Is Hiring For Culture Fit Another Form Of Unconscious Bias?

Sabrina Son

Having a high-quality company culture is becoming more and more important in today’s business landscape. A 2018 Korn Ferry survey found that in the last five years, company culture has become the most important factor in hiring.

But there are different ways to approach hiring for culture fit. And if you choose the wrong one, you could end up with an office full of people who all look, think, and work alike.

This is bad news if your vision of your business includes creative problem solving and rapid growth. Below, we will cover the potential downsides of hiring for cultural fit, as well as an alternative approach that can help your business flourish in the long run.

What Does It Mean to Hire for Culture Fit?

First, we should take a look at what “hiring for culture fit” actually means.

When you’re hiring for culture fit, you’re essentially looking for candidates that you think will fit well into your current company culture and way of work. While this isn’t bad in and of itself, it can lead to unconscious biases in the hiring process.

People will instinctively respond better to other people with backgrounds and experiences similar to their own. This is also true for recruiters.

In the end, this can cause, as HR consultant Patty McCord puts it, “hiring people you’d like to have a beer with.” And even though this may foster a more relaxed working environment, the quality of your team’s work might suffer.

Why Hiring for Culture Fit Might Not Work

As we mentioned above, hiring for culture fit alone doesn’t ensure innovation and forward-thinking. It only makes sure potential candidates can thrive in your team as it is today.

Here are some more potential downsides of hiring for culture fit:

Lack of Diversity

This is the biggest and most obvious drawback. While diversity for diversity’s sake doesn’t necessarily hold any more merit than hiring for culture fit, having a team of people with diverse backgrounds is a great way to foster creativity and innovation in your workplace.

On the opposite end, hiring for culture fit can lead to sameness, which tends to foster groupthink and stagnation.

Missing Out on Opportunities

Going back to what we mentioned above, you will unconsciously tend to hire people with a similar background to yours. This is perfectly natural, but it can lead to a lot of missed opportunities and passing on top talent.

Consider looking outside the scope of your network when hiring new talent. Evaluate potential candidates on what they can bring to the table, rather than on how they will fit in the existing structure.

Unconscious Bias

All of the factors we mentioned above stem from our own unconscious biases when looking for people to work with. This is then reinforced by the first impression we get during the interview stage.

Even earlier than that, looking at the candidate’s picture or reading the background portion of their resume can color our perception and skew our judgment. We end up using irrelevant criteria when choosing the right candidate, which only serves to weaken our business in the long run.

Hiring for ‘Culture Add’—An Appealing Alternative

By now, we’ve covered how hiring solely for culture fit can end up backfiring. This doesn’t mean you should hire people without any consideration for your company culture, though.

Hiring for ‘culture add’ provides an interesting alternative to hiring for culture fit.

With this approach, you’re not just looking at how well a potential candidate can fit into your current company culture. You’re also taking into account what they can bring to your business and how they can help steer the future of your company culture in the right direction.

How to Hire for ‘Culture Add’

This approach may be more effective than hiring for culture fit in the long run, but it does need a little forethought. Here are some factors to take into consideration when hiring for ‘culture add:’

Consider Long-Term Candidate Effectiveness

If your business is experiencing rapid growth and you’re looking to quickly hire a number of candidates, it might be tempting to fall back to hiring for culture fit. After all, this way you can quickly add talent you know will fit right in with the rest of your team.

However, it might be worthwhile to take a step back and consider the long-term effectiveness of new hires.

While it is important to find candidates that can quickly get up to speed with what the company is doing now, you need to make sure new hires are ready to evolve and change directions along with your business.

To do this, in addition to looking at candidate skills and qualifications, also consider their potential and adaptability.

Get to Know Your Candidates’ Preferences

While interviewing potential candidates, ask them to describe their ideal work environment. Also, ask them to describe some of the ways a company culture may work for other people, but not for them.

This will allow you to pick up on any aspects of your current company culture the candidate might not like, while also seeing if their preferred culture is the direction you want to take your business.

Consider the Effects of Current Culture Fit

You may find that a candidate has a problem with an aspect of your current company culture, but would fit in well once you decide to take your business in a new direction.

If this happens, you should have an honest conversation with the candidate. While it’s important you hire for ‘culture add’, you shouldn’t risk bringing down the effectiveness of your team by hiring a candidate that may someday be a good fit.

What Do They Add?

Finally, you need to assess if the value a candidate brings to your company culture aligns with your company’s vision of the future. Even if some individual preferences aren’t met right away, aligning your purpose with your candidate will lead to growth and better company culture.

Hiring for culture fit can foster unconscious biases that will have you leading a homogenous team, stifling creativity and your company’s potential for growth. Hiring for ‘culture add’ might be the perfect solution for this problem. With some planning and forethought, you can make sure you’re hiring candidates that will not only fit into your current company culture but will be able to take it in the right direction for years to come.


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