Is the Best Hire for Skill or Cultural Fit?

A candidate walks in the door with an okay skill set but a personality that would fit right in with your office culture. The next candidate seems a little standoffish, but their skill level for the job is the best of any applicant. Who gets the job?

The case for focusing on skill:

Technical-based roles require a certain level of skill in order to perform the basic functions of the role: no matter how friendly our development team is, they first need to be able to write code to build our software!

Many professions allow employers to look past the fact that their employee is not fitting in well socially. The stereotypical ‘engineers are not people persons’ comes to mind, as well as the clichéd ‘awkward IT guy’. Shy, introverted, insensitive or downright rude people can excel at their jobs if their skill level is high enough. High performing employees in the right role can be an advantage to a company that is willing to ignore a cultural misfit.

Careers that are extremely skill-dependent could include: software development, engineering, analysts, bookkeeping/accounting, writing, culinary arts, skilled trades and scientific research. These professions include jobs for every level of education and experience.

icons-04The risk of clones: when hiring for cultural fit, managers tend to hire people who share their same views, opinions and values… in short, the company ends up being full of people who all think the same way. There is much to be said for diversity in personality types and diversity in opinions: different people help a company to grow and improve in new ways.

Instead of considering ‘cultural fit’ as sharing the same personal beliefs, look at how different types of employees will fit within the organizational structure as a whole. Consider putting more value on items that define your company, such as flexible hours, dog-friendly, open workspaces or frequency of team outings over individual traits like enjoying the same authors or productivity methods.

The cost of a bad hire based on fit instead of skill could be catastrophic if not caught early. An accountant who makes errors, a software developer writing bad code, or a tradesperson with faulty welds can all lead to serious financial loss.

Looking for cultural fit:

Every job requires some amount of interaction with colleagues, clients or a manager. While a strong skill level may land you the job, lack of good communication may lose you one.

icons-03Not fitting in, or not being able to work well with their coworkers means that even highly skilled employees are not performing at their best, and potentially bringing others down with them. The professional relationships you build can make a job bearable, enjoyable, or horrible. How a person presents themselves, their personality and attitude shapes how they are perceived and treated by others.

Many small businesses grow and thrive on the strength of their beliefs and teamwork. Hiring a person who does not share the same values, or causes friction can very well bring a small business down. As mentioned above, having diverse team is important, but not at the cost of internal stress and conflict.

Businesses should welcome new views and ideas, while ensuring that everyone shares the same overall goals and expectations.

Not fitting in to a company’s culture doesn’t mean the employee is a poor worker or a bad person. It just means that they don’t see eye to eye with their colleagues, management or company. There are a lot of great people who leave their jobs not because they don’t like their tasks or aren’t good at their job, but because they simply feel they don’t belong.

icons-02The cost of a bad hire based on skill instead of fit can be destructive to the rest of the team. One person can cause arguments, stress, negativity and an unhappy workplace. Employees who aren’t content aren’t productive and are less likely to look out for the company’s or their coworkers’ best interests.

The showdown:

When considering candidates, do you think “Joe has exactly the skill set we need, but his personality is not going to fit with the rest of their team” or “Sam doesn’t have quite the right skill set, but she would work really well with her colleagues.” Who gets hired in the end? And how long do they last?

What about you? For your company, what is the deciding factor in determining the best person to hire?