Diversity & inclusion5 min read

How to hire for culture add vs culture fit

Aubrey Blanche, Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian, calls ‘culture fit’ one of the worst talent concepts that have ever been invented, one that is anti-innovation, pro-group think, and highly discriminatory.

Instead, she propagates interviewing for values alignment, and what has been coined as culture contribution, i.e. looking for the specific behaviors that are congruent with your corporate values. These might include:

  • A commitment to candor and transparency
  • Thinking about the folks around you
  • Finding some joy in your work

⚠️ Beware of “cultural fit” thinking. The idea behind “fit” is that you want to hire people like you to build a harmonious team – usually people with a similar background and personality.

It’s at odds with building a truly diverse team, diverse not just in inherent demographics but also in subtler dimensions like personality, ways of thinking and communication styles. That’s not great if you want to reap the benefits of diversity.

The solution? Instead of hiring for culture fit, hire for cultural contribution. Analyze what’s missing from your culture, and go out of your way to recruit people who can bring that to the table.

Why? According to a Harvard research, “Having only one woman or minority in a pool of finalists highlights how different he or she is from the norm – and decision-makers often unconsciously associate difference with risk or even incompetence.”

What is the bright spot here? The reverse is true, too. You can use bias in favor of the status quo to actually change the status quo. For instance, if your team is male-dominated and your aim is to hire more women, you want to bring in as many qualified female candidates as possible at the first stage.

A good starting point is to be aware of your biases throughout the hiring process, especially when making a final decision or taking a candidate out of the running. Be critical of your own thinking and test for real evidence. Ask yourself:

  • What’s the data that indicates your favored candidate is actually best for the job? Or another is unsuitable for the job?
  • Is it possible your unconscious assumptions about him or her influenced your lens in the process?

We’re all biased – it’s natural! But, it can put different types of people at a disadvantage if you don’t do anything about it. Anonymising CV’s can make the hiring process unbiased.

According to GapJumpers, one of a handful of Silicon Valley start-ups peddling technological fixes for hiring practices, with traditional CV screening, only 20% of applicants who were not white, male, able-bodied people from elite schools made it to a first-round interview.

But using the “blind auditions” interview format, 60% did. That’s the staggering impact of interrupting our biases.

You can also try giving candidates a screening task or assessment to assess how well they’ll do the job, or even asking your recruiter to manually strip out identifiers in their initial shortlist.

We’ve all had that experience of interviewing someone and immediately hitting it off.

But here’s why that’s actually problematic: in that 15 mins you spent talking about windsurfing with Candidate A, you were asking tough questions of Candidates B and C. So, your ultimate assessment won’t be comparing apples to apples.

The solution? Map out your interview questions in advance based on the competencies and attributes required for the role. Ask each candidate the same questions, in the same order. Don’t let organic discussions allow you to stray from the course.

💡 NB: it might help to kick off the interview by explaining that you’ll do this – occasionally it can feel you’re awkwardly shifting topics.

⚠️ WARNING: Beware of groupthink. Hearing others’ assessments before you interview an individual isn’t right. The purpose of interviews with multiple people is to maximize the quality of thinking and quality of assessment of candidates.

📏 Compare candidates horizontally

Instead of going through each candidate one by one, start by looking at the strength of responses to the first question and compare how each candidate did on that specific question. Continue that way through your list of interview questions.

This avoids getting entrapped by the 👼 Halo Effect bias, where we tend to think a candidate has the right attributes for the job simply because we had a positive overall impression of them.

🤔 Ask the right questions and consider tests

Ask candidates questions directly related to the competencies they’ll need to succeed in the role.

This can be assessed in multiple ways. The most useful is through a practical test, ‘homework’ assignment or presentation where you can assess performance objectively.

Failing that, it’s always a good idea to ask situational interview questions focussed on on-the-job performance such as, “Tell me about a time when you had to handle a stressful situation.”

🚀 Recruit from less traditional avenues

Another bright idea for hiring more diversely is to consider different and less traditional avenues to source candidates you might not otherwise find.

An eye-opening article on how Slack is smashing it when it comes to the diversity hiring game in Silicon Valley reveals how this could work in practice.

 

The bottom line?

Ban the phrase “culture fit” at your organization – you’ll end up hiring people like your existing team (or superficially different). Look instead for cultural contribution – candidates who fill the talent and skills gaps in your current team.

Be critical of your own thinking and hiring process and test for real evidence. Simple tweaks to your interview process can really elevate the probability of hiring more diverse candidates.

 

💬 Speak your mind

How are you creating an inclusive and equitable environment at your workplace? We’re are always keen to hear your stories! Drop your comments, feedback, or whatever else you’d like to share with us here.

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