Corporate cultural fit vs. skills that check the box with a new team member

Throughout my 25 years as a manager, I’ve identified two key areas I often consider when hiring a new team member: do I hire for cultural fit, or do I hire because a potential new associate has the right experience. In a perfect world, you hire for both, the new candidate knocks it out of the park, and they check all the experience boxes with a personality that perfectly aligns with the current team. The transition is seamless.

But, more often than not, I find that most potential new candidates have some of the experience but not all and might be an excellent cultural fit. I have also seen potential new hires that nail the experience test but have personalities that only a mother could love.

Rarely do I find that perfect candidate, so what is a manager to do, and how do you navigate these treacherous waters? Each year companies invest countless millions in personnel, often without ever seeing a return on that investment. On average, most companies don’t see a total return on a new hire for up to 12 months.

It’s also worth noting that Pre-Covid labor statistics showed the 2020 average tenure trended toward three years or possibly less, making it even more essential to make the right decision up front on new hires.

Based on the factors defined, I have landed on advising clients and my team members to err on the side of culture. Positive corporate culture can create an enriching environment, and negative culture can make work-life unbearable. I’ve found employees need to be like-minded, share similar values, have common interests, and most importantly, share a genuine commitment to holding colleagues in high regard.

A new team member might have all the experience in the world and have all the tools to execute a job effectively. Still, if they don’t fit into the culture and become a dedicated and loyal team member, life will be a challenge, and most likely, the team won’t gel.

Assessing skills and ability to learn are relatively easy to determine. For me, the actual heavy lifting comes when considering a personality. Job candidates are always on their best behavior, and sometimes it isn’t easy to identify that during the interview process.

I find that multiple rounds of interviews and shopping a potential new hire around with other team members usually breaks down the barriers and often exposes the natural person in front of you.

I’ve seen great candidates check all the skills and experience boxes fail miserably due to personality and culture conflict. I’ve watched those with 70% of the skills and the ability make a successful transition and find incredible success because they are the perfect cultural fit.

Next time you are considering a new candidate, get to know them a bit, get a feel for their personality and start with culture before skills. Job skills can be learned, but culture and human nature are much more of a challenge to overcome.

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