Hiring for Cultural Fit or for Diversity?

A thin, dividing line exists between hiring for diversity and for a cultural fit. If hiring personnel and company decision-makers are not mindful of their recruitment and selection processes, they may end up discriminating against otherwise qualified job candidates.

A good point to bear in mind is to be ethical in one’s recruitment and hiring practices means to be respectful of the individual candidate. Remember, most job applicants do spend time preparing for their job hunt: resumes, setting up appointments, going through the usual stages of written exams and interviews. They also spend time to look well-groomed for their interviews.

Thus, a big responsibility lies on recruitment and hiring personnel because their behaviors and decisions can impact job candidates in a big way too: They can either build or destroy a person’s confidence and self-esteem.

This responsibility is made more challenging as hiring people are also aware of the need to hire those who are the best match, not only for the open position but for the culture of the organization.

What Is a Cultural Fit? 

Finding a cultural fit is looking for someone who is aligned with a company’s culture. Corporate culture is defined as the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires.

According to the same source above, a company’s culture will be reflected in its dress code, business hours, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction, and every other aspect of operations.

The Importance of Culture Fit

Because each organization has its own dynamics, it is just fitting that companies seek individuals who can interrelate, blend well with the other employees, and perform well in their milieu.

Based on studies, culture fit benefits both the employer and employees. One such research conducted with top professional firms as subjects, concluded: Hiring is more than a process of skills sorting; it is alsoa process of cultural matching between candidates, evaluators, and firms. 

Cultural similarities influenced candidate evaluation in multiple, overlapping ways. Cultural fit was a formal evaluative criterion mandated by organizations and embraced by individual evaluators. Moreover, evaluators constructed and assessed merit in their own image, believing that culturally-similar applicants were better candidates. Finally, evaluators implicitly gravitated toward and explicitly fought for candidates with whom they felt an emotional spark of commonality.

On the other hand, employees find it more inspiring to work in a company where they feel a sense of belonging, where the bosses and co-workers encourage a balance of teamwork and individual contribution. Equally important is the alignment of the company’s work ethics with their own personal values.

Employees who are cultural fit experience greater satisfaction, and this in turn, boosts the company’s bottomline. According to an infographic from Entrepreneur, businesses that have high-level engagement with employees enjoy a 28% increase in earnings growth, while businesses with low-level engagement suffer an 11% decrease in earnings growth. This is particularly problematic because only 13% of employees feel engaged at work. – See more at:

How Culture Fit Can Turn to Discrimination

In the name of finding the best employees, managers tend to select candidates that are like-minded, believing they can contribute to their company’s productivity and profitability. In fact, if done well, hiring for culture fit can indeed give great results, as one NY article said. 

According to the article, the concept of culture fit first gained traction in the 1980s. The original idea was that if companies hired individuals whose personalities and values — and not just their skills — meshed with an organization’s strategy, workers would feel more attached to their jobs, work harder and stay longer. But it also said that in many organizations, fit has gone rogue, […] fit was not about a match with organizational values. It was about personal fit. 

In these time- and team-intensive jobs, professionals at all levels of seniority reported wanting to hire people with whom they enjoyed hanging out and could foresee developing close relationships with.

Many employees report having felt left out or not fitting in with the office crowd, or with their immediate superiors, at some point in their careers. Some stayed, but many opted to move on to other jobs where they felt more accepted. One of the things these employees observed was ‘favoritism.’

Take the case of a bright, young technocrat in the supply chain industry who decided to join an organization with the belief it would the best career move for him at that point. He had all the credentials, skills, and knowledge required of the position, and he continued to attend certificate courses to gain new knowledge and skills. 

In the previous company, he was often recognized with employee awards due to his sterling performance and work attitude. Yet in the new company, he immediately felt his work goals for the department, were not aligned with his immediate boss, and his contribution was not appreciated. 

He also noticed preferrential treatment for older employees. The boss demanded unrealistic goals, while at the same time grabbing credit for a job well done. Finally, when the young employee decided to resign, he was told that it was not his performance, but that he was simply not a culture fit.

Favoritism, bias, preferrential treatmemt, discrimination – these are all the same, and they create a toxic workplace and wreak havoc on one’s promising career. And they can start to show up even in the hiring/selecting stage. 

The danger here is when culture fit becomes an excuse not to hire somebody, not on the basis of one’s lack of the basic requirements for the job, but solely on the hiring manager’s “personal fit” – race/ethnicity, class, status, education, among others.

This article on leadership tackles that risk, as well as how to overcome this: And, as happens all too often when a phrase gets popular, some of the things “cultural fit” has lately come to mean are pretty unfortunate. As in Friedman’s case, he’s defining “cultural fit” as an unhealthy and exclusionary lack of diversity.

Safeguards against Hiring Discrimination Practices

HR personnel, recruitment, and hiring managers should avoid hiring discrimination practices, such as those outlined by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). This is the legal aspect of hiring.

In addition, one should observe ethics in recruitment and selection. Ethics are the basic concepts and fundamental priniciples of decent human life, and these include such universal values as equality of all men and women and human/natural rights. (Business Dictionary) Practicing ethics in recruitment and selection basically means giving respect to the individual. Respect is appreciating the worth of someone or something. 

Some guidelines in the observance of ethics in recruiting and hiring (People Manager): 

  • Be fair and objective in assessing a job applicant’s resume and the individual (during interviews). 
  • Avoid the prohibitive practices set out by the EEOC. 
  • Be courteous in dealing with the person. 
  • Base hiring decisions on facts/data, such as the candidate’s qualifications, solid data gathered during the interview(s), exam(s) and observable behavior. 
  • Write an assessment based on competencies and objective standards, such as the requirements of the position.
  • Inform the person of the status of his/her application.    

So, Hire for Diversity or for Culture Fit?

Gathering a great team of people that can gel together in the workplace makes working fun and productive, but it runs the risk of marginalizing otherwise qualified candidates based on the subjective interpretation of culture fit by the person(s) doing the recruiting and selecting – unless these people are ethical in their practices.

Still on the other hand, even if hiring personnel observe ethics in their selection of the best candidate for the position, hiring for culture fit may also end up making the company less diverse than it wants to or should be. There is indeed a thin, dividing line between building diversity in the workplace and hiring for culture fit. This then calls for the intricate art of balancing the need to meet these two goals.

The article on leadership mentioned above couldn’t have said it any better:
“How about if we make sure that when we say “someone is a cultural fit,” we mean “this person holds similar core values to the core values that are essential to who we are as an organization.” That implies that we need to get clear about what those core values are, sort for them during our hiring process – and welcome all kinds of diversity beyond that core values match. We’ll be able to build teams and organizations where employees find the work meaningful and engaging, while at the same time bringing all the uniqueness of who they are and how they think to that work. Then we’ll have organizations that deliver on their values by leveraging people’s differences, and cultural fit will be a useful standard for this century.”