One of the most elusive traits to pin down in a job candidate is culture fit. Unlike work history, technical qualifications, or education, culture fit is subjective—squishy by nature. Yet it’s also one of the most important aspects to screen for. If a candidate doesn’t fit well into your organization, then it really doesn’t matter how great the person is at the role.
What does "culture fit" mean, exactly? We like this definition from Search CIO:
While functional fit (the overlap between an applicant’s skill set and the duties of a role) is important, culture fit focuses on soft skills and values that determine whether someone will be well-aligned with your company’s mission and philosophy.
That’s why it’s key for hiring managers to weed out candidates who don’t mesh well with the culture early on in the process—even before they get to the interview stage. But how do you go about vetting someone for culture fit before you even speak with them?
Define Your Culture
It’s hard to say, “This candidate is a good fit,” or “This one isn’t,” if you haven’t defined what a fit looks like. So, it can be helpful to sit down and reflect on what makes your company unique.
- Why do we do what we do?
- What are our core competencies?
- What are we looking for in a new hire?
Of course, if you’re at a larger organization, someone may have already done this in a formal way, such as through an employee handbook or statement of purpose. One local Boston startup, Nanigans, put together this culture deck to help define who they are and what they value. If a document like this exists at your organization, just make sure that you review it before you start finding candidates for a certain role.
For example, your company may value collaboration and innovation as key attributes for hires. If this is the case, you may be able to weed out folks who have largely worked on their own doing rote work that is measured by correctness rather than creativity. While candidates like this may be skilled and a good fit for another organization, they might not be a good fit for yours.
If your company doesn't have documentation written up quite yet, Boston startup Tettra has curated a list of company culture decks, core values, and mission statements. You may be able to draw inspiration from these examples:
Use LinkedIn to Your Advantage
You can tell a lot about a candidate from how they portray themselves online. In particular, take a look at their LinkedIn profile picture. Nearly half a billion people use LinkedIn for professional networking, and it has become a hub for both job seekers and hiring managers for good reason.
While LinkedIn has recently rolled out major changes that impact the way talent acquisition professionals find and vet potential candidates, you are still able to see basic information like profile photo, summaries and activity for free.
Best practices show that using a professional photo increases the chances of someone viewing your LinkedIn profile 14-fold. Savvy candidates know this.
So if the candidate doesn’t have a LinkedIn photo at all, that can be a red flag. If they do have a photo:
- Is it professional?
- Can you get a sense of who they are from the picture?
A picture can speak volumes, so it’s a really good place to start when vetting candidates.
Next, look at their profile as a whole. At a baseline, you want to see that the information on the applicant’s resume lines up with what’s listed online. Beyond that, LinkedIn offers job seekers the opportunity to showcase “extras” like work samples, testimonials from coworkers or clients, and professional group memberships. This information can help you vet a candidate before you jump on the phone.
Make Use of the Backchannel
As a hiring manager, you can also go on LinkedIn and quickly see whether you have any professional connections in common with a given candidate.
Hint: Always accept LinkedIn requests, and don’t be shy about sending them, either. It will always broaden your network.
If you do know someone who has worked with or met the candidate, reach out and ask for their two cents. It doesn’t have to be a formal reference check, but could just be a quick email to the effect of, “Hey, we are considering XYZ for a role at our organization. Do you think he/she would be a good fit?”
Getting a sense of whether people you already know and trust can vouch for a candidate can help you weed out folks who don’t have a good track record.
Maximize Employee Referrals
Many hiring managers ask employees to refer potential candidates to the company. This is a smart strategy from a few different angles. When it comes to screening for culture fit early on, knowing that someone who already works for your company has given a potential hire the thumbs up can save you a lot of work.
Don’t be afraid to ask an employee who makes a referral what they like about the candidate and why they think this person is a good fit for the culture. This can help you fill in some details before you conduct an initial phone screen, and even give you some ideas about questions to ask that will help you further assess culture fit.
Your Company = More than the Sum of Its Parts
Hiring people who are a good fit for your culture doesn’t mean hiring a bunch of people who walk, talk, and think exactly the same; it simply means hiring people who live and breathe your company's core values.
Culture fit is the special sauce that ensures your organization is far more than just the sum of its parts. When you get it right, success is sure to follow.