The sad truth about recruitment is that I will always have to turn down more people than I get the pleasure of placing. Telling talented people that they were unsuccessful is often as difficult for me as it is for my candidates to hear – mostly because I personally felt they would be a great asset for my client. After rigorous investigation, I would have come to the conclusion that this candidate was qualified for the job, possesses strong technical skills and has enough relevant work experience – so much so that my client would look at their CV and think, “she’s right, they could do the job”. But the recruitment process obviously doesn’t stop here. When a candidate sits in front of a client for an interview, they already know you can do the work (that’s my job remember!), but now the client is evaluating a little something called “cultural fit” – and for a lot of people, this is becoming the greatest hurdle in progressing to offer stage, and a factor that I am having to regularly explain to candidates is the reason they were unsuccessful.
Recently, however, when I bring up cultural fit in my interviews or discuss rejection feedback around this concept with candidates, I observe defensiveness or dismissal – so much so that I feel like it just doesn’t sink in. When I dig a little deeper, I find the reason there is so much resentment towards the concept is that they have had at least one bad experience – most of the time they feel it was an excuse for rejection. One candidate even asked me “is cultural fit a nice way to define discrimination?” No! Cultural fit is not just focused on your culture – your heritage, age, gender, status… it is about the company’s culture. It considers their values, goals, and practices, and these are entwined into the recruitment process. There are truly so many things that make up a company’s culture. At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of a hiring manager to determine whether they believe a candidate has the ability to engage effectively with other employees and the company’s stakeholders – both in and outside the office walls. They need to ask questions about what drives your internal and external success; whether you are a team player, your personality (they’ll consider your strengths and weaknesses and how it will compliment the rest of their team), interpersonal styles and your presentation.
To put things in perspective, I am actually a massive advocate for cultural fit. I believe that most people I meet on a day-to-day basis rarely quit their jobs because of what work they are doing, but because of something bigger and more powerful – company culture. Ever since I have started witnessing the deflated self-esteem and concerns coming from my candidates around cultural fit– I have seen the need to educate on why the concept is vital to the success of businesses – and not a personal attack or an excuse. Many employers are actually coming to terms with the fact that a lot of hard skills associated with a role can actually be trained – but values and drive cannot be taught on the job. With more people going to school and university than ever before, qualifications and work experience are not a clear enough indicator that they will fit into a team, and employers are having to take extensive and expensive measures to narrow in. A number of our clients are now investing in psychometric assessments through us, which provides a valid and reliable insight into a candidate’s personality, emotional intelligence, work attitude, and ability. All of these factors are vital to know before hiring a new staff member – mostly because it actually costs a company so much when they get it wrong (sometimes up to 60% of their annual salary)!
Having a degree certainly demonstrates knowledge and dedication, but employers now need to look at the bigger picture. The stats demonstrate that if someone is a poor cultural fit, they are more likely going to cause problems in the workforce or leave for another opportunity with an environment that encourages their values and attitudes. And if that still doesn’t put things into perspective for you – the truth is that every time I have heard of a client stuck between two potential candidates for the final stage of the recruitment process – the last question that will be asked is “who will fit into the team the best” – and that candidate will have the winning edge.
As I said, don’t be fearful of cultural fit – but don’t dismiss it either. It’s actually a strong indicator of whether you will remain with an organisation long-term and your level of job performance and motivation to succeed. So if you hear feedback from an employer or recruiter saying you were unsuccessful for a role because of this, try and look at it as a positive outcome, where you might have just dodged a bullet from a company with different values and attitudes to you.
Ashleigh Jones – Consultant