What Does Hiring for Culture Fit Really Mean?


The term ‘culture fit’ has become commonplace in today’s workplace, but what does it really mean? With all the investment that organizations put into the training and retention of new hires, hiring the right person is crucial from the get-go. Tools such as culture fit interviews can help companies - and applicants - find the right fit.

The Benefits of Committable Core Values

Core values by themselves won’t strengthen a company unless they are committable and an organization is willing to both hire - and fire- by them. Zappos has two sets of interviews: the skills interview and the culture interview, and candidates must pass both. The culture interview is based on Zappos’ 10 Core Values; if an applicant doesn’t pass it, they don’t move forward in the process, regardless of how much of a technical fit they may be. Past behaviors and touchpoints that come up during the interview that are contrary to the core values are red flags. “We infuse culture into every step of the recruiting process,” says Mike Bailen, Senior HR Manager at Zappos. “We really place such a high value on culture that if a candidate demonstrates behaviors out of alignment with our core values, we will stop the process right there.” Creating an interview process that reviews more than just technical skills allows both companies and candidates to get to know each other and offers a better understanding of each other’s personalities. After all, an interview is a two-way street: an awkward first date where both parties are seeing if they want to take this relationship to the next level.

Do Culture Fit Interviews Limit Diversity?

So what is a culture fit, anyway? Does it mean signing up to be a company clone, a Yes man or a Yes woman? Can candidates be a culture fit and still be themselves? “We believe you can put your best foot forward and still be you - core values are our guide,” says Christa Foley, Senior Manager HR & Zappos Insights. “People energize the core values in different ways and some people embody different core values than others. All we’re looking to find out is that you aren’t opposed to any of the core values.” And given that the occasional parade makes its way through Zappos HQ now and again, Foley adds that “you don’t have to be leading the parade, but you can’t be upset about the parade passing by.” Diversity in a company spurs innovation. Bailen notes, “Diversity is critical to the health of a company. That's how innovation starts - a fresh pair of eyes. That's the only way we can push this company forward.” Providing a space where collaboration and innovation can flourish is also pivotal. An introvert himself, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said, “I view my role more as trying to set up an environment where the personalities, creativity, and individuality of all the different employees come out and can shine.”

Slow to Hire, Quick to Fire

"Most companies are very quick to hire and slow to fire, when really it should be the other way around." - Tony Hsieh

Being ‘slow to hire’ may seem like a hindrance when you need talent yesterday, but doing so can help your company in the long run. “When you’re too quick to hire, you can miss something,” says Bailen. “Make sure you’re doing your due diligence on the front end and don’t be afraid to part ways if it’s not a match.” Shake things up with out-of-the-box interview questions to vet different behaviors and bring out a candidate’s personality. Finding out what they’re interested in and what they like doing helps recruiters relate to applicants individually.

Adding new components to the interview process can be an opportunity for companies to be more transparent about who they are and what they’re looking for and can contribute more helpful data points than just what’s on paper.

Author: Erica Spelman

Tags: Recruiting, HR

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