Recruitment & Hiring

Hiring new employees? Stop focusing so much on “cultural fit”

Caleb Triscari /

When choosing the right candidate for a role, experts and industry professionals say employers need to look beyond the initial ‘cultural fit’.

In a Stanford University blog post, associate professor of organisational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business Amir Goldberg says research indicates that human resource departments are overlooking a key quality in candidates that can make or break their long-term success within the company.

“Both academics and practitioners have long thought of cultural matching as a process that should happen at the point of entry — some people fit, some don’t, and both employers and employees should look for matches,” he said.

“But our research suggests another ingredient, or dimension, that’s overlooked.”

The quality employers should be looking for, Goldberg says, is the ability to adapt to the culture of the workplace.

Goldberg points to a recent paper published by Stanford researchers that analysed 10 million internal emails sent within a technology firm between 2009 and 2014. Using linguistic analysis, the researchers monitored the cultural fit of the employees within the company.

The paper found that while those who initially demonstrated a match with company culture had a positive outcome, a more powerful way of predicting an employee’s success in the company was to assess their “ability to recognise and internalise standards”.

“We find that what predicts who will stay, who will leave, and who will be fired is not so much initial level of cultural fit as much as their trajectory, the degree to which they adapt,” Goldberg said.

“There are important differences between individuals insofar as they are capable of reading cultural code and shifting behaviors accordingly.”

If human resources departments were looking to take this research on board, employers should ask candidates about their ability to adapt to new environments in addition to how their values align with those of the company.

Other questions include: “Have applicants lived in other countries or environments? Have they readily moved between multiple and varied work environments? Have they smoothly adapted to each of these environments?”

While Goldberg says using linguistic analysis in the workplace is an emerging field of study, the tools could be used in the future to “see which parts of the organization are functioning harmoniously or discordantly from a cultural point of view”.

NOW READ: Amazon bans salary discussions in job interviews: Should your business ask applicants about their pay?

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Caleb Triscari

Caleb Triscari is a former SmartCompany subeditor.

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