Your cultural fit dilemmas answered

  • Sep 28, 2019
  • Your cultural fit dilemmas answered

    The collective alignment of values, beliefs and behaviours among employees is a key ingredient of a successful workforce. It is also a necessity for the employee and leadership of any business to ensure their visions and ethos are being executed. This concept of screening potential candidates to determine the cultural impact they would have on the organisation is known as cultural fit. This recruitment trend is now favoured by 80% of managers as a priority when hiring new staff. Cultural fit, however, comes with many of its dilemmas and ‘what if’ scenarios. Here, we address some of the most common situations that may come up for employees in their quest for a healthy workplace environment.    


    When one interview isn’t enough

    Leveraging cultural fit over professional experience can be time-consuming and counter-productive, therefore it is ideal that you ensure your interview includes questions that best reveal the candidates’ character, temperament and values. However, the weight of the burden carried with cultural fit pre-screening can be excessive and requires multiple interviews and the input of other staff to execute at a greater ease. 

    Ask your team from all levels in the organisation what their first impressions are. Watch how the candidates address managers in comparison to entry-level employees. Perhaps also invite candidates to a staff social event and see how they get along outside of the work environment. Workplace culture is all about how the employees work together after all, so observing this in advance is often more crucial than an employee’s own interview observations.


    Individual skills vs cultural fit

    A common dilemma faced by any employee in a recruitment process is the inevitability that candidates often tick some boxes more than others. The question then leads to which attribute should be prioritised. Imagine a scenario where you have two candidates to choose from – one with diverse skills, an Ivy League education and years of working in similar roles, then another who may lack the same extent of attributes but shows charisma and personality. The initial instinct would often be to choose the first. However, think of one of the worst case scenarios for any workplace – a toxic office culture. Anyone who has witnessed or been involved in a toxic environment will know how destructive it can be in the company, sometimes even bringing.

    With this in mind and when deciding in recruitment what is best for the wider goal of cultural fit and a cohesive office, choosing the candidate that you find that common ground with and who will align most with the company is the safer bet. A motivated individual who’s open to learning, growing and working with their peers will be much easier to onboard in the long term. After all, skills can be learnt, but personality is engrained.


    Common values vs diversity of ideas

    The cultural fit agenda does come with its own flaws and contradictions. For example, If solely employing those who the employee feels a personal identification with, an overwhelmingly homogenous way of thinking in the workplace emerges – one which can prevent that radical, transformative change that can take your company from 10 to 1000. While employing those destined to align with the values and vision of the company should be the priority, culture diversification (in terms of the way of working and thinking) in the workplace, is a key dynamic for growth. 

    The practice of seeking personal connections instead of identifying common values within a candidate is known as the “beer test” in which when choosing between two candidates, you go with the person you’d enjoy having a beer with. According to IE Business School’s Celia de Anca, this leads to companies appearing diverse externally,, but remaining intrinsically homogenous. She states – “The beauty of diversity is to have different, unique people come together to work on a common project.” That being said, the common understanding of ‘diversity’ appears to take a different meaning in the cultural fit agenda.


    To data or not to data?

    Other than personal bias, another factor that causes a rift between cultural fit and the element of diversity needed in recruitment is that of ‘big data’. This is a current trend where companies select people scientifically by using sophisticated profiling techniques and algorithms, scanning for buzzwords that they feel identifies a candidate as ‘cultural fit material’. While this is useful for big companies in saving time and resources, it can be regressive in many ways and the issue today is more with how companies are using it rather than the tool itself.

    There are two flaws that emerge from an over-reliance on data. One is that it may block out those divergent individuals who do not fit easily into any given prototype, meaning the company loses out on the very characters that can act as ‘translators’ between the various departments given that they never fully fit into one. Secondly, when recruiting for respective departments, over-relying on recruiting personalities based on algorithms will further homogenised and isolate these departments by making the tribes such as the ‘IT guys’ close in on themselves. This will affect cross-department coordination. 


    Therefore, it seems the simple answer to all the above dilemmas is awareness and moderation – awareness of the flaws and potential implications when over-relying on cultural fit techniques, and moderation of these uses.

    In finding a cultural fit for your organisation, AIESEC provides candidates from around the world that will both diversify and moderately homogenise the workplace environment, head to our Partners Opportunity Portal where you can start practicing the answers to the above dilemmas.

    Written by

    Rory Wade

    A global citizen striving to understand the world around him through leadership and cross-cultural exchange. I have a special interest in how businesses and organisations can be sources of positive change in the world and lives of its citizens.