The Right Way to Hire for Culture Fit

Assessing for fit in the interview process is not a new practice for hiring managers or HR practitioners. We all want to hire exceptional talent who ‘fit’ into our company’s culture. We want the people whose values align with those we proudly share on our company websites, that shape our brands and guide behaviors. But what does it really mean to have culture fit? Where did the concept of fit come from, and why has it become an almost ubiquitous criterion to look for when hiring talent?

What is culture fit? 

The concept of culture fit is rooted in interactional psychology where human behavior is a function of the way a person interacts with the environment. When there is a ‘fit’ between an employee and a work environment, it generally means that they are compatible because their characteristics are well matched. Fit doesn’t just happen at the culture level, though. It’s important to focus on a variety of different types of fit, including person-job fit, person-supervisor fit, and person-organization fit. The latter is usually what we refer to when we think of the term ‘culture fit.’ 

Where did the concept of ‘culture fit’ come from? 

Organizations started paying attention to culture fit when evidence emerged showing that one way to achieve business success, was to align the goals and values among members of organization. This first happened in the early 1970s when researchers who were studying Japanese companies observed a unique feature in their management approach. These companies resembled family-like entities more so than economic ones and promoted cohesion and shared values among their employees. Western scholars recognized the success these businesses were having and noted that a culture where values and goals are aligned made sense for business.

Why is it important to hire to culture fit?

Since the realization that culture fit could facilitate business success, decades of empirical research has revealed:organizations that have higher levels of fit among their employees benefit in a variety of ways. Most notably, higher levels of fit translate to higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, commitment, and job performance. These benefits alone justify the importance for Hiring Managers and HR practitioners to focus on fit when sourcing and selecting talent for their organizations. 

How to hire for fit? 

Before you start to hire for fit, there are a few considerations you need to make: 

  1. Different levels of fit: One consideration that is often overlooked is that ‘fit’ happens in different ways. 

The most important types of fit when hiring are:

  • Person-job fit: does the person has the skills and abilities required to perform the job successfully?
  • Person-supervisor fit: does the person will excel under the supervisor’s leadership and managerial styles?
  • Person-organization fit: does the person’s values and interests align with the values and mission of the organization?
  1. Culture fit or culture add: The second consideration is whether you need someone who is the ‘same as’ or ‘different from’ what you already have. 

When looking for the ‘same as,’ we tend to use the term culture fit, When looking for the ‘different from,’ we tend to use the term culture add. A recent HR trend in this space is hiring for culture add instead of culture fit in order to hire diverse talent. The important takeaway is that both are important, and whether you prioritize one or the other depends on your unique needs. Neither will hinder diversity in your organization if done properly. This article from Gem does a good job of explaining this in more detail. 

Steps to Hiring for Culture-Fit

STEP ONE: What exactly does a match look like? 

To define a ‘match,’ ask yourself the following questions for each level of fit: 

Person-job fit

  • Does my business need center around the fact that our existing employees don’t have the skills and abilities required to achieve a core business objective (different from)?
  • Or, does my business needs center around the fact that we are increasing the volume of work and I need more of a capability that I already have to achieve the desired scale of output (same as)? 

Person-supervisor fit 

  • How would I define my management and leadership styles in a few words (or, for HR, how does the hiring manager define these)? Am I hands-on? 
  • Do I check in frequently and provide specific instructions on how to get things done? Do I provide feedback consistently? Or am I hands-off? 
  • Are my employees largely responsible for figuring out how to accomplish work themselves? Do development and performance conversations mainly happen during performance reviews? 

Neither is right or wrong, but it’s important to understand your approach so you can look for candidates who will excel under your style. 

Person-organization fit

  • What are the key values that guide behavior in our organization? What actions do we promote and reward people for, and how do we define exceptional performance? 
  • What standards do we follow for interacting with one-another? 
  • What is the pace and structure of the business like (fast, flat, dynamic or structured, process-oriented, and bureaucratic)? 

STEP TWO: Create interview questions with answer guides that assess what you’re looking for! 

The following are some suggestions for designing questions that help you assess different levels and types of fit: 

Person-job fit: Ask candidates behavioral and situational questions to assess the skills you have chosen. For example, if a skill you want to select for is ‘adaptability,’ and you are hiring for a Customer Success role, you might use the following questions: 

  • Example behavioral question: Describe a time you adapted your service to meet the needs of a potential customer. What did you change and why? What was the outcome? 
  • Example situational question: Imagine a situation in which a problem with your company’s core product or service prevented you from being able to assist customers as you normally would. How would you adapt to this change and assist customers until the problem was resolved? 

Person-supervisor fit: Ask candidates about their favorite manager/supervisor they’ve worked with in the past, and have them explain their leadership style and why they enjoyed working with them so much. Their answer will give you key insights as to whether they will succeed under your management and leadership. 

Person-organization fit: There are many types of questions you can use to assess culture fit. Some might be more general and ask them about work preferences and values, whereas others might be more specific and focus on key values that are core to your organization. 

  • Example general question: Based on your past work history and professional experience, in what type of work environment were you the happiest and most productive?
  • Example specific question: Do you tend to prefer work environments that are structured and routine or that are ambiguous and constantly changing? Why? 

STEP THREE: Know when to asses for each type of fit: which questions should you ask first, and why? 

  1. The first type of fit you should assess for is person-job fit.
    Hold a skills-based interview with each of your candidates first to determine those who will be the best fit for the job in question. Screening for these key skills first ensures that everyone you move through to additional interviews will be able to fill the business needs required by the position. 
  2. After you’ve narrowed that down, you should focus on person-supervisor and person-organization fit.
    Ideally, you hold a fit interview where you get a deeper understanding of whether the person wants to and will enjoy working with you and at your organization. Assessing for the types of fit in this order also helps you reduce bias in your process.

By screening on skills first, you’re less likely to make early, gut-instinct decisions based on which candidates you generally like more or less. Then, assessing for culture fit in a structured and systematic way will allow you to make more evidence-based hiring decisions on who will succeed with you at your organization. Hireguide makes this process easy by providing thousands of skills, for thousands of roles with pre-populated questions. We even give you answer guides so you know what you're looking for in a candidate's response. Are you ready to interview like an expert? Click here to start your free trial!

Cameron, K. & Quinn, R. (1999). Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture: Based on the Competing Values Framework. Addison-Wesley Publishing. 
Caplan, R. D. (1983). Person–environment fit: Past, present, and future. In C. L. Cooper (ed.),
Stress Research (pp. 35–78). New York: JohnWiley & Sons, Inc.
Kristof-Brown, A. L., Zimmerman, R. D., & Johnson, E. C. (2005). Consequences of Individuals’ Fit at Work: A Meta-analysis of Person-Job, Person-Organization, Person-Group, and Person-Supervisor Fit. Personnel Psychology, 58, 281-342.
Shufran, L. (June, 2022). Don’t Focus on “Culture Fit” or “Culture Add.” Here’s the Right Way to Hire for Culture. Gem.

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