Every candidate understands that a recruitment process isn’t just about checking their qualifications fit with a job spec, but also includes the hiring team evaluating them as a person. What’s the candidate’s attitude to work? What do they seem especially passionate about? What do they say they’ve learnt from their past professional experience? Do the hiring team like them?

Culture had become a top concern for businesses, with many citing it as their reasoning behind return to office mandates, or why they value flexible working models, as well as other workplace issues – from pay transparency to learning and development programmes.

But when a recruitment process involves a ‘culture interview’ does it inevitably become a place of personal bias? And is it even in the best interest of an organisation to seek out cultural fits instead of cultural adds?

Hinders your diverse hiring efforts

If your recruitment teams enter interviews with a pre-conceived idea of what will match a pre-existing company culture, chances are they will have biases in favour of the comfortable and familiar – so it’s important to consider what is familiar in your organisation?

For example, the not-for-profit sector has a deep rooted and widely acknowledged classism problem – so if your organisation operates in this sector, chances are that your culture is influenced by a majority middle and upper class staff demographic, and so applicants for working class backgrounds could struggle to be compatible with this by default. Similarly, the FTSE 100 were found to have leadership teams that were white, and overwhelmingly male. So if you’re recruiting for a c-suite or management role, chances are the culture created in those spaces will be based on the experiences and attitudes that are most common of the demographic, and so may not be inclusive to women or people of colour.

Doesn’t consider organisational weaknesses or innovation

If your organisation is conducting culture interviews to seek out a cultural fit, then this can be a missed opportunity to hire with organisational progress in mind. All companies have weaknesses, whether that be in skill gaps or cultural attitudes, and so hiring with a mind for filling these can be an excellent strategy for filling in areas where your organisation is failing to innovate or just generally keep up with competitors.

Even if recruiters aren’t going into interviews with cultural fits specifically in mind, chances are their normal human bias will pull them towards people the find likable or familiar instead of those that display the skills and experience the organisation is lacking.

In an article with BBC, HR consultant and ex-Netflix Chief Talent Office Patty McCord comments:

“It’s not about liking each other. We’re coming together at work to be a team, to deliver something on behalf of our customers, clients or constituents. If you go out to hire people who are just like you, it’s unlikely you’re going to solve a problem that people just like you haven’t already solved.”

Instead, it’s crucial for recruiters today to hire with fresh perspective, unique skill, and new experiences in mind if they want to bring talent into their organisation who are going to forge new paths.

But what should you do instead?

Part of the reason culture interviews came into being is to whittle down the number of candidates who have already ticked at least most of the core job description boxes in the initial application process. It’s also due to the fact that culture has become a top priority for many leadership and HR teams.

However, you can interview with your culture in mind and identify the most promising talent without being discriminatory. What’s crucial is to decide what that looks like for your organisation, have this criteria formalised, and get all departments involved in the hiring process onboard. This might look like seeking out candidates who offer new perspective, bringing experience from a different industry or non-traditional education. You could work with organisations and not-for-profits who specialise in giving people from disadvantaged backgrounds their first leg-up in their career. Diversifying your interview panel has also been proven to result in fairer hiring practices.

In order to build a better culture or nurture one which has already been carefully invested in, hiring the right people is crucial. But sometimes this undertaking which has good intentions does not produce results that are in the best interest of the business. If you want to bring talent into your organisation that will invigorate and challenge it’s current processes, while giving opportunity based on talent instead of unconscious bias, then it’s worth rethinking how you conduct your recruitment process, and if culture interviews are really achieving what they should be.

You might be interested to learn about how an ATS combats prejudice in recruitment.


About the author

Hannah Elliott