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Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions

What is cultural fit?

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.

Cultural fit definition

Cultural 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.

Why companies assess cultural fit

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.

Cultural fit assessment methods

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.

Determining a company’s own cultural fit

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.

Assess culture fit during the interview process

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:

  • What do you like most about working in a team?
  • In what kind of work environment are you most likely to thrive?
  • What type of management style do you respond best to?
  • How would you characterise your management style? (when interviewing a manager)
  • Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team?
  • What do you think of working from home?
  • Describe your ideal workday.
  • Which of our company values resonates best with you, and why?
  • Based on your research and what you’ve seen of us so far, how would you describe our company culture?
  • What do you particularly like about your current colleagues?
  • What does work-life balance mean to you?
  • How do you think your previous colleagues would describe your work style?
  • What are you most passionate about (both at work and outside)?

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.

Potential issues with cultural fit

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.

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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