The vast majority of bad hires – 89 percent, in fact – stem from a lack of cultural fit. Making great hires, then, isn't purely a matter of technical talent. Rather, it's about finding employees who will thrive in your organization. No matter how skilled a person is, they'll rapidly crash, burn, and exit the building if your culture isn't the right place for them.
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It's all well and good to talk about the value of hiring for cultural fit, but the concept is little more than a meaningless platitude unless we also talk about what it looks like in practice.
According to DeLisa Alexander, executive vice president and chief people officer at open-source software company Red Hat, hiring for culture fit is, first and foremost, a matter of authenticity.
Only Tell True Stories
"The most important thing you can do as an HR manager is be authentic about your company's culture and what it takes to be successful," Alexander says. "This allows the candidate to make an informed decision about whether their strengths and passions align with the needs of your organization, and vice versa."
Often, employers go for the hard sell, painting their organization as the perfect environment for highly talented candidates no matter what. Instead of presenting accurate pictures of their companies, these employers tell top talent what they want to hear. That might get qualified applicants flocking to your openings, but it also increases the chance that you'll end up hiring someone who doesn't jive with your organization's culture and values. That employee is going to jump ship, leaving your company right back at square one.
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It doesn't matter how many highly talented candidates apply to your jobs if they aren't going to stick around for the long haul.
"It's best for all parties when you're transparent about both the challenges and the opportunities they'll face in the role," Alexander says. "We also use our employer value proposition to give candidates an idea of what a typical day at Red Hat is really like."
For example, Red Hat describes itself as a "mission-based company with a unique culture rooted in open source values."
"Working in an open-source company means that you need to be collaborative, transparent, and thrive on change, so these are some of the qualities that are particularly important when we're hiring," Alexander says.
To find employees who have these qualities, Red Hat makes clear to potential applicants what the company believes in and what it's like to work there. That way, candidates who align with the company's mission, vision, and culture will be encouraged to apply, whereas those who do not will self-select out of the process.
Authenticity Matters for Retention, Too
When you make good cultural fit hires, you hire people who will be successful in your organization. These are people who are likely to stay in it for the long haul. In other words: Smart hiring reduces turnover from the outset.
"Whether we're hiring for a position in marketing or engineering, we know there are certain behaviors that are crucial to thriving in our culture," Alexander says. "That's why we developed training for hiring managers and interview panel members based on a set of competencies that we believe are key to finding the right candidates for Red Hat."
Red Hat also uses these same competencies to benchmark employee growth. Not only does this keep the culture consistent, but it also gives employees at Red Hat a clear professional development path to follow – which is another key to reducing turnover.
The need for transparency and authenticity doesn't end once a candidate is hired. These qualities are critical to employee retention efforts as well.
Alexander recommends that organizations "start having authentic conversations from day one."
"Get to know the associate and understand their strengths and passions so you can match them with the needs of your organization," she elaborates. "This ongoing dialogue keeps associates engaged and helps them reach their career best."
For Candidates: Proving You'll Be a Great Fit
While employers need to be explicit about their cultures and values, candidates who feel they would excel in a given organization's environment need to make the case that they would fit right in. Alexander offers four tips to help them do that:
1. Do Your Research
Alexander encourages job seekers to study up on potential employers by browsing their career sites and social media accounts.
"Many companies will have descriptions, employee quotes, photos, and videos to give candidates a glimpse of what it's like to work there," she says.
2. Talk With Current/Former Employees
Talking to people who work at the company or have worked there in the past can give job seekers unfiltered insight into the experience of actually joining the company.
3. Prepare 'Non-Traditional' Interview Answers
"At Red Hat, we've found that past performance is the best indicator of future potential, so we ask job candidates to share specific examples and stories of how they have demonstrated important leadership and culture capabilities in their prior roles," Alexander says. "These questions help us get a clear understanding of how the candidate has worked in the past and how they might apply their experiences at Red Hat. But candidates don't always know how to answer these questions. Be nimble and quick on your feet."
4. Ask Compelling Questions
As Alexander says, "finding the right fit is a two-way street." That means candidates should seize the opportunity to turn the interview into a conversation in order to prove why they'd be a great cultural fit.
"We like to hear questions from the candidate that demonstrate their passion for and curiosity about our culture, our mission, and the role itself," Alexander says.
Interview with DeLisa Alexander conducted by Samantha LoCoco.