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What if a candidate isn’t a culture fit?

Have you ever worked with someone who was incredible at what they did—maybe even had a great personality others wanted to be around—but they weren’t a good fit for the company? Like Jim or Dwight from The Office, they weren’t a bad person, just not helping the company move forward.

These mismatches can happen when organizations prioritize likeability or skills over culture fit.

What is culture fit?

While many employers think of culture as free food and foosball—and online media outlets seem to believe it’s homogenous groupthink—culture is simply the values, behaviors, and traits that are rewarded within an organization.

Culture fit, then, is about finding a candidate who’s aligned with your organizational values and embodies the traits and behaviors required to thrive in your organization.

Why is culture fit important?

Culture fit is critical for many reasons. Here are the top two:

  1. A great culture allows you to attract and retain high-performing employees. In a candidate-driven job market, companies that focus on culture have a better chance of attracting and retaining top talent.
  2. In addition, your organizational culture ultimately allows you to execute your business strategy. If you’re running a fast-growing startup, success depends on your employees being risk-tolerant, able to roll with the punches, and flexible in their approach. Hiring someone who’s wired to behave differently could impede progress, causing your operations to come to a standstill. 
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How do you assess culture fit?

It’s clear that getting the right fit is necessary for businesses to be successful. But how do you make sure someone’s a good fit for your culture?

1. Document your culture—and evaluate candidates against it.

The first step is to document your culture. What behaviors and traits does your organization require to successfully execute its strategy? What values does your organizational leadership stand firmly behind?

Once your leadership team is aligned on what comprises your culture, write it down. Use this as the basis of a rubric interviewers can use to assess candidates. This can be as simple as listing out your core values, asking candidates to tell you about a situation when they demonstrated that value, and rating them on a scale of 1-5 (1 being doesn’t embody this value at all, 5 being they strongly embody this value).  

For example, at The Predictive Index, our culture is best identified through our core values: THREADS (teamwork, honesty, reliability, energy, action, drive, scope). When we interview candidates, we’re looking not only for people who are able to fill a role, but who also embody these values. We have a dedicated interviewer who evaluates candidates on THREADS and their scorecard is used as a tool in determining which candidates we hire. 

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2. Set candidate expectations regarding culture.

When interviewing candidates, clearly communicate your culture. What is it like to work in your organization? Is it routine and methodical? Is every day a new adventure? Sharing about your culture will help ideal candidates envision themselves working for your organization—and will drive away those who are a bad fit.

What do you do if a candidate isn’t a culture fit?

During the interview process, you may find that a candidate simply isn’t a cultural fit. At this point, there are two roads you can take:

You can pass on the candidate.

While you might love a candidate’s resume, if they’re not a good fit for your company culture, they’re not a good fit for the organization. The candidate will eventually feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Poor organizational fit can wear down even the most motivated employees. The organization will also suffer the consequences when a poor culture fit leaves the company and writes scathing reviews on employee review sites like Glassdoor. Passing on the candidate in favor of one who’s more aligned with your company culture is one answer to this conundrum.

You can evaluate culture add.

Another option is to consider what this candidate might add to your culture. Perhaps they’re not a great fit for your current culture but they possess qualities and behaviors that your organization needs moving forward.

For example, PI is a very fast-paced organization. On the whole, we value candidates who move quickly, pivot when needed, and keep up with rapid changes to our business model, product, and positioning. These people are typically high dominance and low patience. However, as we’ve grown, we’ve added employees who are the opposite. They’re wired to create and enforce processes, pay attention to details, and streamline operations. These traits have been invaluable as we mature as an organization and grow to a size where process is necessary to scale. 

Remember, cultural fit is one data point of many.

In the hiring process, you collect a myriad of data points: resume, cover letter, interviews, behavioral patterns, and cognitive scores, to name a few. Cultural fit is just one of those data points. While it should be taken into consideration when evaluating a candidate, it shouldn’t be the sole determining factor of whether or not you make a hire. Take a look at the whole candidate to make an informed hiring decision. 

Join 10,000 companies solving the most complex people problems with PI.

Hire the right people, inspire their best work, design dream teams, and sustain engagement for the long haul.


Shannon is a product manager at PI. She has a mirror-image twin sister—but they didn't discover this until they were 26.

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