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Career Corner: Culture Fit – The Lie We’re Telling Ourselves

One person could cast the deciding vote on whether or not you get the job. – Courtesy photo

By Angela Copeland

There’s this thing in the hiring world that’s considered important. It’s called “culture fit.”

Often, companies consider it to be one of the most important factors in hiring a candidate. If you aren’t a culture fit, the company won’t hire you. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how much experience you have. You’ll be tossed out.

So, what is culture fit exactly? It’s a good question and one that companies need to think about as they’re prioritizing it so highly. Culture fit is hard to describe. It’s a feeling that other people get when they meet you. It’s how well they think they’ll get along with you. In other words, culture fit is another way to say “popularity contest.”

If you talk to folks who work at startups, you’ll be surprised. After a candidate has left the building, it’s common for the entire team to take a vote. They vote on who liked the person. And, if one person decides they didn’t like the candidate, that candidate won’t be hired.  Period.

Think of it this way. Who do we tend to like and get along the best with? People who are like us. We tend to like people who are our age. We tend to like people who are our gender. We tend to like people who like the things we like.

So, what’s the big deal? Well, if we were on a date, nothing. But, we’re not. We’re at a job interview. And, a job interview is about your skills and experience. It’s about whether or not you can do THE JOB.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if a candidate has a bad attitude or is clearly not qualified, that’s a different story. But, when you have a candidate who gets along with the entire team and who has the experience you need, one person should not be able to vote the candidate out because they can’t picture having beers with them.

Because culture fit is all about how we feel about another person, it’s a place where unconscious bias lives. It’s those feelings we may have toward people that are different than us that we don’t even realize.

Unfortunately, when a company makes culture fit a top priority, they are also saying that they may or may not care about diversity and inclusion. They’re not necessarily looking for the most qualified candidate. They’re looking for the most popular one.

A Harvard Business Review article said it best. “What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity, since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own.”

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

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