Cultural Fit

4 min read

There’s been renewed discussion recently about cultural fit, what it means, and its place in your hiring process. This pendulum has been swinging for years, because there are strong arguments both for and against.

As usual, the answer lies between the extremes. A thoughtful cultural interview, as one component of a comprehensive hiring process, can provide some of the positives while avoiding the worst negatives. But how?

Here are a few guidelines for approaching cultural criteria. NOTE: You don’t have to own the company to do this stuff! A team or an individual hiring manager writing a single job post can take each of these steps and make a positive difference, for your team and for the industry.


1. You’ve had a long discussion about what EXACTLY culture fit means

The tendency for cultural fit to become a biased criteria is very real and problematic. Successful cultural interviewing is mostly about actively searching for and removing (or at least reducing) that bias. Evaluating someone against a vague or unspoken criteria is a surefire way to let bias run rampant. Begin by defining exactly what you truly value about your company’s culture and potential candidates.

Question everything! Your job descriptions always list “BS in Computer Science”? Why? Some of my best coworkers have been theater majors. Who exactly are you weeding out when you say you need a bachelor’s degree? People who can’t afford one, people who are trying to transition from a different career through a coding bootcamp, people who are self taught, etc. You’re accidentally eliminating huge swaths of the talent pool, and tech industry minorities are inordinately affected by these generalized requirements.

So be more specific - what are you using that degree to proxy? Someone smart? Someone driven? Someone good at algorithms? Just say THAT stuff, and be open about how people can demonstrate their abilities in these areas.

2. You’ve written down that list of values

Your values discussion was probably pretty fun actually! Hopefully it brought out the best of everyone’s aspirations. Write down the result so everyone has the same understanding. This will prevent misremembering and definition-drift as people continue to discuss. You probably aren’t going to want to put the list directly in your job post - or will you? Either way, having it written down as a reference will help you craft the post.

Removing bias from job postings is an entire separate post (or book). I’ve learned everything I know from some excellent tweeps, check my faves or watch for RTs.

3. Your entire hiring team knows, understands, and buys into the list of values

If you’re at a small company maybe everyone has been involved in this whole process, but more likely some of the people in the hiring funnel were not part of the values discussion. Get them on board! Anyone in the funnel can undermine your best intentions by alienating your candidates or going into an interview with unreasonable/irrelevant expectations. If you did the first step properly, this should be relatively easy because hopefully everyone already working at your company embodies your company values!

4. Rinse and repeat

Are all your candidates cishet white guys in their twenties? Maybe you didn’t do a great job on your job post or need to make a bigger effort to reach out to other groups. Are tech industry minorities failing your cultural interview? Maybe you fell prey to some accidental bias.

Hiring is a process. Reducing bias is a process. Changing the culture of your company is a process. If something isn’t working, just change it up. We’re all learning and growing, you don’t have to create the perfect hiring process the first time around but you do have to try.

For example…

If it helps, my personal preferred “cultural fit” these days is characterized by two things. First is respect for others - don’t judge, don’t put people down, let everyone live their lives, we’re all on the same team. Second is a growth mindset. I want to work with people who take their career seriously, believe that learning is the cornerstone of success, and are always excited to take on a new challenge. Those are the only things I correlate with success in my company and the only things I try to evaluate. YMMV :)