Why You Should Stop Hiring for Culture Fit—and Start Hiring for Culture Add

Diversity and inclusion is a trending HR topic, a lot of forward-thinking companies are seeking to build a diverse team, which has been shown to encourage creativity and better decision-making. Plus, by breaking up workplace homogeneity, you allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases.


One common barrier to increasing organizational diversity includes “culture fit” questions. Questions like: “What do you like to do for fun?” “Tell me about yourself.” At first blush, these question makes sense: you want someone who will get along with the rest of the team and has your perception of the right foundational, or “soft” skills, someone who will laugh at the right jokes and is a match to your own tone.  


But there’s danger inherent in culture fit questions: it can encourage teams to hire people who enjoy the same hobbies and who come from the same backgrounds, have had a similar life, and cultural experience, excluding people from different backgrounds who have the skills to flourish in a role.


‘"Culture fit’ is an anti-inclusionary term. It implies that if you do not fit surface standards, an organization may bypass you as a candidate, regardless of your skills,” said Marpessa Allen, a career coach and former Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps participant. “I think that we should get away from the term all together; it strikes me as a code word that workplaces can safely use to maintain a certain level of comfort.”


Marpessa’s observation is echoed by Kathleen Brenk, Vice President of Human Resources at TruStile Doors.  “When we use ‘culture fit’ as a reason for hiring, it can often mean ‘like me’.  Even in saying it’s because we want a harmonious workplace, what is really being said is ‘I want to like the person’.  We must let go of liking everyone. It’s an interesting hypocrisy… because when employees don’t get along we tell them, ‘you don’t have to like each other, but you do have to work together’. Yet somehow we have a utopian dream of a culture where everyone likes each other. Respect everyone.  Hear everyone. That’s a great culture.”


So how can hiring managers find people that will add value with their team without being exclusionary?


Skills-based hiring practices, which focus on the skills a person needs to succeed in a role, can help. These practices rely on the skills a candidate has or the skills a candidate can learn, rather than proxies for skills like degrees, previous titles, and background. By focusing on skills, hiring managers also decrease their conscious and unconscious bias. That’s why, during our Skillful Talent Series trainings, which encourage employers to implement skills-based talent management practices, we encourage hiring managers to replace a request for culture fit with “culture add.”


When hiring is based on what the person might add to a culture, it becomes more inclusive as it acknowledges that someone coming from a different background adds to a workplace culture. Changing your interview process to focus on culture add instead of culture fit does not mean that you’re compromising the values of your organization (like a commitment to customer service, transparency, etc.). Rather, a focus on culture add opens your talent pool up to people with different cultural backgrounds who can expand your organization’s understanding and perspective. Focus on understanding what motivates your candidates and how their purpose is aligned to your organizational purpose. When hiring for culture add ask questions tied to your organizational values and business principles. Here are a few examples of what culture add questions look like:


  • Describe a time in which you had to decide between two or more possible choices that would have significant impact on the outcome. How did you land on a final decision?

  • When you have you experienced an unexpected problem during the course of a project? How did you react?

  • Describe a time in which conflict arose between members of a team you were managing. How did you handle this situation? In this position, you will be managing teams that work on different pieces of a larger project. What strategies did you learn previously that you will use to resolve conflict between teams?


Remember: next time you hire someone remember that checking your unconscious biases is key to hiring the right person. Think about what candidates can bring to the table and whether the questions you are choosing to ask are inadvertently excluding great talent from your company.