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Skills vs Culture

How much does cultural fit impact your hiring decision?  That’s the question we asked in July’s Virtual Recruiter Quick Poll and, not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of respondents said that cultural fit plays a huge role in their selection process. The truth is, while culture likely always plays an important role in the selection process, most people don’t always make it top priority.

There are two sides of a candidate to consider when hiring: cultural fit and skills.  Most articles you find in business magazines and websites today will tell you that cultural fit should always be the most important and, in many cases, we agree.  After all, culture can’t be taught but if a person is reasonably competent in their field, new skills are attainable. But to "always" put culture as the top priority seems unrealistic.  The truth is, there are times when a person’s ability to get along in your happy family may not matter.Evaluation

Putting Culture at the Top

Generally, it’s a great idea to ensure your new hires fit into the organization.  Especially those in a leadership position or one that includes a lot of team work, you want to know that your team will get along and can collaborate well.  Research has also shown that when employees fit well into organizational culture, the results are higher productivity and increased retention.  This is great for the bottom line!

If you are consciously recruiting with culture outweighing skills, make sure you do it strategically to get the results you want.  Here are some tips:

  • Define your culture so you know exactly what you want in an applicant.  Take a look at your top performers and figure out what top traits they share.
  • Highlight your culture and its importance in the job description.  Some people may screen themselves out right away if they realize they’re not going to fit into the organization.
  • Mold the interview in the right direction.  Avoid discussing the resume and specific skills, and instead ask behavioural questions relating to their personality and goals.
  • Include staff throughout the hiring process.  If they have to work with this new person, shouldn’t they get a say in their favourite applicant?

Making Skills Your #1

Sometimes it’s more important to have a new-hire with up-to-date, exceptional skills.  For example, if the role can make or break your business, or if you need somebody who can hit the ground running on a critical project, you can’t afford to let them spend time learning a few new skills in between team building sessions — you need them to work!  You may also require a change agent who will shake things up, break the mold, and improve performance in the office — that will be a top performer who may not necessarily fit perfectly with your team. Finally, keep in mind that existing employees may prefer somebody with strong skills and ability over somebody who’s fun to hang out with at lunch.

Keep these tips in mind when hiring for skills:

  • Be strict in your job descriptions.  State the required experience and let them know not to apply if they can’t meet it.
  • Continue to gauge their personality in an interview (you don’t want to hire a psychopath just because he can program really well), but really dig deep into the specific skills and ask a lot of questions to ensure they know their stuff.  Include subject matter experts who can smell BS from a mile away, and then consider testing to confirm applicants’ claims.
  • Ensure the new hire can handle the environment, especially if they’re being hired to "out-perform" others.  Most likely the person will not fit in with the team, so look carefully for candidates with resilience and experience.  People with change management experience are often familiar in dealing with these situations.
  • Given the previous point, you’ll have to work harder to retain these professionals or you can expect turnover. Figure out what else makes them tick and motivates them to come to work before another company does. You may need to pay more, add some vacation time or simply make sure they’re getting regular feedback. 

Culture and skills are critical for any new employee and it would be ridiculous to think a company would neglect one entirely.  What do you tend to favour? Skill or culture? Leave us a comment!

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