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Culture Fit in Technology - How Much Does It Really Matter?

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

Culture fit is one of the most hotly debated topics in hiring today. What does it mean? What does it consist of? Does it matter as much as technical ability? And, most importantly, how can you interview for it?

A common misconception is that culture fit means everyone on the team has similar interests. This can certainly make socializing with your coworkers easier outside the office, should you choose to, but to be clear, that is not the definition of culture fit. In fact, it can even alienate future members of the team should you hire someone down the road that has different interests.

It might surprise you to find out that the culture fit of your employees is just as important as your technical fit-depending on the job, that is. When putting together the most effective and efficient team, culture fit needs to be at the top of the list, and failure to do this could spell disaster for your team or even for your company as a whole. Your projects won’t get done, your structure will crumble, and if this sounds like the opposite of what you want, keep reading to figure out how to prevent it.

Instead, when looking for culture fit, you want to seek out passion in candidates. While you’re interviewing them, take note of certain things.

  • Do they listen and engage when you talk?

  • Do they wait to say what they want to say, or do they interrupt?

  • Can they pick up and respond to social cues?

Familiarize yourself with the signs of good emotional intelligence (EQ), and start interviewing for that specifically. Someone with a good EQ will be able to read social cues, empathize with others, communicate openly, resolve conflict, and have good interpersonal skills. These are the types of people you want on your team.

Ask them questions such as:

  • “Tell me about a project you worked on that you were passionate about,”

  • “Tell me about a challenge you faced and how you solved it.”

Also notice how they talk about team members.

  • Notice if they say “I” or “we” more, because these keys will tell you how your candidate works within a team.

Keep in mind when creating an office culture that you don’t necessarily want to create an office of identical people. A crowd of people with too-similar backgrounds will just give you a crowd of too-similar perspectives. You want diverse mindsets with different strengths, ideas, and perspectives to round out your culture and meet all of your needs. A football team comprised entirely of quarterbacks won’t win many games; you need wide receivers to catch the ball and people to play defense as well if you want to win the championship.

You might love having overeager, “teacher’s pet” types, but having five of those won’t end well, the same as you don’t want five of the silent but smart types. You have to look at and analyze every piece of your team to really understand what you need.

In certain roles, culture fit could almost be considered overrated. In technology, if the job is to come in, put your head down, and code, it doesn’t matter so much where culture fit rates, as long as the candidate is good at what they do. On the other hand, if you’re hiring a project manager or someone who has to run a team, it’s imperative they get along with their team at least enough that everyone can contentedly do their jobs. Especially in technology, when all the cogs in the wheel have to fit and turn in unison to make the magic happen, it’s important that you as a hiring manager know where to put each person within the company culture.

In general, you should hire the better technical fit. There are times where someone is an excellent technical fit and not a great culture fit, but they’re so talented they might be worth changing things up for, and of course in that case, you should hire them. There are also times when someone is a great culture fit but not so good technically, but they might be worth teaching and investing time into.

Follow this rule of thumb when you’re not sure; for a more senior role, you’d rather them be better technically and make exceptions for culture fit. If it’s a junior role, you’d probably rather have a good culture fit, because if they’re young, they’re still learning, and a good leader will be a good teacher.

Also keep in mind a couple of other important notes. Sometimes, you will run into a candidate who interviews poorly for whatever reason. Maybe they get nervous, or have trouble articulating, or are too stiff in their “interview professionalism.” Just because someone interviews poorly, that doesn’t indicate they would do the job poorly. On the opposite side, someone may interview brilliantly and seem perfect, but they might come in and be terrible at their job. You never really know what you’re getting until your newly hired candidate comes in on their first day and starts working.

That’s why it’s so important to have a well-balanced candidate join your team. If you put too much emphasis on one facet, you might lose out on another. Weigh your current team’s strengths and weaknesses, their backgrounds, their perspectives, and hire from that perspective. You’ll have a group of people who complement each other, and your company culture will thrive because of it.

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