The Importance of “Cultural Fit” in the Workplace

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Getting hired isn’t just determined by the academic and work experience of a candidate, concluded sociological experts at Northwestern University. Research shows that more and more, employers are making hiring decisions in conjunction with “cultural fit.” The idea behind using this factor stems from the belief that a candidate’s personality traits and character will inform his or her behavior and attitude in the workplace. Questions such as “If your life were a movie, which actor would you like best to play your role?” and “Where do you vacation?” have found their way onto applications all across the job market. These questions shed light on the psyche of an applicant—a factor that doesn’t always reveal itself right away. With personality in mind, it is often better to hire an applicant with whom you hit it off over your typical “paper perfect” candidate. Asking someone about his or her “ideal sandwich” or “spirit animal” may seem frivolous, but this form of employee assessment is taken very seriously! A few pre-employment screening questions can make a world of difference. Questions aren’t the only way to assess a potential employee; a few big name firms have implemented their own ways of determining “cultural fit”.

A United Kingdom based high-quality fast food firm, Pret A Manger (think Panera!) has a system in place where a newly hired employee will be put on trial by his or her co-workers at the end of just one shift — co-workers vote on whether the new hire meshes well with the pre-existing team. If not, the employee gets paid for a day’s work and then is asked to leave. Another example comes from Zappos, an online shoe company. Zappos will pay a struggling newly-hired employee $4,000 after a week to leave the company so as not to waste time and waste capital training someone who doesn’t fit well with the company culture anyway. These hiring tactics broadcast a clear message to the applicant: we are genuinely curious about who you are; you aren’t just another number in the deli line at the supermarket. Based on the questions asked by employers, an applicant can get a sense of what corporate culture is like and can furthermore better decide whether or not he would like to join the team.

What questions can you think of? How does “cultural fit” play a role in your workplace?

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About William Zhang

Will is currently a junior at Skidmore College, where he studies Business and French. He’s almost always in the mood for a burrito from Chipotle, especially after wandering around town taking photos. (Blog:

Will enjoys learning languages and travel—after recently studying in Paris, he’s off to Tokyo in March (but currently resides in quiet Newton, MA).

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