Man sitting on the rock and working on his laptopA recent study by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management published in the American Psychological Review has made some fascinating findings about hiring for cultural fit.

The study confirmed what most of  us have probably suspected for some time: Employers are hiring people who are not only competent, but who are also culturally similar to existing employees in terms of leisure pursuits, social experience and self-presentation styleand that these criteria often outweighed concerns about the candidate’s likely productivity level.

On the face of it the study findings seem to sit well with earlier research into hiring for cultural fit by Leadership IQ (covered here in Top 5 Reasons New Hires Fail ). This research showed that lack of cultural fit accounted for over 80 percent of new hires failures. So, the employers in the Northwestern study, in hiring for cultural fit, are arguably adopting best practice, aren’t they?

But, a closer look shows there is a schism between the two studies, and that is based around the criteria that are actually used to assess cultural fit. For example, the Leadership IQ study assesses cultural fit on job-related criteria, such as coachability, emotional quotient, motivation and temperament. The managers in the Northwestern study were looking at non-work related criteria, such as hobbies and interests and social experiences, as presented on their resume along with their style of self presentation.

Are Hobbies and Interests the Most Crucial Part of a Resume?

This means that hobbies and interests may, rightly or wrongly, be a far more influential factor in a resume than perhaps the level of degree or quality of work experience, or perhaps some of the more scientifically tested cultural fit criteria like coachability and EQ from the Leadership IQ study. It seems that the lowly, “Hobbies and Interests” section, usually consigned to a dusty paragraph at the bottom of the resume, may rightly or wrongly be the most crucial part of the resume.

Before, going too far with this, I need to qualify this study by pointing out that the study was focused on law firms, management consulting firms and investment firms and this narrow focus should be considered before applying more broadly. But, even so the findings are interesting and I would be surprised if this phenomenon was totally confined to these sectors.

The study findings have both implications for candidates and hiring managers.

How should candidates respond?

Candidates should be acutely aware that some employers may be assessing their hobbies and interests on their resume as a sign of cultural fit. And, ideally, candidates should then be both researching roles carefully and applying for companies and departments where they have a good fit in terms of hobbies and interests but also making sure to include a detailed hobbies and interests section in their resume. Of course, you can’t always apply to companies where you have great cultural fit in terms of hobbies and interests, and in these circumstances you might consider excluding these details as it might work against you.

What About Hiring Managers and Recruiters?

From the employer side, be cautious in using hobbies and interests as the main indicator of cultural fit as while they may be relevant to job success in some way, other cultural fit factors, such as coachability, EQ and temperament, have been shown to be a better indicator of future job success. And arguably, cultural fit hiring assessment should be based on these more robust job-related criteria.

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