Hiring 101: Should You Hire For Skills or Culture Fit?

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This is the second post in Indeed’s SMB series. See what SMB owners have to say about making a good first impression in part one. 

Culture fit has quickly become a buzz term in human resources, yet many job seekers and employers still have a hazy understanding of what it means or how to channel it. Unlike the skills and experience listed on a resume, the qualities that make a candidate compatible with an organization’s culture are not readily anticipated. There is also an added challenge for SMBs, which are often in the early stages of developing and defining their company culture. To start, let’s explore what constitutes culture in the workplace.

In order to have effective collaboration in the workplace, it’s important for employees to have a shared set of goals and values. This is where culture comes in, uniting the distinct roles and personalities existing in a company through common beliefs and practices that align with the company’s mission. 

Does the company prioritize an open workspace? Is collaborative decision-making an essential part of the job? The answers to these questions are some of the building blocks of culture and whether a candidate is a good match to the environment they’ll be working in indicates if they’re a good culture fit. 

However, it’s important to distinguish between recruiting someone who is a good cultural match and hiring people that are too similar. As Mike Silagadze, CEO of Top Hat, points out, the danger of employers focusing on finding someone who will blend well with the team is that it can lead to the “development of a monoculture in the office”. Instead, many employers are redefining culture fit as ‘culture add’ which aims at recognizing candidates who bring entirely new perspectives to the workplace. 

To find out what qualities are sought out when identifying a good cultural match, we consulted our panel of employers from industries spanning tech to public relations. What we found was that despite the varying points of focus, every employer wanted to see a candidate whose core values aligned with those of the company. Let’s take a closer look at what factors play in determining a cultural fit. 

Understanding and communicating the company’s mission and values 

Successful candidates who are passionate about the company’s goals ultimately find greater satisfaction in their roles. This is a win for both the employee and employer as it results in greater productivity in the workplace. That’s why it’s becoming increasingly important for applicants to research  a company’s mission, history and workplace environment in order to reflect on whether it’s somewhere they really see themselves working. So much so, 58% of job seekers say they chose not to apply to a company because they did not feel they’d be a good culture fit.*

Entering a new environment always comes with challenges and often you learn new things about yourself and not only adapt but discover additional strengths. However, if an appealing salary is the candidate’s only motivation to work at a company, it will quickly begin to show. Spending a large part of your day at a workplace that doesn’t share your values or support your working-style, will lead to both you and your coworkers struggling to get along and add up to more challenges down the road. 

This is where your employer brand comes in. With clearly defined missions, goals and values you can tell a compelling story about your company. This story is what will attract the right talent for your business by motivating candidates that share the same values. Third-party sites such as Indeed Company Pages provide a simple and effective medium to do your storytelling through videos, photos, and day-in-the-life insights. 

Identifying talent with the right soft skills

A company’s culture is the sum of the behaviours and attitudes expressed by each worker. How these manifest themselves in the daily practices within the workplace – teamwork, empathy, flexibility – determine the soft skills prioritized at a company.

Soft skills are packaged in the form of subtle intangible qualities that are neither teachable nor trainable but easily noticed when missing. They translate to a candidate’s ability to communicate their concerns or feedback constructively to their teammates, to resolve conflicts in a collaborative manner, to show recognition for another’s success. Soft skills add up to better interactions with coworkers which is essential for the free flow of ideas in a company. If a candidate is not able to communicate with the team, it means that even if they have good ideas, they might feel unable to express them, limiting productivity. 

However, while practically all companies expect their employees to have the soft skills needed to get along with each other, many are now seeking soft skills that distinguish their brand. This can translate to anything from providing feedback on your own and others’ work or participating in regular team building activities. Companies like Top Hat, who hire less than 1% of all applicants, have begun to establish a clear framework for identifying soft skills in candidates during the interview process. This means job seekers need to be ready to channel their skills and answer questions that show empathy, effective communication, situational problem-solving and creativity. A few questions that offer insight into a candidates soft skills include:

  • Tell me about a time when you made someone feel exceptional. 
  • How did you clarify a misunderstanding in your team?
  • Describe when you proposed a creative solution to a problem.
  • How did you approach a disagreement with your supervisor?

Culture fit versus culture add: Bringing a new perspective to the table 

An inclusive workplace culture is essential for the influx of new ideas and different ways of solving challenges. While having a cohesive set of values among employees is important, hiring people with the same interests, hobbies, working styles and aptitudes is not the aim of most hiring managers. In fact, a growing number of employers are looking for someone who has experience distinct to what the company specializes in and who brings new opinions to team. (need link) This concept is what many are coining as ‘culture add.’ What does it mean in practice? A tech start-up with a workforce consisting mainly of millennials may look to hire an older candidate with a very different scope of experiences.

In addition, a company that unites employees of distinct professional and personal backgrounds and connects people from all walks of life, fosters the development of new soft skills in workers. By creating a diverse team of people with varying experiences, employees are encouraged to become more adaptable and flexible. Interacting with those that have a different approach or methodology to solving a problem also allows team members to learn from one another. 

In the end, for most employers, culture fit does not mean finding a candidate who blends seamlessly with the team, but someone who compliments and enhances it. They want an applicant who knows the company’s mission in-depth and believes in its goals while, at the same time, adding a new outlook. The unifying aspect of culture is attitude, less of what you do and more of how you do it. So, the next time you’re looking for your next great hire, ensure you’re not only communicating your corporate culture, but asking the right questions that will reveal the people who are the best fit for your company. 

*Source: CA Decipher/ Focus Vision Data on behalf of Indeed (2018)

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