(4-minute read)

Organizational culture is a set of shared behaviors, beliefs and expectations that create a work environment where people are productive, creative and, ideally, happy.

Building a thriving culture begins with attracting individuals who believe in and support an organization’s cultural parameters. Recruiters and hiring managers assess candidates in two areas; the technical skills that align with a role and the innate personality characteristics that nourish the organization.

Hiring for technical skills and competencies is relatively straightforward, often accomplished using a scorecard. Hiring to support culture is trickier and typically follows one of two approaches. The first is hiring for “culture fit,” and the second is for “culture add.”

Hiring for culture fit tends to focus on questions that assess “alignment.”

“Does the candidate share our organizational values?”
“Do they possess the technical skills we need?”
“Will the candidate fit in with the rest of the group?”

Questions like these attract like-minded people who easily fit into the present culture but may or may not move the organization forward.

Hiring like-minded people encourages groupthink, the tendency of like-minded people to strive for consensus rather than exploring alternative perspectives. This mindset limits creative problem-solving and idea generation within a team.

The flip side of hiring for culture fit is firing for “culture add.”

Culture add employees bring ideas and experiences that are additive to an existing culture. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives are drivers of this trend, and it’s good for business. A study fielded by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) shows that performance improves by 12% with a diverse workforce and the intent to stay by 20%.

Hiring culture add candidates requires hiring managers to understand their existing teams’ dynamics, strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to evaluate candidates. The goal is to build teams that fill technical and emotional skills gaps.

The functional shift from fit to add has produced many resources and questions for hiring managers but few directional tools for job seekers or employees.

To position your skills and experience as additive to an organization’s culture, construct your narrative and value proposition in three distinct areas:


Cognitive add: How I add to the team through diversity of thought

In simple terms, understand and be ready to talk about what differentiates you from other candidates. Working in different industries or having a winding versus linear career path provides exposure to different ways to problem solve and come up with ideas. Elevate what is unique about your career pathing as it relates to how you add a new perspective to the team.

If you are from a competing industry, celebrate the opportunity for the new company to “hire the enemy.”

To organize your thinking, conduct a career SWOT exercise.


Experiential add: How I add to the team through my lived experience

Talking about your life experiences is an opportunity to tell your story as it relates to how you think about the world and solve problems. Your background, the adventures you’ve taken, and pivotal moments in your life play into how you solve problems and take the initiative. These stories provide context for how you will act within a team and are an essential element of any interview. Be succinct! Tell the stories that support a business purpose – collaboration, ideation, innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking. The basis for this piece of your narrative is a clear understanding of your values. Articulating your values born from your experience is a powerful way to tell your story.


Emotional add: How I add to the team through my innate emotional skills

One of my favorite leadership books is Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. Chapter 7 is titled “The 51% Solution”. In Danny Meyer’s view, team members are hired and reviewed on a combination of technical (49%) and emotional skills (51%). He believes that if a team cannot work well together, it is impossible to offer a world-class hospitality experience to guests of his restaurants. From decades of his lived experience, there are five core emotional qualities Danny Meyer looks for when hiring new talent. These are the qualities and his words:

Optimistic warmth-genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is at least half full.

Intelligence-not just smarts, but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning

Work ethic– a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done

Empathy-an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel

Self-awareness and integrity– an understanding of what makes you tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment

Use these emotional qualities to guide developing examples from your own experience.

If you’re unsure which qualities you possess, there are several emotional intelligence assessments you can take to understand your emotional strengths.


Final word

With your narrative and examples built, you’ll want to assess how heartily the organization embraces individuals who are additive to the culture. Below are questions you can ask in an interview:

  • What is the current team dynamic?
  • What qualities will add to the success of the team?
  • How does the organization integrate its values into daily activities?
  • Are team members performance-reviewed on both technical and emotional skills? What does that process look like?
  • How are differing opinions or points of view handled within the team?
  • If you were to add one technical and one emotional skill to this team, what would they be?

Despite the many evaluative tools and assessments available, hiring for culture add is not an exact science. Whether interviewing to join a team or hiring a new team member, there is always a bit of a gut call thrown into the mix.

After all the preparations, evaluations and conversations, don’t forget to listen to your gut- it’s rarely wrong.


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