5 Benefits of Hiring for Cultural Fit Versus Skill

When we post a help wanted ad, we typically put the skills that we want the potential hire to have front and center. This is especially true for highly skilled or niche jobs for which specific training is required in order for the person to perform effectively.

However, would your company benefit more if you hired for cultural contribution? Would someone who fits in with their coworkers and understands your company’s direction be a better hire than someone who is highly skilled but just doesn’t seem to jive with the company vibe?

In an ideal world, you’ll have a candidate who meets both criteria. But what if you have one candidate who has all the skills necessary and one who will need training, but sure seems like a good fit for your company? Which candidate do you choose? Below we tease out how to think strategically about your company culture and how it should factor into hiring decisions when it comes to these tricky tie-breakers.

Know thyself
Before you can say that someone is a good company fit, you have to first have a good grasp on your company’s culture. Your culture includes everything within your office environment and your outward appearance to clients and customers. Your belief system, your corporate structure, your willingness to promote from within, your benefits offering, the degree to which you offer flexible schedules, your dress code, and even if you offer free coffee in the breakroom all reflect your company culture. Company culture is also expressed in how you communicate with your employees, how you view them as part of your broader business, and, quite honestly, how much you value their input and contributions. No two company cultures are alike—even if the businesses are similar—and culture is often what sets businesses apart from each other and produces completely different experiences for both clients and employees.

Assign worth
Once you have a handle on what your company culture entails, you must decide how important it is for your employees to embody it. Not every employee may be the poster child for your company, and that might be totally fine. Furthermore, not every aspect of your company culture may be as important as the other. For example, your remote employees can work from home in their pajamas—instead of the khaki and polos preferred by the cubicle dwellers—and it will never impact their ability to connect with clients or be an otherwise stellar champion for the company cause. Similarly, an employee who walks, talks, and dresses the part is only worth so much if he/she can’t articulate what the company stands for and why it makes the decisions it makes. Therefore, you must not only understand your corporate culture, but also understand where the “non-negotiables” are in terms of finding a candidate who is a “good fit” and which characteristics have more wiggle room.

Go against the grain
As the Apple tagline states, “Think Different. Kitschy? Yes. Effective? Absolutely!” If all of your employees look the same, act the same, and think the same, you’re setting yourself up for corporate stagnation! Even the most creative mind won’t be able to think differently if it has been programmed to never break from the bunch and take a risk. This applies to new product development, as well as problem solving and the day-to-day decisions that steer the direction of your company. In fact, experts warn that hiring similar people—under the guise of corporate fit—is one of the biggest hiring pitfalls that any company can make. Instead, they suggest that it’s completely normal and even preferable that you have a few outliers to keep it fresh.

Talk training
Whether cultural fit will trump skills often boils down to how niche and/or detailed the required competencies are, as well as how hard it would be to train your candidate to meet the challenge. For example, if you’re hiring a new brain surgeon to join your team, it’s not feasible to hire a botanist to do the job, no matter how good a fit he/she is for your surgical center. Now, both candidates have a degree in biology (probably!) but their skill set is so incredibly different. It would take years—and a number of degrees, residencies, and practice—before you could trust the plant scientist to open up someone’s skull! Granted, this is an extreme example, but you have to be aware of the detailed skill set of your new hire AND know your company’s limitations when it comes to the financial and time investments it would have to make to appropriately train him/her for the job.

Drill down on the JD
Similar to the “how much training do you need to provide” conundrum is knowing how important company culture is for the job that you are asking the person to do. Client-facing employees should definitely be a good cultural fit—after all, they are essentially the public-facing portion of your company and should serve as advocates in every interaction. Furthermore, someone tasked with working on a ton of group projects should mesh well with others in the company to push ideas, products, or service lines forward. Such employees will likely “fit in” better—and potentially work better—if they embody your corporate culture simply because they will be comfortable with how the group interacts, communicates, sets goals, and measures successes and failures. However, a remote IT employee who handles in-house issues and helps build things on the backend may not need to be as engaged. Now, that’s not to say he/she shouldn’t be a good fit, but rather the degree to which he/she has to fit into company culture is far less. Again, it is up to you to look at the job description and really think about what your new hire’s day-to-day role looks like and then make a decision about whether skills or culture contribution should determine his/her performance trajectory.