How to Hire for Cultural Fit (& Not Just a Gut Feeling)


Guest post by William Vanderbloemen

My friend Jim may be the single worst person at firing staff that I have ever met.

Jim is fairly difficult to work for. He makes quirky decisions on the fly, changes his mind frequently, and changes people’s job descriptions without notice. Believe it or not, his turnover is pretty high. But even beyond the people who choose to leave Jim’s team, Jim gets the notion pretty frequently to fire people, and the script is always the same. 

He invites them to lunch to fire them, and the lunch is always at Chili’s. The problem is not eating lunch at Chili’s (who doesn’t like their chili queso dip?!). The real problem though is that Jim never, ever goes to Chili’s unless he’s taking someone there to fire them. It’s the worst-kept secret on a relatively large staff. “Oh no, Jim’s taking you to Chili’s. Be sure to bring a cardboard box….”

As if that weren’t bad enough, Jim always tells the person getting fired the same thing. He says that it’s just not a culture fit and that he’s “just not feeling it anymore.”

Culture is the buzzword right now in the US workplace. I’ve been amazed at how popular the book I just released on it has become. 

One of the key messages I’ve tried to deliver is that the best way to build a good culture is to hire for your culture. Conversely, one of the ways to change your culture is to change out the people who don’t match your culture.

But whether it’s hiring or firing, there’s a right and a wrong way to figure out if a person is a culture fit. The right way is not to see if “you’re still feeling it.”

Hiring for culture is not about a feeling. It’s not about hiring people you like. It’s not about hiring people just like you. While those are popular misconceptions, they can lead to a disastrous staff and really high turnover.

Hiring for culture is about hiring team members who will thrive in your culture when it’s at its best, and they are at their best. Rather than trusting your feelings, or hiring people just like you, use these steps to make a hire that will fit:

  1. Assess your culture. This does NOT mean listing values that you would like to become one day. This means calling it like it is. A first step is taking an inventory to see if your culture is healthy (we actually developed a free online tool to do this.)
  2. Define your cultural values. There’s a long process for doing this which I outline in my book. The short version? Ask yourself and your entire team this question: “When we are functioning at our very best, what do we do as a team that is common to us but uncommon to other teams around us?” That’s a big step we took toward defining our nine values at Vanderbloemen.
  3. Hire around those values. We use our nine values as nine key points to cover in our interviewing practices. I’m convinced that competency can usually be taught but culture cannot. We take extra care to interview thoroughly and make sure new team members have the same quirkiness we do. We actually use our interviews as a chance to talk people out of working with us by telling them that our values make us unusual and not a place everyone would enjoy working.
  4. Fire around those values. Chances are my friend Jim isn’t always wrong about having a bad “feeling” about an employee. Cultural fit can be seasonal and is rarely permanent. But if Jim would take the time to articulate his values, then see if the team member is living them out, he would have a far better way to determine if they are no longer a fit. We’re learning to include a cultural assessment in our annual reviews to make this a very normal part of work at Vanderbloemen.

Cultural fit isn’t pure science, but it isn’t just a feeling. Get to know your culture, articulate what it is. Then hire (and fire) based on those values. 

It will save you a trip to Chili’s.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here