I’ve worked in the staffing industry for almost 20 years. I’ve worked for firms of all sizes and even owned my own staffing firm. I’ve provided hundreds of companies with a wide range of talent, across dozens of industries. And even with all that experience, I don’t have all the answers when it comes to hiring. But I do know that finding the right person for your company is absolutely critical for success. And I also know that every company, regardless of size or stature, struggles with that task.
It’s hard to get it right. You think you have a rigorous hiring process but too often new hires don’t work out. Studies show anywhere from 40% to 80% of hires don’t work out within the first year. Why?
In a phrase, cultural fit, or rather a lack of it.
I’m not surprised that studies suggest that as much as 80% of these failures are because of a bad cultural fit. And it’s not confined to a certain level of worker, from entry level positions to senior management, companies hire people that seem promising but just don’t fit in. I understand. Even if you know how important it is, it can be difficult to hire for cultural fit. Typically, everyone is focused on skills and experience, and cultural fit comes in a distant second if it’s truly considered at all.
So, what is cultural fit?
Cultural fit encompasses a variety of things but basically means that the personality, work style, and preferences of the candidate match those of the team/company. It means that the candidate fits in with the other team members. Think about the difference between a start-up tech company and a global pharmaceutical firm. Or the difference between the R&D team and the marketing team. It starts with understanding what kind of a company or team you have and what kind of personalities will be a fit. Also remember, you can have different teams on opposite sides of the country that are doing the exact same thing, with completely different cultures, that are equally successful. There is no right or wrong culture. But once you understand the culture, then you have to find the people who will work well within it.
One simple but important factor to look for is whether a person is an extrovert or an introvert. While often confused with whether someone is outgoing or friendly, extro- and introversion actually refer to whether a person is energized by being around other people or by being alone. And this is key when it comes to working. (Take a quiz to see which you are.)
For example, what kind of workspace does your company have? Is it a completely open floor plan? No offices regardless of title? An introvert might find it challenging to work at their best in a noisy, hectic environment with others around them while an extrovert thrives on that and would hate being isolated in an office. Are you hiring someone to write code or work on a discrete task without much interaction or to work on a team where collaboration and working closely together is required? An extrovert will likely be a better fit for a collaborative team environment, and vice versa.
There is no inherent “better” suggested here, it’s simply preference and personality. But preference matters. Hire someone with amazing skills who needs peace and quiet to perform at their best when you can’t provide that and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, when you’ve got someone who is a great fit for your company, that fit can be more important than even skills. Smart companies know to hire someone who has some or most of the skills and experience they’re looking for, but 100% of the cultural fit. Skills can be taught, fit usually can’t.
So, what does this mean if you are a hiring manager? A job seeker? What should you do now that you know about cultural fit?
First, understand what your cultural fit is. As a company, what kind of workplace do you have? How does your business operate at its best? Look at your best performers and think about the qualities they possess. What are the goals and responsibilities of your team? This will give you some ideas about your company’s environment and what kind of culture you have and should hire for. If you have the appetite and budget for it, you can find companies that can help you assess and define your culture. When you are interviewing a candidate, ask questions that allow you to assess how well they might fit into your team.
As an individual, think about what kind of work environment allows you to work at your best? What makes you happy and productive at work? What kind of managers have you had in the past that you liked working with? When you are looking at companies and interviewing for jobs, assess their work culture and see if it matches yours. There’s no point in taking a job at a place you probably won’t like. Better to be honest with yourself and when answering their questions. Trying to be something you’re not won’t work in the long run.
Cultural fit is not a mandate to hire cookie cutter people and end up with a homogenous workforce. It doesn’t mean that you should have all introverts or all extroverts on your staff and it doesn’t mean that everyone should think alike or agree on everything. That would actually be disastrous for success. You may have more of one kind of personality than another but there will be introverts who succeed in a primarily extroverted workplace and vice versa. An aware introvert can find ways to carve out the solitude and silence they need for projects while part of a more extroverted team. Extroverts can find the support and camaraderie that they need while also focusing and working independently when required.
The real key is being aware of cultural fit and making sure that you take it into consideration when hiring or seeking a job. I’ve seen the difference it can make and I know ATR is successful in recruiting great people for our clients, as well as our own company, because we understand culture. We know that it takes more than just the right skills to be successful so we assess candidates for cultural fit before submitting them to any position.
While cultural fit can be hard to define and tricky to hire for, when it’s not there, everyone feels it. It’s well worth the effort to take it into consideration when you make your next hire.
Looking for a new job? Read: How to Optimize Your Job Search, A Comprehensive Guide for Every Job Seeker