularly adept at identifying the personality profiles that are the most correlated with success in certain types of roles. But the key difference is that personality tests are assessing job fit, not culture fit.

For example, extroversion is correlated with success in jobs that involve frequent interactions with customers or clients. Similarly, introversion is correlated with performance in roles that require a great deal of independent work, roles like software engineering or accounting. This doesn’t mean that anyone can’t succeed in either type of role. It simply suggests that certain personality types are more likely to be comfortable and successful in roles that capitalize on their personality traits. The data on job performance outcomes backs this up. Hiring for personality fit doesn’t just help to improve job performance; it also helps to reduce turnover because employees are less likely to burn out or become dissatisfied with a role that wasn’t the right “fit” for them.

The concept of “fit” is a useful concept to apply in the hiring process. However, screening for certain types of “fit” can be misleading, and may potentially lead to hiring decisions that are less objective and less predictive of actual on-the-job performance. The key is to evaluate job fit across metrics that actually predict job success, rather then evaluating for job fit based on gut instincts about how likable a candidate is.