The Essentials of Culture Fit Hiring and Interviews

  • Brace
  • April 3, 2019
  • 14 min

Finding the right culture fit is like walking a tight rope between too much uniformity and too little harmony. Employees need not only the right talents and mindset but also diverse and unique perspectives to make the workplace stronger. Where’s the right balance? We’ll help you find it by covering the complexities of culture fit and culture add hiring, 17 helpful interview questions, and key takeaways to let you take the right steps for a better team without harming inclusion or creating an echo-chamber.

What is Culture Fit?

Company culture is different for every organization and so is the cultural fit. This, of course, makes the definition of culture fit rather complex, or at least slightly different for every case. Thankfully, the Harvard Business Review provides us with a general rule that applies to all situations:

Cultural fit is the likelihood that someone will reflect and/or be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up your organizationHiring for culture means weighing whether a candidate fits not only the talents required, but also their fit with the company mission, soft skills, and personality traits, too.

By considering these elements, companies can find candidates that are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and stay at the organization. A win-win for all.

What Culture Fit Is Not

It’s important to remember that culture fit also has a dark side. It’s far too easy, and indeed, human, for hiring managers to fall victim to their own biases. This leads managers to reject great candidates based on individual preferences, rather than true workplace fit. To limit this bias, it’s helpful to remember what culture fit is not.


Culture fit Is… Culture fit is not…
… whether or not a candidate can work in a team. … if you can see yourself getting drinks with the candidate.
… if they are motivated by the same things that drive your management style and workplace. … whether a candidate shares your personal culture and lifestyle.
… if they have the mindset to handle stress and grow with their tasks. … whether or not a candidate has the same personal values as you.

Employees with different perspectives enrich a workplace, even if they don’t like the same music. Judging new employees based on your personal taste, rather than real cultural fit is an easy mistake with detrimental consequences for innovation, diversity, and productivity.

What Are the Benefits of Culture Fit Hiring?

The benefits of culture fit hiring are closely related to the benefits of having a great company culture. By hiring employees that embody and are motivated by your company mission and work style, they connect more with the workplace, get along better with their colleagues, and are more likely to stay.

Hiring employees that fit with company culture increases job satisfaction and improves employee engagement that leads to:

  • 21% better productivity
  • 37% fewer missed days
  • 65% less turnover

Along with these numbers, other factors of company culture also benefit. Employees connect easier to colleagues, which builds profitable workplace friendships, and fitting with work structures helps employees know their tasks; an advantage that 60% of employees lack.

Costs of a Culture Mis-Hire

It’s easy to pass off new terms like culture fit hiring as trends, but the numbers suggest there is something more. The Harvard Business Review notes that 50-60% of an employee’s salary is lost due to poor culture fit and turnover. Turnover itself can cost up to 400% of a workers yearly wage in replacement costs alone. This coupled with the fact that 75% of employers have experienced a bad hire costing an average of $17,000 makes culture fit a pressing concern with real consequences for businesses.

Examples of Companies Doing Culture Fit Right

Essential in hiring good candidates is understanding your company culture, instead of your personal preferences. What is your company’s mission and what does it stand for? How do you work together and treat each other? What do you want to become and how do want to do it? Knowing the answers to these questions is at the core of companies that succeed in their culture fit hiring. Many of these companies have even eliminated the word “culture fit” from their process entirely, to emphasize results over conformity.

Atlassian and Value-Fit Hiring

“We’re trying to build a healthy and balanced culture, not a cult.”Australian software company Atlassian had a problem. Their technical team’s diversity lacked in gender and people of color. To address this, they introduced “value-fit” hiring into their recruitment process. This meant training interviewers to identify bias and creating structured interviews that focused on the company values. The results speak for themselves with their female workforce growing from 10% to 17% and employees of color going from 23% to 32% in just 2 years.

Pandora and Culture-Add Hiring

“…an integrated B2E (business to employee) marketing strategy to engage and attract great talent from all communities and backgrounds…”The music streaming platform Pandora wanted to make sure that all backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives had a voice in their company culture. The key to this was to rethink culture fit, and instead, bring in the idea of “culture-add.” They built up their website to display the state of diversity for each position and department, as well as starting the People of Pandora podcast to give everyone of every background a voice. All their efforts paid off as almost half of the company’s new hires in 2016 were women and people of color.

Facebook and Recruiting for Company Values

“…a larger effort to help people identify and correct for the biases that we all inherently have…”The social media giant needs no introduction, but they did need a way to bring more diverse perspectives into their teams. The solution was to put their 5 company values at the core of recruiting. They coupled this focus on values with rigorous anti-bias training for their interviewers and public posting of their diversity scores. Together, these efforts to revolutionize culture fit helped Facebook bring essential new voices and perspectives into their company while ensuring company culture stayed vibrant and healthy.

Culture Fit vs. Culture Add vs. Adaptability-Based Hiring

The idea of culture fit has gone through many permutations and many attempts to work out the bugs. Although matching employees to your company culture means a streamlined team, it can also mean new ideas and perspectives are pushed out. This holds back innovation, productivity, and diversity in the long run. We’ve provided the 3 most common variants of culture fit practices, so you can find the right solution to keep your team diverse, innovative, and in sync.

Culture Fit — The Original

Original flavor culture fit hiring is selecting candidates that fit with your company mission, work style, and values. This means increasing productivity and retention by accenting your existing company culture with new contributors who fit your culture mold.

  • Pros: Your team will work well together, connect quickly, and be less likely to leave.
  • Cons: Diversity, Inclusion, and innovation can suffer if “company culture” is used to exclude potential new perspectives and backgrounds. The resulting echo-chamber hurts your bottom-line as you grow.

Culture Add — Extra Perspectives, Extra Ideas

Teams that use culture-add methods place value on new ideas and experiences. Culture add means not only reviewing how candidates fit your company culture, but how they can enrich it and bring something new. Using more objective criteria, such as company core values, and training to remove unconscious bias in the interview process lets companies bring in diverse talent and stay open and innovative.

  • Pros: Innovation thrives, company culture evolves, and diversity and inclusion flourish.
  • Cons: Changes. Change is good for a company as it grows, but could make a quick start more complicated for a new organization as it tries to define itself and its company culture.

Cultural Flexibility and Adaptability — The Hybrid

The Stanford Graduate School of Business found that, more than cultural fit, an employee’s ability to adapt played a large role in them staying. No matter how much one may try, everything evolves, including your company culture. If an employee fit at the beginning, they may not later. Asking questions to assess adaptability can help you build a team that can grow, change, and still remain motivated and productive.

  • Pros: Adaptable workers help make an adaptable company culture that promotes innovation, inclusion, and change.
  • Cons: The theory is still young and has not been fully tested. It’s best viewed as a part of other culture-add or culture fit processes, for now.

Can Diversity and Culture Fit Co-Exist?

Humans are wired to separate in-group from out-group and friend from foe. Maybe you can already see the problem when it comes to culture fit hiring?

A criticism of many culture fit practices is that they exacerbate bias, unconscious or otherwise. This bias takes many forms: In a study by the Kellogg School, candidates of elite universities and individuals of similar class and race as the interviewer were given clear preferential selection. This correlates with the fact that women make up only 4.6% of Fortune 500 executives, and women of color suffer from significantly more negative judgment of their work.

These are clear strikes against culture fit hiring. They illustrate how easily interviewers can fall into the trap of choosing people they relate to personally over those who fit with company values and needs. However, it’s always a question of how you implement culture fit practices.

To limit bias in your interviews…

  • … Be aware and self-reflective of unconscious bias
  • … Actively train interviewers against it
  • … Create measurable values for evaluating candidates
  • … Ensure that “culture fit” alone is not enough to reject a candidate
  • … Consider bringing AI and analytics into your hiring process

6 Secrets to Implement (Unbiased) Culture Fit Hiring

Building the right system is key to getting fair and effective results from culture fit hiring. The following steps will put together practices that help your team and company stay connected, flexible, innovative, and successful.

  1. Clearly define the elements of your company culture — You have to know what defines your culture before you can find culture fits or adds. Put on paper what makes up your culture and how each candidate fits these specific elements.
  2. Invite your whole team to help write the culture definition — No new hire will work alone. Make sure everyone’s concept of company culture is considered before making the definition final.
  3. Involve more people in your interviews — More heads are better than one, and more diverse eyes can find ways that candidates do or don’t fit, or where your bias is getting the best of you.
  4. Incorporate a personality test into hiring — People have split opinions on these tests, but if you’re a believer, assessments like the IPIP-NEO Personality Test can add a layer of objectivity to your interviews.
  5. Decide on measurable markers with which to judge company culture fit — Rejecting an employee just on gut feeling isn’t good enough. Interviewers should be able to justify exactly why. This is where clear numbers help. For ideas on measurable elements of company culture, check out our article Beyond KPIs: The 7 Dimensions of Company Culture.
  6. Choose candidates who challenge how you think — Recruiting only new employees who think like you may be comfortable at first, but is a sure-fire way to create an echo-chamber. New ideas and perspectives are necessary for a company to stay innovative and ahead of the competition.

17 Effective Culture Fit Interview Questions

#Interview QuestionWorkplace Element
1.Can your hobbies tell me something about you that your resume doesn’t?Job Fit
2.Have you ever confronted a task you didn’t know how to do? How did you handle it?Job Fit
3.What type of animal would you be?Management Style Fit
4.Name one thing that you are really passionate about.Culture and Mission Fit
5.Which 3 job qualities are ideal for you?Fit With Workplace Pressure and Pace
6.What personality characteristics do you conflict with? Management Style Fit
7.How would a T-Rex fly an airplane? (Or any other abstract question of your choosing)Job Fit
8.Tell me about a time you’ve had to delegate a task.Fit With Workplace Pressure and Pace
9.If you were going to give a public tour of this company, what stops would you include?Culture and Mission Fit
10.What would you do if a colleague was consistently avoiding responsibility or not pulling their weight?Team Fit and Adaptability
11.How do you handle and adapt to change?Fit With Workplace Pressure and Pace
12.Have you ever motivated someone to finish a task? How did you do it?Team Fit and Adaptability
13.Have you lived in another country? How did you handle this new environment?Team Fit and Adaptability
14.Who is a great inspiration for you and why?Management Style Fit
15.Has understanding someone else’s perspective helped you achieve something? How?Team Fit and Adaptability
16.If you were an entrepreneur, what business would you start and why?Culture and Mission Fit
17Tell me what motivates you to want to work at this company? Culture and Mission Fit

Key Takeaways

  • Culture fit hiring is finding candidates that will identify with and thrive in the core values, mission, and work styles of your company.
  • Bias is a common problem with culture fit practices and steps should be taken to counter this and avoid creating an echo-chamber.
  • Elements from culture fit, culture-add, and flexibility-based hiring can help you find the right balance to encourage fit, diversity, inclusion, innovation, and growth.
  • Making company culture measurable is a great way to enhance your search while limiting bias.

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