Ilana Meskin
Productivity through People

When Scaling, Don’t Make this Hiring Mistake

Will they fit into the work culture?

There is a major hiring mistake that I see repeatedly, and I confess, I  have made myself.  Despite many years of experience in HR in a high growth, high chaos environment, I fell into this very trap as a manager.  I was facing management pressure to fill a role requiring extensive experience. I interviewed a candidate with the perfect CV.  A little voice in my head told me this person might be “high maintenance” to manage, requiring a lot of direction and needing a structured environment – yet I knew that our crazy environment called for self-starters who could navigate with uncertainty and constant change. You get the picture.  I ignored the voice in my head and hired the candidate. He did his best, but sadly was a poor fit, and it was 100% my fault for compromising on the “fit factor”.

That same year, I was asked to “take” a personal referral from the CEO’s office.  The candidate had zero relevant skills, experience or education that made any sense for my team.  Nevertheless, we built a job for her, provided a good mentor, and prayed for the best. You guessed it – she thrived.  She was a fast learner, curious, collaborative, open to whatever was thrown her way. She was a great cultural fit, even though I would never have hired her based on her CV.  The ability to learn quickly, operate with limited guidance, and thrive in a team-centric ecosystem proved far more valuable than specific skills or experience.

My two stories are not unique, as research suggests that companies who downplay cultural fit do so at their peril. The Leadership IQ research firm performed a 3-year study of over 5,000 managers who collectively hired 20,000  employees. Of those 20,000 hires, 46% of people failed in the first 18 months on the job. Of those who failed, 89% were a “bad fit” to their work cultures. Lack of coachability, low emotional intelligence, and poor temperament caused cultural “organ rejection”.  Only 11% of those new hires failed due to technical skill deficits.

So What is Cultural Fit?

Cultural or attitudinal fit as it is sometimes called, refers to alignment between a candidate and the organization’s culture or the organization’s values and operating norms.  This includes things like how management and staff interact, communicate, make decisions, and collaborate in the day-to-day work environment. We have all experienced “bad” cultural fit – usually an individual described as creating a “toxic work environment,” sending out negative energy that impacts productivity and team momentum.

Avoid the “Perfect CV” Trap

In supporting hiring managers, I have often encountered this “trap” because the “Perfect CV” is glittery and enticing. It’s just so tempting to declare victory when the CV and career history match the job description perfectly.  You’re convinced that if you don’t act fast you’ll lose this perfect candidate, yet too often insufficient attention is paid to the tougher evaluation to determine: will they fit in?  

I am not suggesting technical qualifications do not matter, obviously they are foundational – but insufficient for successful hires. Fortunately, these qualifications can be screened and tested for.  Technology solutions abound today to provide serious optimization of hiring time, cost and efficiency. 

Furthermore, poor fit hiring mistakes take time to identify, and in the meantime these individuals create havoc for teams involving them. Typically, what they accomplish is not the issue, rather how they get their work done is the problem. Throughout my career I have witnessed countless cases like these, and they are often the most challenging to coach and change – prevention is far more effective.

So, despite the pressure to hire, do not rush to make offers out of desperation.   The gig economy is alive and well – where you can, buy temporary, outside support until you can figure it out.  Consider compromising on the wishlist of required skills and experience – you can teach, they can learn. Maybe there’s someone internally who can be given a stretch opportunity?  

No Matter Your Place in the Hiring Chain: Fit is Relevant   

Here’s a quick guide to start addressing the “fit factor”:

For hiring managers: ask yourself what are the characteristics of our organization’s high/low performers?  Build at least half a dozen characteristics and bake them into robust behavioral interviews.

For employees: you instinctively know whether you “fit” in your company culture or not. If you are flourishing, and have a sense of belonging, think twice before you jump elsewhere. If it’s new skills and learning you want, then ask for it. If you are not a good fit, then yes, start your search and find another culture where you can thrive.  

For candidates: do your homework on the organization. Reviewing a website is fine, but insufficient, even if it has a nice list of values and describes their culture. Find out if they “walk the talk”.  Find connections to people on the inside, or past employees who can give you a genuine sense of the realities of daily work life. Remember that talent shortages now give you some leverage.

In Growth Companies the Mistake Hurts More

In today’s dynamic labor market, perhaps nowhere more so than in Israeli tech – the growth environment makes this issue that much more potent.   Resources are so scare that there’s reluctance to deal with the “bad” fit, regardless of the disruption caused. Wherever you find yourself in today’s intense talent market, I challenge you to focus at least an equal amount of attention to assessing cultural fit as you place on the “perfect CV”.  Slow down to go fast, you won’t regret it.

About the Author
Ilana Meskin has over 30 years of experience helping organizations become more effective through people management practices. She “grew up” in two Fortune 500 companies, with deep and diverse experience in Human Resources and Organizational Development. She left corporate life a decade ago when her daughter made aliyah, and founded her consulting practice. She shuttles between Los Angeles and Jerusalem to work and play - with her grandchildren!
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