We’ve all heard that hiring candidates who thrive in your culture can lead to healthier organizations and more sustainable business success. It can also save you a lot of headaches: You can always train an employee to close their skills gaps, but it’s much harder to get a new hire to adopt and internalize your values if they don’t already share a similar outlook on business.

It’s understandable, then, that many organizations have taken to prioritizing culture fit when recruiting — but there’s a danger in doing so. As more and more experts have begun to point out, if you’re not careful, your quest for a culture-fit candidate can all too easily shade into biased and discriminatory hiring.

The Dark Side of Culture Fit

We all know what culture fit is, right? It’s a candidate we can get along with, a candidate who shares our interests. A candidate we could see ourselves spending time with outside of work.

Not exactly. Culture fit is about whether a candidate can work on your team effectively, not about whether they’ll be your new best friend. It’s about whether a candidate is motivated by the same things that drive your workplace. It’s about whether a candidate sees the value of your mission and vision and is willing to put in the work to overcome challenges in pursuit of that goal.

Culture fit is decidedly not about whether a candidate has the same lifestyle and personal preferences as you. Unfortunately, far too many recruiters and hiring managers labor under this misunderstood version of culture fit, and that makes them vulnerable to biased hiring decisions. Companies can end up building teams of people who all think, look, and act alike. Organizations shut out the diverse perspectives that lead to real innovation, creativity, and results. They may even open themselves up to accusations of discriminatory hiring practices.

Best Practices for a More Ethical Culture Fit

While culture-fit hiring has its pitfalls, it isn’t inherently biased. In fact, companies can prioritize culture fit while still promoting diversity and inclusion by setting some important boundaries and following a couple best practices:

1. Develop Core Values That Accurately Reflect Your Work Culture

Core values should be more than catchy slogans painted on your office walls. They need to capture the true essence of your workplace culture. Only then can they guide your hiring process toward genuine culture fits.

If an organization’s mission statement determines its why, its core values should depict how employees go about achieving that mission. Rather than imposing values from the top down, HR managers and company leaders should extract core values from day-to-day employee behavior. Developing core values should be a collaborative effort, with everyone from entry-level support staff to the CEO actively taking part in the conversation.

For more expert hiring insights, check out the latest issue of Magazine:

2. Use Your Core Values to Frame Your Culture-Fit Assessment

Once you have set genuine core values, the next step is to use those values to shape your culture fit evaluations. Ideally, the questions you use to determine culture fit will allow candidates to let their unique personalities shine while showcasing how they embody your values.

Many companies rely on personality assessments and psychometric tests to help assess culture fit, but these can come with their own built-in biases, leading to skewed results. Furthermore, some candidates may suffer from test anxiety, which makes their assessment performance unreliable. Similarly, behavioral interview questions that simply ask candidates to “describe a time when …” will only show you a candidate’s ability to remember anecdotes and tell stories they think you’ll want to hear.

The best way to get to a candidate’s core values and culture fit is to use situational judgement questions that highlight the candidate’s critical-thinking skills, workplace ethics, and potential red flags. Here are a few good examples:

• “Have You Ever Experimented With a New Task, Hobby, or Project Because It Aligned With Your Passions?”

Not only does this question add some color to an otherwise dry interview process, but it also gets your candidate talking about something off script, giving you a better glimpse of their true personality.

Because bias toward action is one of Kissflow’s core values, we like to add follow-up questions like, “Did you succeed or fail? What lessons did you learn?” This helps us spot trailblazers who are not afraid of failure — the kind of people who thrive in our culture. In general, the way in which a candidate approaches failure and bounces back (or doesn’t) can tell you a lot about their character and how they will deal with the challenges your organization faces.

• “Describe the Culture of Your Current or Previous Employer”

This question is helpful in two ways. First, it can give you valuable insight into what the candidate values in a workplace culture. Second, it gives you a chance to discuss how your culture compares to their past experiences. In both cases, you get a fuller understanding of how the candidate would behave in your workplace.

• “What Would Your Ideal Workplace Culture Look Like? In What Kind of Environment Are You Most Productive?”

Employees who fall in the ideal culture-fit category will know how to successfully meet their responsibilities within the atmosphere your workplace has to offer. How closely the candidate’s description of an ideal workplace aligns with the reality of your office can tell you whether this new hire is going to be a match.

• “How Do You Handle Conflicts With Coworkers?”

Some organizations make team-building activities and friendly coworker relations part of their cultural fabric, while others are more focused on goal completion than congenial relationships. Either way, the candidate’s answer here can help you gauge whether their attitude toward their coworkers will fit in with your existing employees’ views.

While culture fit matters, it can lead recruiters and hiring managers astray unless they have a clear model to follow. Develop a set of meaningful core values, and let them guide your hiring decisions toward true cultural fit. Not only will this lead to better hires — it will also establish your company as one that takes ethical recruiting seriously. That, in turn, can boost your brand image among customers, job seekers, and employees alike.

Susan Leonard is the senior HR manager at Kissflow.

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