Cultural Fit: Considerations Before Interviewing

Something feels broken in our current recruiting system. Research tells us that firm success, innovativeness and bottom-line productivity depend upon having the “right” workforce, emphasizing the alignment of corporate cultural values between organizations and their employees. Yet, all around me, I see firms inviting candidates to interviews based on a system of keyword matching, looking for technical skills and previous experience, but leaving out other important job fit “intangibles” — assuming these can only be ascertained during a face-to-face conversation. Ironically, under the current system, the candidates with the best organizational or “cultural” fit may not even make the initial cut for the personal interview!

Imagine yourself as a job seeker, running your routine daily search on some online job-board. Got a match? Or have you just received an email from a recruiter with a typical one-pager from some company about a vacant position they have to fill? Encouraged that you see a match between their requirements and your own skill set, you’re ready to send your resume out…

Now, put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes who wants to fill that same vacant position. You have submitted a job description to your HR department or to a recruiter you’re working with.  They deliver to you a stack of resumes that have the strongest keyword match of technical skills and prior experiences to your job description.  It’s now time to decide who, within that resume pool, will make the initial cut and move on to a first interview.

Yet, at that moment, neither side has a clue whether there is a cultural fit between the candidate and the hiring organization. Sure, it can all be figured out in a personal interview, but again, what are the chances that the right person will even be invited?

Ok, how important is that “fit” anyway? Do the HR Professionals and Hiring Managers fully recognize its value for the hiring processes?

Scott Erker, SVP of Selection Solutions at Development Dimensions International, notes that “organizations seeking to achieve high levels of performance from their workforce are increasingly turning towards the concept of ‘fit’ as a critical factor in the success equation.

Yes, the previous experience and technical skills are still vital for the candidate to be able to perform the mechanics of the job. However, there is no guarantee that this candidate will be able to successfully transfer those skills into a new cultural environment.  If not, (s)he will either not be hired at all, or fail shortly after getting hired.

Referring to testimonials of managers as well as information from various exit interviews, Erker sees a consistent pattern for individuals failing in the workplace: “They don’t fit to the company, fit to the team or fit to the job. On the other hand, people who do fit tend to be more satisfied with their job, more engaged, and they tend to turn over less often.

If you are a hiring manager, would you rather hire a candidate who possesses better technical skills but who barely fits culturally, or one who may be a bit less matched technically but “right on the money” with your organizational culture?Which gap, skills or attitude, is easiest to close?

Carole Gumprich in her article about recruiting and training employees, notes: “A strong training program can build skills by guiding the worker through a series of exercises over time. Skills can generally be taught, but attitude is less of a training issue and more of a cultural fit issue.

In this day and age, hiring managers and recruiters rely on technology to filter out candidates based on keyword matches, while job seekers receive tons of advice on the internet about how to trick the system and get through the initial cut by getting the “right” keywords into their resumes… Let’s assume that this keyword-matching game ended with an invitation to the interview, during which either one or both sides mutually decided that the candidate is not a cultural fit for the organization and should not be pursued further. How much of their precious, valuable time has just been wasted?

Job seekers have to set aside time to prepare for the interview, go through the interview, and send a thank-you note. The hiring manager needs to find a spot in their busy schedule to meet the candidate, conduct the interview and perform other post-interview activities (discussions, reviews, etc.).

Have you ever, either as a job seeker or a hiring manager, said to yourself – if I had known that it wasn’t a good match I wouldn’t even have bothered doing it!

How can both job seekers and hiring managers increase the odds that they are finding their match?

For job seekers: pay more attention to the cultural values of the organization you’re applying to. This information is definitely obtainable. First, do you have any connections to people in the company?  Search the contacts you’ve made through any personal and professional networking sites you use, such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Fast Pitch. Check the company’s website, consult the recruiter – look for the right messages! Here is an example of General Electric’s messaging about their desired candidates, who “stimulate and relish change and are not frightened or paralyzed by it, see change as an opportunity, not a threat,” or “have a passion for excellence, hating bureaucracy and all the nonsense that comes with it.” These messages clearly demonstrate the corporate culture in GE, and show what kind of people can succeed there.

For recruiters and hiring managers: enhance the application process by adding a quick questionnaire. Avoid direct queries where the desired answers are easily recognizable (e.g. “Are you a team player?” – Sure I am!). Move the applicants away from “selling” mode to “real-life” mode by instituting a Situational Judgment Test on cultural values, assessing candidates’ actions in hypothetical work-related circumstances. The use of Situational Judgment Tests goes back to the 1920s and they are still widely used today. A strong level of validity of those tests on predicting overall job performance, dedication and interpersonal facilitation has been backed up by scholarly research conducted by Chan and Schmitt (2002), Clevenger, Pereira, Wiechmann, Schmitt, and Harvey (2001), McDaniel, Morgeson, Finnegan, Campion, and Braverman (2001), and many others.

Incorporating Situational Judgment Test results into the information about candidate’s technical skills and experience from the resume, will allow you to make more educated predictions as to whether this candidate is a good overall fit for the company. You may find that your initial cut selected for the personal interview would look much different from the traditional keyword-matching approach and you’ll have a much more suitable pool of candidates to fill your vacant position.


Chan, D., Shmitt N. (2002). Situational Judgment and Job Performance, Human Performance, 15(3), 233–254
Clevenger, J., Pereira, G. M., Wiechmann, D., Schmitt, N.,&Harvey, V. S. (2001). Incremental validity of situational judgment tests. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 410–417.
Erker S, (2009) Advances in Culture-Fit Assessment, Human Resource Executive Online
Gumprich, M. (2007). Recruiting and Training Employees, London Swine Conference – Today’s Challenges… Tomorrow’s Opportunities
McDaniel, M. A., Morgeson, F. P., Finnegan, E. B., Campion, M. A., & Braverman, E. P. (2001). Predicting job performance using situational judgment tests: A clarification of the literature. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 730–740.