Culture Fit – Why & How To Assess For It

by Mark Ellwood

Culture Fit -Star Wars on Sesame Street?

During our careers, many of us have spent time working in environments that we felt we just didn’t fit into. Maybe you’re the jeans and t-shirt type who likes very flexible hours and a very loud, playful office atmosphere. Or maybe you prefer a total separation of work and personal life and prefer a smartly dressed office with more of a nine-to-five working arrangement. Taking either of these people, and transplanting them in the other’s preferred environment could lead to problems of motivation and productivity. We’re talking here about cultural fit.


Why is Cultural Fit important?


Hiring new employees is an expensive business in terms of both time and resources and we all want to make sure those are well spent. When you hire someone new, you want to make the best effort to ensure that person will be a valuable employee who stays with the company for a long tenure and experiences a high degree of job satisfaction. And research has shown, time and again, that this is most likely when the person hired shares the employment and business goals, aspirations and values of the people around them, and more so if those are aligned with the company. Conversely, when people find a mis-match, they are quick to leave, and this can cost dearly. In fact, a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study found that turnover resulting from poor cultural fit can cost an organisation between 50% and 60% of the person’s annual salary, not to mention the effects on the remaining team members and projects. And often, this can be a person who had a well-matched resume, performed very well at interview and was convincing about wanting to work for the organisation. So, to gather evidence of potential cultural fit, we have to dig a little deeper than the standard interview questions.


How to Assess Cultural Fit?


  1. Identify your culture


You cannot assess cultural fit unless you know what your culture is. And this too requires a process. Too often, senior managers will have an idealised view of their culture based on anecdotal examples and their corporate mission/vision. However, it has been shown that there is often a great disparity between what the senior management team believes is the culture vs what the average employee feels about the organisation. One of the best ways to quickly make an assessment is to anonymously survey the staff. Questions need to focus on the perceived value of the work undertaken and the behaviours of the staff. What do they feel are the main motivations at work? What is their preferred working environment? (See assessment section below for further examples). This can also be taken down to team level. It’s not uncommon, for example, for development teams to have a different culture to the sales teams – their reward motivations are usually quite different, but they may share a common vision of the value of the company to the wider world.


  1. Advertise your culture


Once you have identified your culture, you should start incorporating this into job advertising and job descriptions – perhaps even add this to a culture page under the ‘About Us’ section on your website. The sooner in the recruitment process you can convey the firm’s culture the better – as this will help to turn-off those that don’t fit, while also attracting more of those that do.


  1. Assess for cultural fit


At the interview stage, you can now start asking questions that probe for a fit to the cultural traits identified within your organisation. If, for example, your research showed that collaborative working was highly valued by your staff, then candidates who demonstrate a strong belief in the value of collaboration will likely be a stronger cultural fit than those who prefer a more individual working arrangement. Structure some questions around cultural fit – here are some examples:


  • What is your preferred work style? Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?

  • How would you describe our culture based on what you’ve seen? What aspects of this attracted you?

  • What best practices would you bring with you from another organisation to this one?

  • Tell us about an occasion when you feel that you delighted a customer

  • What is the best way for you to be managed?

  • Tell us about a time when you worked for a firm where you felt you were not a strong culture fit

  • How should your achievements be recognised?



Don’t forget that at this stage of the process it is a two-way conversation. You’ll want to define the overall mission and vision of the firm and present a larger picture of what it would be like to work in the team you are hiring for, as well as the firm in general – just to make the point, in case they missed or ignored this information on the job adverts and in the job description.  Pay attention to the candidate’s comfort levels and reactions to what you say.


  1. Review your process


Hiring for cultural fit does come with potential pitfalls, so you’ll want to regularly assess your recruitment process to make sure you’re not falling foul of these. The most significant are interviewer bias and subconscious (or conscious) discrimination. And you don’t want to create an army of clones.


It is important to make sure people are not being rejected based on age, race or religion for example. In a firm full of Asian, male software developers, one may find that a mixed-race female candidate has been rejected because there was a feeling ‘they wouldn’t adapt to the culture’.  Cleary this would be discrimination, but also a lost opportunity to increase the diversity of the workforce. More subtly, if you are looking for collaborative workers – it is important to understand that everyone from suited bank workers to casually dressed social media consultants have the potential to understand the value of collaborative working, even if their last role didn’t involve collaborative working. Therefore, you must root your questions in the culture identified in your firm, and let the candidates answer for themselves and give their own examples from their career, preventing interviewer prejudice from seeping in.


The best teams are those in which the employees share a common vision and goal, but also exhibit a wide variety of opinions. This promotes healthy discussion and innovation, and creates a culture less resistant to change.