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The Demise Of “Culture Fit.”

Largely coinciding with the tech boom in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, companies began searching for terms to define their hiring needs in fun, creative ways. Ads started listing personality traits alongside education and experience. Prospective workers were described as fun or hip or energetic. They were “digital natives” and “tech savvy.” Soon, all of these traits began to merge into what companies would define as their culture.

Unfortunately, culture and the expected descriptor of whether an applicant was a “culture fit” soon became the defining new-hire characteristic. But, nearly two decades later, has “culture fit” taken on a sinister tone?

A recent Forbes piece makes the argument that it has. “A hiring process built around an undefined notion of “culture fit” is fraught with bias.” The problem is that such a nebulous factor can be used in nearly any situation to reject an applicant. This blanket phrase, it has been argued, has “become the embodiment of unconscious bias.” Is the interviewer unconsciously trying to hire only people similar in personality to himself or herself? Is the interviewer unconsciously trying to hire only candidates the manager will “like” rather than people best fit for the position? Can organizations seeking to hire only the same types of people realistically build a diverse work environment? These are dangerous questions that lead down a slippery slope.

Large organizations such as Facebook have come out publicly against the use of “culture fit” as a valid reason for accepting or rejecting an applicant. A spokesperson recently noted “At Facebook, we’ve explicitly asked interviewers not to use the term ‘culture fit’ when giving feedback on a candidate because that phrase can easily allow bias to influence the outcome of an interview.” Interviewers, hiring managers and entire human resource departments can be better served by recognizing and avoiding possible unconscious bias at any stage of the recruitment process.

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