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Skill Set vs. Cultural Fit: Which One Wins?

Skill Set vs. Cultural Fit: Which One Wins?
Hiring employees is a complicated task and must take into account many variables. When a position opens up, there is usually an established minimum skill set that potential employees need. Beyond the minimum, how much do skill and experience matter versus how well the employee will fit with the company culture.

Skill Set vs. Cultural Fit: Which One Wins?

Skilled hiring managers will end up with a pool of qualified candidates. From that pool, they have to decide if the best candidate is the one with the most skills and experience or the one that will be the best cultural fit. Let’s break down why that matters.
Each company, organization, or firm has a company culture. For instance, assume your law firm embraces ingenuity and new ideas and encourages staff to contribute to establishing best practices. You need to hire a new paralegal for one of the most energetic and creative attorneys who has a somewhat disorganized but highly effective approach.
In your pool of qualified applicants, you have a paralegal with a long work history with a very conservative firm. The paralegal has an impeccable background of education, proven skills, and glowing recommendations. However, you sense warning signs that they may not thrive in a flexible and fast-moving work environment.
In your pool of applicants, you also have a paralegal fresh from college with only a short internship under his or her belt. However, the internship was in a fast-paced environment, and the potential paralegal did excellent work. Your interview questions reveal that they seem excited about new opportunities, and the candidate mentions how much they enjoyed working in an environment some might consider chaotic.
Candidate A is the clear winner in skills and experience. Candidate B is the obvious choice for the culture of your firm. Now, you must choose whether to hire for cultural fit or skill. As the person responsible for hiring employees, you have a decision to make: Should you hire employees based on skill or cultural fit?
Culture vs. Skill
A skillset is much easier to define and quantify than a cultural fit. Candidates design their resumes to highlight their skills and accomplishments. Their skillset, work history, and background brought them into your pool of qualified candidates.
The more skilled and experienced a candidate is, the less training they will need. Being ready to work productively quickly might be of utmost importance to you. It seems like a straightforward decision, but the better the cultural fit, the more likely a new hire will assimilate into the environment quickly.
A cultural match, while harder to quantify, increases the likelihood of teamwork, employee satisfaction, and the probability of long-term stability, decreasing turnover rates.
If a candidate has the most basic skills needed, it is easier to train them in new skills, than it is to teach them to adapt to an unfamiliar work environment. Lack of collaboration or inefficient communication can be much more costly than the extra time spent on training.
You need someone to fit in with the values, tempo, and culture of your workplace. A solid cultural fit is never more critical than if you have a well-established team in place. One negative person can destroy the productivity of an entire team. Regardless of someone’s skill level, that cannot make up for interfering with the productivity of a group.
Why is cultural fit the most important factor when hiring?
Ultimately, disregard candidates who do not have any of the skills you need, and also weed out those who are not going to be a cultural fit. What you have left is your candidate pool. From this pool, the ideal candidate for the job will be the one who comes closest to having both the skill set and the cultural fit that you need.
However, someone with an incomplete skill set can get the skills they are missing if they project drive and a willingness to learn. It is much more difficult for someone to change their personality. There can be other advantages to hiring those without a complete skill set, such as not having to undo old habits and laying a foundation in their initial training.
Hiring managers report that candidates they hire because they seem to be an excellent fit with the company's culture spend more time with the company, have fewer negative interactions, and advance faster. No one is suggesting that you should hire on personality alone. Education, experience, and skills are valuable tools in the workforce. Ideally, you will have someone with a near-perfect skill set who is also a near-perfect match for your company’s culture.
How to determine if someone will be a good fit
A resume will give you a good idea of the skills, education, and experience of potential job candidates. Once you have several resumes that fit the skill set needed for the job, the interview process is where you will determine if the candidate is an excellent cultural fit. How? The first step is being able to define the culture and values of your organization.
  • How does your firm make and prioritize decisions?
  • What’s your firm’s style of communication?
  • How much focus does your firm place on cooperation and teamwork?
  • How does your firm treat clients?
  • Is your firm very formal or somewhat informal?
  • What does your firm expect in terms of integrity and achievement?
Once you have established the most important tenants of your company culture, you can now define what you are most seeking in new employees. During the interview process, you can assess how well a candidate will fit into the existing environment.
To assess their cultural fit, keep the interview focused on these things:
  • Independence—If your organization depends on employees making strategic decisions and values personal accountability, then you want to assess if a potential employee can operate without direct oversight.
  • Collaboration—If team meetings and working together are how your company works, then you need an employee who has the proven ability to operate as a team player. Can they give examples of previous successful collaboration on projects? Do they express a desire to work alone? These types of questions will help you determine if they are likely to work well as part of a team.
  • Management—If your organization’s leadership relies heavily on management having direct control, then screen candidates to see if they expect their employer to solicit and value their opinions and input. If the leadership is, instead, relaxed and dependent on feedback from accountable employees, an employee who is used to direct oversight may not thrive.
  • Flexibility—Does your business require rigid schedules or expect employees to stay until they finish the job? Then someone who values flex time or the ability to work from home may not be the right fit.
  • Formality—If you expect a business dress code and the utmost professionalism, then employees who prefer a casual environment may not be a good fit. The inverse is also true. If you offer a casual work environment, but the employee is coming from a highly professional work environment, they may not thrive in a more relaxed style.
Investing the time in finding the right person to hire for a new position can seem time-consuming and taxing. Taking the time to do it right and investing in finding the best match of skills and culture will save your business time, frustration, and money in the long-run. Employees who stay because they fit in well with the culture of your organization benefit everyone.

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