Are you hiring for cultural fit? You might want to rethink that.

Companies that love to brag about their distinct and defining cultures often cite culture as a significant recruiting tool. In turn, their hiring managers often regard the nebulous “cultural fit” as the most essential factor in evaluating candidates. But is this a good way to hire? Not always. What tends to happen is that rather than hiring for cultural fit, managers hire for personal fit. Instead of seeking out candidates whose values align with those of the company, managers seek out those people with whom they would like to have a beer—someone who will fit in with the gang at happy hour.

This can negatively impact your organization in the following ways:

Limits diversity. If managers are hiring people just like themselves, there will be no diversity. A company that only hires people with Ivy League degrees, because that is what they’ve decided “cultural fit” is, will not only lack diversity in terms of gender and race but will also lack diversity of experiences and ideas. And working with people who are all exactly like you gets pretty boring, pretty quickly.

Stifles innovation. We love to talk about innovation, but how many of us actually do innovation? If you are hiring people who come from similar backgrounds, share similar personal values, and have similar experiences, how innovative do you think your team will be? It won’t be. “Group think” will ensue.

Assumes your current culture doesn’t need to change. Everything about your business changes. New technologies emerge. Your market’s business problems evolve. Customers demand new solutions. Why would you assume that your culture, that which drives everything you do, is static? It surely isn’t, but hiring for cultural fit in this manner can ensure that it stagnates.

What should you do instead? 

Assess the overall strengths and weaknesses of your team. Not everyone is completely competent at everything. Where do you have gaps? Identify those skill and competency gaps and actively hire for them.

Implement formalized training for hiring managers. Most managers are ineffective interviewers. Equip them with the skills they need to make good hires; challenge managers who use cultural fit as a reason not to make a hire. Create formal, objective procedures for measuring fit. Require that hiring managers explain and quantify their hiring decisions.

Welcome and encourage differing opinions. Weak managers surround themselves with “yes” people. Good managers recognize that they do not have all the answers themselves, which is why they build high-performing, diverse teams.

The bottom line

Although cultural fit is a legitimate hiring criterion, it should be one component of the overall decision. Hiring solely based on cultural fit leads to an army of “Mini Mes,” and can impede the diversity of your organization. Look for candidates whose experience and perspective differs from yours, and you will reap the rewards.

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