Why Culture Fit Still Has a (Tiny) Place in Recruiting

for Hired.com’s employer blog, Hiring Tips & Insights

The headlines collated in Human Resources Today tell the story of the rise and fall of culture fit in recruiting.

In February of 2015, readers were introduced to “The New Hiring Mantra: Finding Candidates with Great Cultural ‘Fit.’” But a few months later, the mantra had all but evaporated, as we saw the script flipped in pieces such as “Why ‘Culture Fit’ Means Nothing.” and “Moving Past ‘Culture Fit’ to ‘Culture Add.’”

The original meaning of culture fit in recruiting was hiring “for personalities and values, not just skills,” in hopes this would increase the likelihood of new employees’ success and happiness. But in May of 2015 a researcher reported in the New York Times that “in many organizations, fit has gone rogue.” More specifically, the phrase “culture fit” began to take on “more of a tribal meaning,” as a recent article in Forbes noted, becoming “a weaponized phrase interviewers use as a blanket term to reject candidates…the embodiment of unconscious bias.”

hired culture fit image

In other words, interviewers were taking culture fit to mean “likability.” Mistaking rapport for fit is an error human beings are programmed to make. Add that handicap to most people’s conscious preference to work alongside people with whom we think we could be friends, and you have a recipe for missing out on some great hires.

Unfortunately, finding a candidate likable during an interview is subject to all the same unconscious biases as our assessments of performance and skill. And science tells us that we’re more likely to hire a lovable fool than a competent jerk: even “a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with.”

We may feel rapport with a candidate with whom we share similar outward appearances, experiences, or hobbies. This mistaking rapport for fit can be as obvious as “a partner who was an avid Red Sox fan arguing for rejecting a Yankees supporter on the grounds of misfit.”

Or it can be less obvious. Maybe we were really hungry when we interviewed that last candidate right before lunch. We might learn during an interview that a candidate shares our love for a particular B-movie, or grew up two blocks away. These will all affect how likable we find someone, and, clearly, not one of them will accurately predict job performance. Nor are any of those circumstances likely to predict how well someone will fit it into an organization long-term. Someone who shares your passion for the Red Sox may not share your organization’s passion for its core values.

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