ABC’s of Hiring #4: How to Determine Cultural Fit

There are two dimensions to consider regarding “fit”. Fit for the role is determined by skills and experience. Fit for the team is more elusive and is usually the determining factor for the long-term success of any hire. So, how do you match personal style to corporate culture?

Modus Operandi

The first step is an honest self-evaluation of the management’s strength and weaknesses. What are the attributes of your most successful managers? What is the pace, slow and steady or trial by error? Is individuality or risk-taking rewarded or thwarted? Do you need the person to drive change or to not rock the boat? Do you have the right infrastructure in place? Is it a hands-on role? Is being a team player more important than being an individual contributor? Are decisions controlled at the top or delegated throughout the organization? Every company and management team has a modus operandi that defines who they are and how things are done. What is your MO?

Value system

What is important to the company usually determines their value system and core beliefs which drive decision making. Are you short-term or long-term oriented? Do you believe in training and development, career advancement, cross training, on boarding or participative management? Is the top line more important than the bottom line? Do you hire the smartest people regardless of related industry experience? What metrics are used to evaluate performance? Understanding your operating environment is a crucial part of who you are and what you expect from a new hire.


Chemistry and fit are all about shared values and beliefs that drive behaviors and provide motivation. To assess someone’s motivation and value system, probe with the following question, usually during the first telephone screen: “If you had all the power and authority to change things in your company, what would you change to create the perfect job for yourself?” The answer tells you what is important to them, what motivates them and what they want from a position and company. Listen and probe to uncover their priorities and values. If what they want matches what you want, you have the potential for a good match for the long term.


 Always include a cross section of the people they will be working with in the interview process. This will help validate a broad sense of the candidate’s ability to fit in with the existing team. Allow them to talk with other employees or former employees as well. The interview process should never be hurried or compromised to allow sufficient time for both parties to determine the potential fit. Candidates always need to be themselves and not try to project who they think you want them to be. Hiring managers need to take enough time to observe behaviors and get to know the real person.


Many companies use third party testing services to match the attributes of the person to a profile of a typical successful employee. While these tests can be complementary, they should never be a substitute for management’s evaluation and judgment. They are intended to reinforce what you have already discovered about the candidate.


 When you realize that they have what you want, and it is time to make an offer, you can reflect back on their response to the motivation question and be comfortable that you have a good “fit”. Tough negotiations and counteroffers are often negated because both parties recognize this “fit”. If you are not honest in your assessment of your own environment, the misinformed new hire will show up and quickly learn the truth. They bought into a culture whose values are different from theirs. The resulting disconnect will likely diminish their performance and, ultimately, their retention. In order to attract top talent, addressing the cultural fit is the key to getting the right person in the job.

Sometimes it is best to leave this brutal honesty and objectivity to an executive recruiter whose livelihood depends on knowing his client’s culture and making good matches for the long term.


Can’t find the right person? Call me for help making the right cultural fit.


Bob Harrington Associates has been in the executive search business for 20 years and can help you find the best people for your business.

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