Company culture matters. Whether a company boasts a positive culture or suffers from a toxic culture, it directly affects employee retention, productivity, and the company’s competitive advantage in the market.
Companies know this, too. It’s why so many devote entire departments, budgets, and initiatives to building out a culture unique to the values and beliefs of the company. In an effort to preserve that culture, some companies seek out candidates likely to best fit and help maintain their culture. It’s a practice known as hiring for culture fit, and it’s dangerous.
Hiring for culture fit limits a company’s potential for creativity and innovation, but it also completely dismisses the benefits that hiring for diversity offers, like better decision-making, improved employee engagement, and better financial performance.
Weighing candidates against a fixed idea of culture puts limits on both your company and the candidate. Instead, consider adopting a hiring approach that helps your company identify candidates who will shape, grow, and add to your company culture.
Onboard people who bring something new to your company
A “culture add” approach to hiring has many other names—culture enhancement, cultural contribution, culture complement—but the takeaway is the same. Rather than weighing whether a candidate will fit in, consider what they can bring to your company to challenge and shape it for the better.
New hires by ethnicity. Check out ChartHop's DEI capabilities.
Shopify started out favoring cultural fit, but their recruitment and hiring strategies changed as they defined what they valued as a company. They didn’t want more of the same—they wanted to grow. And growth meant challenging their status quo. So they sought out culture adds, or candidates who brought to the table unique perspectives or skill sets that would enhance their current culture.
We did not have a blueprint to build out the ideal culture add at Shopify, It was a product of deliberate learning and introspection.
Anna Lambert, Director of Talent Acquisition @ Shopify
Like a values fit, hiring for culture add requires that your company dig deep to define what really matters to you and your existing workforce. Without knowing what you're working for or toward, how can you identify talent that will help you get there?
At Shopify, this meant getting real about what they looked for during candidates’ Life Story interview: impact, self-awareness, trust, engagement, and readiness. Each quality invites candidates to share experiences, knowledge, interests, and personal insights that go beyond the typical education or experience conversation and hold personal meaning for the candidate.
Say your company develops software for restaurants. You’re eager to grow your product-design team, and you think the current team might benefit from new perspectives. You interview a candidate who has some design experience, but in getting to know them, you learn that they worked in the restaurant industry throughout college. They moved from bussing tables to the kitchen to shift lead. They know the industry. More importantly, they know the pain points and how restaurants use technology.
While this candidate may not have the years of experience that other team members do, their personal experience brings invaluable insight and knowledge that they can share with the team to help improve product design and user workflows.
When you have a strong sense of culture, it might be instinctive to protect it. But approaching hiring with a culture add mind-set invites candidates to showcase their unique perspectives and backgrounds. Considering neurodiverse candidates or candidates with a nontraditional career path can give your company a competitive edge, but it also gives candidates the chance to share and celebrate important parts of their identity.
How to make this approach work for your company:
- Take interest in the person sitting across from you, not the person on paper. Ask open-ended questions that invite candidates to share unique perspectives, stories, and skills. Being the one to ask lets candidates know they should feel comfortable discussing these topics.
- Know where your company wants to go, and be open to how you get there. Before you start interviews, identify where your company, department, or team wants to go and what skills might help you get there.
- Cast a wide net. If you’re looking for candidates who can bring something new or different to the table, consider looking beyond your traditional hiring zone. Reach out to newsletters, forums, groups, and job sites that target underrepresented groups, and see whether they’ll include your job postings.
Consider what candidates are capable of, not just what they’ve already done
Job descriptions can come with a long list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, but such specific criteria can limit your applicant pool. A Hewlett Packard report found that women applied for a job only if they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men applied if they met about 60% of those criteria.
Women were more likely not to apply for a job they weren’t 100% qualified for, for fear they’d fail. Source
Maybe that’s why Buffer makes it a point to include only what is absolutely necessary in their job descriptions. They also encourage applicants to apply even if they don’t hit every criterion. They’re open to potential.
When you hire for potential, you open your applicant pool wider than ever before.
No longer limited to having experience in a relevant industry or having the “right” college degree, you can explore more nontraditional aspects of an applicant’s resume.
Consider these two candidates for a marketing position: Your first candidate has a business degree from a well-known university and fits your criterion of five years’ marketing experience. Your second candidate majored in art history at a small college and has only two years of experience. But, unlike the first candidate, the second candidate is active in several marketing organizations, has done marketing pro bono for local volunteer organizations, and regularly connects with other marketing professionals and thought leaders on social media.
It’s a classic experience-versus-potential debate. While your second candidate might not have the years of experience or related education, they actively take on new challenges and show interest in growing professionally.
Why is this important to call out? Because potential is considered an important predictor of success, and because prior experience doesn’t always equal quality performance. Your first candidate may have five years of experience, but maybe the last two were with a company that didn’t challenge them, so they did the minimum needed to meet their goals.
Potential also taps into how a candidate might grow at your company and, as a result, drive change.
The question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.
Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Global Expert on Talent and Leadership
Potential brings new perspectives and an internal motivation to learn, ask hard questions, and think creatively.
Hiring for potential means acknowledging everything a candidate brings to the table. Interests speak to goals and desires, passions become untapped talents, and backgrounds and outside experiences showcase once-hidden opportunities. When, as a hiring professional, you seek unlocked potential in candidates, you give them the chance to show parts of their identity previously checked at the office door.
How to make this approach work for your company:
- Know what potential means to your company. Like other hiring criteria, potential must be measured fairly across all candidates. That means giving all candidates the same opportunity to show their potential by using consistent questioning and interview assessments.
- Take note of how candidates describe their experiences. You can learn a lot about a candidate’s passions and interests by paying attention to the words they choose when talking about their life and their past work experience.
- Curiosity is a hallmark of potential. Be on the lookout for candidates who ask thoughtful questions about the role and about the company and the leadership throughout the interview process. Be wary of candidates who don’t ask any questions or who rely on run-of-the-mill questions they feel obligated to ask.
Adopt an objective, data-driven approach to growing your teams
Without clear and objective hiring criteria, it becomes difficult — if not impossible — to ensure a fair experience for all candidates. Interviewers rely on a "gut check," leaning into perceived similarities between themselves and the candidates to determine whether the candidates will fit in with the current culture. It’s a practice that invites bias into the hiring process, whether conscious or unconscious.
But with data, your company can approach your hiring process with a clearer understanding of your needs, the skills required of applicants, and the means to measure those requirements fairly across all candidates.
Skills mapping can help your company identify hiring needs. You can analyze skills of your current workforce to determine what gaps exist and, therefore, which skills you should look for in applicants.
Take software developers, for example. Say data shows that your current developers aren’t as fluent in front-end programming languages as your engineering leads would like. It’s not a drawback but an opportunity. Now, you can focus hiring efforts on bringing on board specialized front-end developers, or full-stack developers, who are skilled in both front-end and back-end programming.
Data can also help you assess desired skills, like adaptability. When compared with a general “cultural fit,” research finds that adaptability is a stronger predictor of success. Candidates with demonstrated adaptability are better able to adapt to company norms over time than those candidates who were a perfect cultural fit at the time of hire.
Skills assessments help you measure components of adaptability, such as critical thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence, making it easier for your team to identify flexible hires.
Here's an example org showing the org chart organized by skills. Learn more about ChartHop's org chart here.
When you get specific and objective about how you define and measure hiring criteria, it’s easier to apply that criteria fairly across all applicants.
Buffer strives for that level of objectivity and consistency in their interview process. “Our interview questions are the same for each candidate, asked in the same order each time, and we already have in mind (and on paper) what elements we’re looking for in the answer,” writes Courtney Seiter, Buffer’s director of people.
Approaching your hiring process with data and intention is a game changer. Not only are you better equipped to identify the best hires for your company, but you’re doing so in a way that holds your company accountable to your goals, the public, and, most importantly, your people.
How to make this approach work for your company:
- Interview candidates consistently and equally. All candidates should be given the opportunity to answer the same set of predetermined questions. Only then can you fairly determine the best hire.
- Get objective and clear on how you define your criteria. Know what your needs are, and be specific. Identify skills, build accurate assessments, and ensure that your criteria are free of biased intention and language. Train your hiring managers so they’re better able to understand what is expected of the process.
- Humanize your data. Data isn’t just numbers. Also consider qualitative data. Give candidates post-interview surveys, where they can write down honest responses about your interview and hiring process. This is crucial information in helping your team shape a more inclusive approach to hiring.
Stop asking people to fit in when everyone benefits from them standing out
Diversity brings countless advantages to the workplace. Innovation, increased productivity, and better decision-making and problem-solving are just a few. But companies do diversity, their employees, and their own culture a disservice when they seek to limit what is considered a “good fit.”
Employees should feel comfortable being themselves at work, and a hiring process that honors and welcomes that level of diversity and authenticity will only continue to see benefits.
We'd love to partner with you in operationalizing this work. Our DEI Reporting capabilities are a great place to start!