Hiring for Culture Fit

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Culture Fit” is something we hear a lot about these days in HR strategy discussions. But what exactly does culture fit mean? Organizational culture refers to the beliefs, ideologies, principles and values that the individuals of an organization share. And In short – culture fit simply means hiring someone who fits within the organizational culture of company.

The Importance of Organizational Culture:

While on the surface culture fit may not seem like a critical factor in the hiring process it is arguably one of the most important selection criterion. Employees who do not fit-in with your culture negatively affect those around them. They can stifle the enthusiasm, motivation and dynamics of your team. And poor employee motivation diminishes the productivity and profitability of your organization.

In contrast, hiring for culture fit increases employee engagement. And an employee who embraces your company’s values, and finds purpose in the work that he or she does for your organization, is much more likely to add value as an individual team player. They’ll also energize those around them resulting in increased employee motivation and employee productivity.

That’s why culture fit has become ultra-important today for companies hiring new employees. For some culture fit is even more important than skills. Read about what Richard Branson has to say about hiring for cultural fit.

While the right skills are always preferred, they can also be taught. But it's very difficult to “teach” someone to fit into your corporate culture. That’s why companies like Zappos are going to great lengths to ensure that their new hires are a good culture fit.

The Zappos Hiring Philosophy

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Zappos.com is a billion dollar, online shoe and clothing shop currently based in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s also one of Fortune’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For.

But if you want to get hired at Zappos you need more than just the right skills. For Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh maintaining their corporate culture is an important part of their hiring plan. If job candidates are not a good fit with the Zappos Family Core Values then they just don’t make the cut.

“We’ve actually passed on a lot of really smart, talented people that we know can make an immediate impact on our top or bottom line, but if they’re not good for the company culture, we won’t hire them for that reason alone,” says Tony Hsieh.

The Value of Values 

Why are company values important? Tony Hsieh highlights a very important aspect of hiring for culture fit in the above excerpt.  It all hinges on finding job candidates who are a good fit with your company values. WHY? Because when you hire someone who is not right for the corporate culture they will not fit in with the team. They will not fit in with the way that people do things in the company. And worse case may end up negatively changing the culture or having to leave the company.

Even if your company already has a list of core company values your team will have different values. This is because the company values are aspirational but teams are made up of different individuals. To understand the actual values of the team you can do a values assessment of your team. To understand how a prospective hire would fit in with the team, compare their values assessment to the team. 

Now let’s take a look at the interview techniques Zappos uses to evaluate job candidates for culture fit.

The Weird, The Wonderful and The Bizarre…

That Zappos places such high value on culture fit is completely understandable. It’s how they go about hiring for the perfect culture fit that has raised eyebrows. 

Interview Technique #1: The Social Test

According to Rebecca Henry, the former Director of Human Resources for Zappos,  the recruitment process at Zappos is more like a courtship than a traditional recruitment.

Ms. Henry, for example, interacted with Zappos' employees in a variety of social settings for four months before they hired her.

While the social test may not be as demanding for every job, before making a hiring decision, job candidates will meet with multiple Zappos employees. This usually involves attending some type of department or company event enabling the employees who are not interviewing to meet the prospective employee informally.

Now this may sound like a really fun and creative way to evaluate job candidates but it’s also one interview technique that’s come under a lot of scrutiny.

One jaw-dropping comment comes from the now-head of human resources at Zappos, Rebecca Ratner. ‘‘I had three vodka shots with Tony (Hsieh) during my interview.’’

If this interview technique appeals to you then the lesson to be learned from Zappos is quite simple. Social testing is a great interview technique and a good way for employees and team members to evaluate job candidates. It’s also a great test for culture fit. But it’s also an interview technique that you can implement sensibly.

We definitely recommend that job candidates be interviewed by a broader audience – especially those that they will have a close working relationship with. In lieu of a formal interview, consider arranging for candidates to meet with other employees over coffee.

What we like about the technique is that Zappos acknowledges that how a person fits in with the rest of the team and the organization is important. Being liked by the boss doesn’t automatically mean the candidate will get on well with their peers and other important stakeholders. Too often bosses make autocratic hiring decisions that impact other people.

We also like the fact that Zappos takes so much care and attention to evaluate new hires. Making a bad hire has serious consequences. Zappos has their unconventional methods but there are other ways to achieve the same objectives.

Top interviewing tip for making good hiring decisions and hiring for culture fit jpeg

Interview Technique #2: The “Nice Guy” Test

In a recent video interview with The Wall Street Journal, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh revealed a clever technique the company uses to make sure their new hires aren't only a good culture fit but also good people. The deciding factor - even if you make an amazing impression in the interview, if you're rude to your ride from the airport, you aren't getting the job.

"A lot of our job candidates are from out of town, and we'll pick them up from the airport in a Zappos shuttle, give them a tour, and then they'll spend the rest of the day interviewing," Hsieh says. "At the end of the day of interviews, the recruiter will circle back to the shuttle driver and ask how he or she was treated. It doesn't matter how well the day of interviews went, if our shuttle driver wasn't treated well, then we won't hire that person." 

Such a clever yet simple interview technique and it gives you real-life insight to job candidates before you make any hiring decisions. Your job candidates won’t always arrive by company shuttle but they will always be greeted by a receptionist or personal assistant.

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Interview Technique #3: The Service Test

A core value at Zappos is creating WOW customer service experiences. So if you are hired by Zappos, you can expect to spend the first 4 weeks in your new job manning phones in their call centre learning how to respond to customer needs.

According to Christa Foley, recruiting manager at Zappos, "The process really immerses new hires into our culture, what our core values mean, how we live them, what our expectations are of each employee to help maintain and grow our culture.”

Now I really like this test. People make an organization but customers keep them afloat. What better way to get your new hires to buy into the philosophy of service excellence than by making them walk the talk. If customer service is key to your corporate culture then this is an excellent culture fit test. Four weeks may be a bit lengthy but a few days in customer service is a good way for new hires to learn about your products and services.

Interview Technique #4: The Ultimate Test

About one week into their call centre training, Zappos offers employees $3,000.00 to leave the company. No – we’re not making this up. $3,000.00 to leave – and this is around 4 weeks of pay for the employees.

If candidates haven't become Zappos insiders, committed to the values and culture, then the company really prefers that they leave. There is however one stipulation - take the money and you can never come back.

While this may sound like a very attractive offer, according to Tony Hsieh only 2% to 3% of people take the offer. The other 97% say no deal—they choose the job over the instant cash. Ingenious to say the least.

If you’re willing to take the company up on The Offer, you obviously don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for. That’s why this tactic ensures that Zappos ends up with new hires who are committed, engaged employees who are a good culture fit. It’s also clearly and indication of how Zappos have earned their spot on Fortune’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Not every organization is in a financial position to reward uncommitted new hires to leave. But Considering the cost of having a bad hire, this program makes a lot of financial sense:

  • Zappos is able to quickly identify bad hires by their willingness to accept the $3,000 offer;
  • Bad hires then voluntarily leave at a relatively low cost and;
  • By removing an employee who doesn’t want to be a part of their organization, Zappos saves on future hassles, headaches and termination costs that far exceed the money paid to the employee.

(Unexpected costs of a bad hire article link here.)


Hiring the best employees is a foundational managerial skill. And what Zappos has showed us is how important hiring for cultural fit is. Zappos uses many “unconventional” interview techniques but you as an everyday manager can achieve the same objectives. If you're looking for an easier way to test job candidates for culture fit why not use specific interview questions designed to test for culture fit.

But Zappos isn't the only company that going to extreme measures to hire the best employees:

  • This is how Richard Branson looks at the person behind the resume and,
  • This is how Steve Jobs built his team of A+ players by personally interviewing applicants and only hiring the best and,
  • This is why Google has opted for behavioral interview questions over brainteasers.

What's the take home value here for the everyday manager? Often employee performance problems stem from bad hires. Hiring is a foundational managerial skill. But hiring is also a skill that managers don't get to practice very often. That's why I've made the www.boss.camp program. It shows you how to improve employee performance in just an hour a week, including how to hire the best employees for the job.


Do you have any interesting or off-the-wall hiring techniques? Help the rest of us out by sharing in the comments below.



Here's some food for thought. Hiring is a costly process. There are obvious costs like recruitment fees. But add in manager time, training and waiting for the employee to get up to speed and it’s not far off an annual salary. Ditto when things go wrong. The total cost of a bad hire is a minimum of 25% of their salary but could be over one and a half times their annual cost.  So is it worth the time, pain and cost of hiring someone new to replace your bad employee? What if I told you that there is an easy and time-efficient management technique that you can use to engage your employees, improve productivity and make managing easy.


Do you know that regular, high quality one-on-ones with your employees are the single easiest management practice. Do one-on-ones right and not only can you can take care of almost all your management responsibilities in one go but you will also:

  • Improve employee engagement,
  • Boost productivity,
  • Build better relationships with your staff.

That's why I made a mini-course on one-on-ones (including a one-on-one template with a one-on-one meeting agenda) which will show you 3 Easy Steps 2 1 on 1's. What I expect you'll find is that you already know some of the content on some type of level but maybe you're not putting it into practice. This will help. As I say this is essential for new managers and helpful for experienced managers.

The Hiring and Interviewing Series

This is part of the Interviewing and Hiring Series. This series covers how managers can increase employee performance through hiring better employees. And how managers can avoid common hiring mistakes.

Topics in the Series Include:

Other Relevant Resources:

Power Interview Pack: The complete set of interview questions to get the best candidate for the job. Increase employee performance through hiring the best staff and avoiding bad hires. Link here. 

Hiring for Performance: How to hire the best employees and improve employee performance, engagement and retention. Link here.  

Employee Onboarding for Performance: If employee onboarding goes wrong, your new hire may leave you in the lurch or become a demotivated low performer. But motivate and integrate your new hire well and you will have a happy, productive team member. Link here.

Values Assessment: Free Download

Use a values assessment when you interview job candidates to evaluate their job fit.

The Values Assessment has a Dual-Purpose:

  1. The values assessment is a good exercise to run through with your existing staff. It can be used to define your team culture. Ask each of your direct reports to complete the assessment to get an idea of values common to the team. 
  2. The assessment can be used as a part of the interview process. Ask applicants to complete the assessment to identify candidates that have values in common with your team. Job candidates whose values are congruent with the rest of the team will be a good job fit.

Boss Camp

Did you know that studies show that more than half of people don’t like their jobs. Now imagine how hard managing them is. As a boss this is the challenge you face every day. Find out how to make managing easy at WWW.BOSS.CAMP. The program includes topics such as:

  • how to hire for performance,
  • How to motivate employees,
  • What are bad employee motivators,
  • What you must do as a manager but isn't on your job description,
  • How leaders get power.