Why is cultural fit important in recruiting? It’s about valuing people

Keith MacKenzie | |

In a rapidly evolving hiring climate where 76% of recruiters are struggling to find candidates, one wonders what the “magic” solution is. Truth is, there is none, yet there must be more to it than just the traditional approach of posting a job ad, screening candidates for work background and academia, and interviewing them. And there’s certainly more to attracting a candidate than just throwing more money onto the table.

Imagine if you hired someone because you thought they’d be a great cultural fit for your company’s overall values and vision, and not just because of their MBA from Harvard or doctorate degree from Oxford. This is the approach taken by OneInAMil, a recruitment agency that focuses on what its founder, Lee-Anne Edwards, terms “culture-driven recruitment.”

In November, Workable had the opportunity to host Lee-Anne at our high-rise office in downtown Boston. Attendees enjoyed networking, cocktails and a fireside chat around forming an irresistible company culture to attract ideal candidates and the impact of culture on recruitment and selection. Our team also interviewed OneInAMil talent matchmaker Alexia Gonzalez that same week, and we picked up a few valuable tips which I’m going to share here.

A first-hand experience

Alexia comes straight from the trenches; she herself was recruited by OneInAMil to be one of their recruiters. In an one-hour interview, she talked with us about how she folded her experience as a OneInAMil candidate into her current job in identifying and attracting ideal candidates for clients of OneInAMil, and straight-up answering the question: “Why is cultural fit important?”

Alexia’s experience began with her first point of contact, OneInAMil head recruiter, Madison Loomis. Madison’s approach focused more on having a conversation as opposed to the more traditional “We have a job you might be interested in” approach. As Alexia explains:

“I think most of my interview with [Madison] was just talking about what I like to do outside of work, which was really cool. She wanted to know who I was as a person.”

OneInAMil’s follow-up was also respectful of Alexia’s own motivations: “They made me an offer and they were not pushy about it at all. That was another thing, they were just like: ‘We want you on our team, but we value and respect what decision you want to go with’.”

Almost immediately after Alexia accepted, she received an Edible Arrangement from the agency, followed up later with another box of goodies. “It felt like Christmas,” Alexia says, smiling. “It was just so much love.”

While she jokes that “love” is a strong word, it’s not for nothing. She has taken that experience in being recruited and put it forward in her own work, and shared her expertise with us on common recruitment and workplace challenges.

Related: Cultural fit interview questions

It’s more than just ping pong

For instance, how do you attract candidates in an intensely competitive job market filled with perks such as flexible hours and unlimited time off? Candidates from the millennial and Gen Z generations are looking for more than just a good paycheck. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with offering perks such as remote work or work-from-home opportunities, or an open-concept office with free lunches and beer on tap, it goes a lot deeper than that for many. As Workable CEO Nikos Moraitakis once said, “No one ever came to work because of the ping pong tables. Even less so, stayed for them.”

So what puts OneInAMil ahead of the curve? In her fireside chat, Lee-Anne emphasized that it’s about putting culture at the center of your recruitment strategy. Today’s candidates are looking for a good cultural fit; if they’re going to spend more than 40 hours a week in one office with the same people day in and day out, they want the culture to feel “right” for them. In short: when you’re recruiting candidates, consider recruiting for cultural fit. Promote your company’s culture and values as part of the overall “benefits” package.

And how do you start evaluating your company’s culture? Start by thinking about who you want to work in your organization and how you can keep them. Define three words to describe your company values, and consider if your candidates and employees share these values. If you’re hiring people who share your core values, the rest should fall into place.

Navigating the fine balance

Of course, it’s not just about your own company culture. You need to consider the culture of your candidates and your employees. You want to show them that you know they have a life outside of the workplace, and that you value their individual thoughts and opinions, priorities and goals. Alexia attests to this important facet of the work-life balance.

“You need to be able to keep work at work and be able to have time to nurture yourself and to refresh, to be balanced,” she says. “The company enables you to have that work-life balance, but I think as a person you can find structure if you want it. And you can really make time for the things that are important to you and prioritize [them].”

But people’s priorities differ. For instance, not everyone wants to clock out at 5 every day, and not everyone wants to stay until 11 at night. Many have kids to pick up and important projects outside of the workplace, while many others revel in burning the midnight oil at the office. How do you navigate those apparent, potentially awkward differences in work commitments?

Alexia’s answer is straightforward: validation and affirmation. “If somebody wants to leave at five, you tell them – and as a company I think you should be vocal about it – [something] like: ‘Hey, you put some really great work in today. You deserve to leave at five.’ [And] the person who wants to stay in for twelve hours: ‘Hey, we love that you love your work and that this is what you want to do.’”

Validation of opposing approaches can be a powerful thing, Alexia explains:

“If the company is vocal about valuing what a person wants, whether that’s them staying at the office longer or leaving [early], then that’s OK.”

Candidates and employees also have different personal and professional goals, and it’s important to recognize those as well. As Lee-Anne said during her fireside chat, the most desired benefit for a candidate is to gain knowledge and professional growth in smart and innovative teams. Millennials & Gen Zers tend to look at jobs like projects; they don’t stay in one place for a decade or more like those before them. You’ll attract – and more importantly, retain – talent by building a culture that offers them freedom, flexibility and professional growth. Lee-Anne added, “You can have an amazing product and tons of funding, but if you don’t have the people to build your company, you have nothing.”

To attract these people, you want to show leadership and flexibility. You want to recognize the strengths in each individual employee, and what motivates them to come to work and be able to give their absolute best and not burning out. It’s about letting them do what they need to do, Alexia recommends.

Culture doesn’t mean uniformity

We can’t pretend that everyone can work together seamlessly, though. For instance, the current political climate in many countries – including the United States under the Trump administration and the United Kingdom in the midst of the Brexit affair – has made it difficult for some to work together when they have opposing viewpoints. This is a time when families are breaking apart due to emotionally charged conflicts over contentious issues. It’s hard to imagine how the workplace can be any different. So how do we handle this?

First things first, Alexia says, it’s important that the company establishes its culture and brings in employees who can differ in opinion but work together toward the same goals. “Culture to me doesn’t mean everyone thinks the same,” she says. She adds:

”I think different viewpoints within a company is an asset; you want somebody to offer new and fresh perspectives.”

While it can be awkward – even difficult – for a newly landed immigrant to imagine working with an outspoken Trump supporter on a mutual project, Alexia reminds us to focus on the bigger picture and beyond that, let the chips fall where they may; but respectfully and with mutual acknowledgment, of course.

“You need to look for somebody who can align with the vision of the company, who can align with the mission statement,” Alexia explains. She reminds us that this doesn’t mean aligning world views: “In regards of their personal opinions matching with their colleagues – that, to me, doesn’t have to do with the [company] culture.”

Alexia takes us back to the emphasis on appreciating the individual beyond the skills that they bring to the table: “Respect always has to be there…I think it’s healthy for people to be unique, have their own beliefs, and be able to share those in a respectful way where it can promote growth and change and love, and overall a good experience for the company.”

But, regardless of difference in work commitments, political opinions or approaches to a project, appreciation and understanding has to go both ways including from a candidate to a recruiter and vice versa: “You find the best talent by appreciating somebody’s uniqueness and that means all fronts of who they are, professionally and personally, and bring that to the table.”

Stop and listen

So how do you find out where a candidate’s values lie and what they want out of a job? Alexia’s answer is simple: shut up and listen. “I’ve learned silence is a really, really good thing as a recruiter. Sometimes recruiters can talk, talk, talk, and we want to ask questions so we can get an answer so we can write it down.”

Instead, Alexia says, “I sometimes just like to ask the question; what are you looking for out of a company? What kind of culture do you want to be a part of? And then I just be silent, and I listen. And they’ll tell me, explaining what they want out of leadership, what kind of company they want to be around. Whether it’s more big and established or not; [whether] they want to be in the trenches of the startup or kick back and drink a beer with their colleagues or ‘When I’m done with work, I want to go home, and work is work and my social life is my social life.’”

Through this, Alexia is also able to assess the intangibles that someone brings to the table. A candidate’s background, academic prowess or career expertise is not the only determining factor in whether they’re ideal for the position. They could be a star coder or pass the assessment test with flying colors, but their intangibles could be a dealbreaker, she says.

“If they just don’t treat others right, they’re rude, they’re short on the phone, they’re impatient, that’s not gonna make me feel good,” Alexia says of her experience in screening candidates for OneInAMil’s clients.

“They don’t have the soft skills to back up the hard skills. That company is not going to retain that talent because they’re going to frustrate their colleagues, they might not be happy there, so I think it’s a disservice to a client if you don’t look at a candidate from numerous angles.”

It’s all in the brand

It’s all about the brand, Lee-Anne explained at our office. Your employees are the faces of your company, so you want them to be happy and feel respected. You also want potential candidates to want to work for you. This means your brand isn’t just about the product or service you offer; it’s also about the workplace environment and the company culture. Ensuring that your brand has a strong and positive reputation is essential, particularly in this digital age.

In order to keep perceptions of your brand positive, you need to do your homework online. Conduct some digital research into how your brand appears across social channels and other platforms. People don’t buy products without reading the reviews first, and the same goes for jobs. Keep your finger on the pulse of how people talk about you on Google Reviews, Glassdoor, Indeed, and Facebook. Take control of your social media channels and engage with people who interact with your brand.

Social media is not just a wonderful tool for sharing open roles; it’s also an opportunity to showcase your company and your values. Share photos and stories from internal events, volunteer days and highlight individual employees. Also, enlist everyone in your organization for recruiting and encourage them to consider their LinkedIn network for prospects.

Lee-Anne said, “I have an ‘always be hiring’ mindset. Everyone is responsible for bringing in smart people they want to work with”. A great motivator for referrals, she adds, is the opportunity to work alongside someone you like and respect. When you pull together the company culture, values and brand into a single-stream effort in recruitment, you will end up with a powerful, dedicated, motivated team.

During our one-hour meeting with Alexia, it was clear she loves working at OneInAMil – and she isn’t just saying that to be on brand herself. She is a walking, talking testament to the brand’s philosophy of culture-driven recruitment. There is an enthusiastic sincerity in her voice that shows her love for the company:

“I know it [when I’m] having a good day: they celebrate my victories and my wins. If I’m having a low day, they’re in the trenches with me and they’re gonna help me. And I don’t doubt that for a second. I don’t feel bad about asking for help. They’re so good about being in tune with where I’m at, [asking me] if I need help, congratulating me.”

It makes a huge difference knowing that every morning, you start the day surrounded by a team that believes in you through both the good and bad days, Alexia emphasizes. “It makes recruiting so much more fun.”

It’s this attitude that puts OneInAMil ahead, Alexia adds. “We’ve got the best talent at a company because of our process, not because of anything else.

“[Candidates] don’t remember how much money you offered them. They’re not going to remember those things that are superficial. They’re going to remember how you made them feel.“

Workable’s Events Marketing Associate Carolyn Martin attended the OneInAMil fireside chat and contributed to this report.

Workable’s networking events began in 2017 with an idea to create a special learning experience for the local community of recruiters, human resources and talent acquisition professionals. The evening is designed to provide attendees with helpful advice and takeaways from experts on how to strengthen their hiring strategy for the new year. For our first Boston event of 2019, Workable is partnering with She Geeks Out to kick off the new year with a discussion on the crucial intersection point of gender and age, and how that plays into your D&I strategy.

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Keith MacKenzie

Keith is Workable's content strategy manager, and brings more than a decade's worth of background as an editor and writer in the mainstream media and content marketing industries. He's very interested in the perpetually evolving recruitment landscape and how it is shaped by internal and external influences, as well as worldwide trends.

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