Hiring for Cultural Fit: Why It’s Important & How to Do It

By Melissa Ripp
Drake & Company Staffing Specialists

Before I started my position as Marketing Coordinator at Drake & Company, I worked as a Marketing Manager for a small co-ed independent PreK through Grade 8 school in Lake Forest, Illinois. Last summer, my husband found a job in Madison, and we jumped at the opportunity to get back to Wisconsin.

I knew my team wouldn’t have a problem hiring a person that possessed the same kinds of skills I did—after all, there were plenty of marketing and communications professionals in the Chicagoland area. However, after sifting through over 80 resumes and sitting in on nearly a dozen in-person interviews, we just couldn’t find the right person.

Why was this hiring process so difficult? It certainly wasn’t the lack of qualified applicants. It was the fact that the school I worked for had a very specific culture. My team would need someone who had a considerable amount of experience in the marketing and communications realm; was able to juggle numerous requests from school administration, faculty, staff, and parents in the course of a day; was flexible and was comfortable with being interrupted fairly frequently; and could do all of the aforementioned tasks with a smile.

However, the ideal applicant would also need a specific set of “soft” skills. The ethos of the school also meant that this employee would need to be at once engaging, personable, and firm—whether they were dealing with a parent or a science teacher. They would also need to avoid office politics and gossip, pitch in with things that were not part of the job description, and not be a clock-watcher. And, the structure of the position meant a fair amount of autonomy with some things (content writing, social media), but not with other things (overall marketing strategy, ad budgets). We needed to find a person who would be able to produce and thrive with all of these factors at play.

I tell this story because reaching beyond skills and matching employee personalities to a company’s culture is a large part of what we do here at Drake. By getting to know our clients, we make sure that they can spend their time wisely, interviewing applicants who have the skills, references, drive, and personality to fit seamlessly into the day-to-day life of a company.

Merriam-Webster defines culture as “a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization”. An employee who fits your culture is an employee who will be happy and at home in your organization or business, which ultimately means greater job satisfaction, better job performance, and a lower attrition rate.

How do you hire based on your company’s culture? Here are a few tips:

  • Assess your organization’s culture.

    Asking yourself questions such as, “How does our team communicate? How do we get our work done? What are our meetings like?” will certainly lay the groundwork for thinking how your company operates and what kind of environment you offer to a potential applicant. This blog from The Bridgespan Group, a non-profit advisor group, offers a great list of questions to get you started.

  • Base interview questions on experiences that employee might have in your workplace.

    Offer the applicant an idea of the kinds of situations or questions they might encounter in the position, and analyze those responses to see if the applicant would be a good fit.

  • If possible, conduct a group interview:

    If the applicant will be working with a small team, have the group sit in on an interview. The team might think of questions the hiring manager might have missed, and it’s a great way to assess how this applicant might fit within the team framework.

  • Get the applicant out of the interview room:

    Whether it’s taking a tour of your facilities at the end of the interview, inviting them to an event your company is hosting, or in breaking the classic interview mold altogether by inviting an applicant to breakfast or lunch, providing an outlet for an applicant to be a bit more comfortable can be a great way to assess for cultural fit. What kinds of questions do they ask? Do they seem interested and excited about what they are seeing? How do they interact with other employees?

Successful companies are those who not only understand the culture of their organization, but also hire the employees that will be best positioned to thrive in that environment.

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Melissa RippMelissa Ripp is the former Marketing Coordinator at Drake & Company, a staffing firm based in Madison, Wisconsin. Drake & Company specializes in temporary, temp-to-hire, and direct hire administrative, clerical, and legal placements. For 36 years, Drake has reached beyond skills and qualifications to match candidate personalities with a company’s culture. You can find Melissa on Google+, and you can find Drake & Company on FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle+, and Pinterest.