Everyone in the hiring world has heard of the concept of culture fit. It’s one of the most important ideas in modern recruiting — so important, in fact, that many companies won’t hire a candidate whom they deem to be “not a culture fit.” No matter how qualified that candidate is, they’ll be ejected from the process.
But what exactly is culture fit? It’s a good question, and one that more companies genuinely need to think about as they’re prioritizing culture so highly.
Culture fit is hard to describe. In practice, it’s generally a matter of a feeling that other people get when they meet you. Culture fit is, in essence, about how well a company’s employees think they would get along with you if you joined the team.
In other words, culture fit is a popularity contest.
Does that sound too extreme? Talk to some people who work at startups. You might be surprised by what they tell you about culture fit in their hiring process. For example, in some companies, the entire team takes a vote after the candidate has finished their interview and left the building. The subject of the vote is not whether the candidate is skilled — it is whether the team liked the person. If one person decides they didn’t like the candidate, that candidate doesn’t get hired — period.
On the surface, that may not seem like too big a problem. What’s so wrong with wanting to hire someone who will get along with the whole team?
Think of it this way: What kinds of people do we tend to get along with best? People who are just like us. These people tend to like the same things we like, but they also tend to be people who are around our age, people who have similar backgrounds and lifestyles — maybe even people who come from the same demographics as we do.
What’s the big deal? Well, if we were talking about a date, the answer would be “nothing.” But we’re not talking about a date — we’re talking about a job interview. A job interview is supposed to be about your skills, your experiences, and whether or not you can do the job. It’s not supposed to be a popularity contest.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If a candidate has a bad attitude or is clearly not going to thrive in the role, that’s a different story. However, when you have a candidate who has the right skills, the right experiences, and a positive attitude, it’s not right to turn that candidate down simply because you can’t picture yourself hitting up happy hour with them.
Culture fit, as we commonly understand it, is all about how we feel about another person — which makes it a perfect opportunity for unconscious bias to infiltrate the hiring process. Suddenly, you end up rejecting perfectly skilled candidates simply because they are different from you — and you may not even realize you’re doing it.
When a company makes culture fit a top priority, it necessarily makes diversity and inclusion less important to its hiring process. When a company makes culture fit a top priority, it is no longer looking for the most qualified candidate — it is only looking for the most popular one.
As Patty McCord, Netflix’s former chief talent officer, writes for Harvard Business Review, “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.”
A version of this article originally appeared on Copeland Coaching.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at Copeland Coaching.