I Call Bull on Culture Fit

“Culture Fit” seems to be the key to hiring the right candidate, guided by the shopworn premise that you can train for skills but not attitude. Despite the prevalence of this notion, many hiring managers are complaining about a skills gap rather than an attitude gap.  We often hear complaints about lack of training, no time for training, or budget for training. In the end, you end up with workforce full of attitudes but no skills.  In this tight job market, why are we playing with words instead of focusing on substantive challenges?


When the recruiting world starts talking about culture fit, what the heck does that really mean? It’s almost a pass for possible discrimination. When I read about culture fit, they’re talking about culture fit within the entire org.  How do you check culture fit in a one hour interview? If your process for culture fit is truly working, why is turnover still a problem?  Why is the tenure for employees a lot shorter than those in the past?

Besides, how do you conduct culture fit when ATS automatically rejects applicants? I don’t know of any ATS that can actually detect culture fit either.  Many of the ATS I’ve used have been problematic when it came to the rudimentary process of qualifying candidates, forget about anything more complex or nuanced. Many of those ATS were configured incorrectly. So if you’re a recruiter and relying on an ATS, do you understand its configuration? If not, how do you know that it’s working correctly?

ChemIt wasn’t that long ago that the keyword we used for finding the right talent was “chemistry” between the hiring manager and the candidates. As with any relationships, we can work together despite our differences. We weren’t focused on culture fit, we were focused on job fit.  Our job as recruiters was finding the candidates who met the job requirements (skills, education, experience, salary expectation, etc.) It was up to the hiring manager to determine whether or not the candidate had the workstyle and personality that mesh with his management style and his team’s dynamics. Sometimes, when the candidate seemed/sounded too good to be true, we would check our gut, employing instinct to identify sketchy individuals who contrived a positive image for an interview.

Chemistry involves various elements that mix to form a bond, allowing the creation of something bigger and/or better than constituent building blocks. If you put in the same element(s), nothing changes. If you put in the wrong element, it can create a negative reaction, and ignoring the possible for such reactions can be devastating. When it comes to hiring, the same principles apply. Sometimes, when we don’t know for sure, we experiment. We take the risk. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.


There is a wide variety of behavioral and/or EQ questionnaires that have been used to test for culture fit.  You can find them on blogs, on Glassdoor, etc. This means that anyone can be coached for these questionnaires and deliver the “correct” questions with a smile.  There’s rational reason to believe they’re actually are a fit.  If you’ve been in recruiting long enough, and have made hiring decisions in the past, you have come across a fraud.

Dr. Sullivan just published a post on “When Hiring for Attitude – ‘Catch Attitude Fraud’ Because Candidates Fake It” (dr.johnsullivan.com).  He stated that attitude fraud is a major problem and few in recruiting make any attempt to detect or avoid it. He estimated that as many 40% percent of candidates use some combination of acting or lying.corevaluesSome claim that culture fit consists of sharing a set of common core values.  Most organizations, regardless of size and industrial affiliation, share the same core values, with slight variations. Any respectable person can attest that they expect these core values from their employers as well.  But, how many times have we found some of these employers under investigations by EEOC, SEC, BBB, FTC, etc.?

Seriously, how do you expect candidates to truly embrace your core values when recruiters and organizational leaders don’t? There’s plenty of complaints from candidates who, based on their experiences, know that these core values are not exercised by the recruiters and/or hiring managers who often sometimes blame one onother for lack of communication, team work, and trust.


@Lars wrote about ‘The End of Culture Fit” in March 2017A hiring process built around an undefined notion of “culture fit” is fraught with bias.  In some organizations “culture fit” has become a weaponized phrase that interviewers use as a blanket term to reject candidates that don’t match the hiring manager’s view of the ideal candidate; and as such, it has become the embodiment of unconscious bias. Most interviewers are more likely to hire people like themselves and discount those who are different. This type of thinking hinders diversity and leads to homogenous cultures. The notion of hiring for culture fit was established as a foundation of many corporate recruiting processes. The term was embedded in career sites, integrated into interview processes, and touted as a competitive advantage for many organizations in the tech community. Over the years, the term has taken on more of a tribal meaning. People who think like us. People who work like us. People who live like us. People who look like us. Companies are beginning to drop the idea of culture fit altogether. As more companies shift their recruiting focus towards intentional diversity and inclusion efforts, they’re reframing their thinking to how diverse candidates can add to their culture – not fit into it.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/larsschmidt/2017/03/21/the-end-of-culture-fit/).


So, if you’re still hung up on “Culture Fit”, it’s time to drop it!  If you want to achieve diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it’s time to change the focus! Get back to hiring candidates who meet your job requirements.  You can still check for attitude, but do so with trepidation.  Make sure you know how to spot attitude fraud. We won’t really know about culture fit.  That will take some time. It depends on many levels of transformation that can take place (organizational, technological, economic, personal, etc.).  What may fit now, may not fit later.  If you want your employees to embrace your corporate core values, you must engage, communicate, train, and develop your workers to be productive members of your organizations. Don’t rely too much on your ATS to find your talent. Most successful recruiters will tell you that they review resumes and connect with candidates in real life. Keep that communications/feedback going – start building trust and showcasing your organizational core values to your candidates and keep them interested. You may need those candidates later or they may know someone that they can refer for one of your openings.  Stop ghosting them! Your lack of communication/feedback may result in negative social media backlash!




#HR #Culture #Leadership #SHRM #Recruiting