Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions
Cultural fit is the idea of selecting and employing candidates for a position at a company based on how they might fit into your organisation’s culture. Through targeted interview questions, tests, and assessments, companies try to determine how well a candidate aligns with their values, behaviours, and culture.
So what does cultural fit mean? Cultural fit (sometimes called culture fit) is defined as the overall degree to which a person fits into—or is expected to fit into—an organisation.
Although the term, by definition, focuses on fitting into a company’s culture, the concept is often used in a broader sense. Meaning, cultural fit involves everything that has to do with the culture, values, behaviours, and even internal work processes at a company.
Ultimately, the goal of assessing a potential candidate for cultural fit is to predict as accurately as possible how a person will operate within a company.
When hiring for a position, companies used to assess a candidate based on practical experience and skills. Aside from going through the candidate’s CV and cover letter, they would use the interview process to test the hard skills and soft skills that were required for the role.
This type of assessment was highly focused on the candidate’s fit on paper for the specific role that was advertised. But this didn’t take into account how a person might actually function within the organisation. As a result, a candidate could be hired based on practical experience alone, only to find out later that their personality and values clashed with those of the rest of the team.
Cultural fit emerged in the 1980s as an alternative hiring method to solve this problem. The idea behind a cultural fit assessment is, in essence, that less conflict leads to better functioning teams. By finding people that share the same values as a company, and prefer the same ways of working, there is a higher likelihood that this person will fit into the company better.
Researchers have called this the homophily principle, referring to how similarity creates connection within social networks. By recruiting candidates that are similar to the team at a company, they are more likely to connect better with the team. This reduces the risk of conflict and, thus, increases the chance of creating a well-functioning team of like-minded individuals.
There are multiple ways in which a company can assess whether a potential candidate will fit in with the culture of the company. In most cases, a company implements several assessment measures throughout the interview process. But a holistic approach actually starts before the interviews.
Assessing for cultural fit starts by defining the company culture and incorporating this in the employer branding. Meaning, by more clearly expressing the company’s culture in the way the organisation presents itself externally, potential new employees will already know the company culture before they apply for the role.
This allows for candidates to assess for themselves whether they believe they might be a good cultural fit. If they feel their values don’t align with the company’s, they won’t bother to apply for the job in the first place.
To do this, the organisation must first establish what it actually means to fit in with their culture. This isn’t just about determining what the company culture looks like, but also identifying what kind of candidates and talents will thrive within the business.
Once this is established, the company should ensure their values and culture are clearly communicated on their corporate website, ideally on the career page, as well as in the job advertisement for the role.
Aside from expressing cultural values through external communications, a company can test and assess a candidate’s cultural fit during the interview process.
This happens by asking specific cultural fit interview questions that test how a candidate might work within the team.
Examples of cultural fit interview questions:
Do note: not all questions are acceptable (or even legally permitted under GDPR regulations) to ask when interviewing candidates. For example, asking a candidate about their religion, marital status, or similar personal matters is not allowed.
Although still widely used by companies, the assessment of cultural fit has also received criticism. By trying to find candidates who are similar to the current team and employees of a company, homogeneity is promoted. As a result, this method of candidate assessment may lead to the exclusion of otherwise qualified individuals.
The result is that, although it may be unconscious, a company fails to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their team.
This is not only unfair towards candidates that differ from the norm in your team, but failing to promote DEI in your business might even negatively harm your employer branding. After all, especially younger talent nowadays is actively looking for companies that are inclusive to everyone and consist of diverse teams.
For more information on the negative side of cultural fit, and potential alternative hiring methods, read our article on the cultural fit controversy (and how to hire better).
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