How important is company culture to recruiters? I’m not talking about so called “discrimination masquerading as cultural fit”. If you’re looking to read up on that check out this post from back in April.

My question is simply this – should recruiters screen candidates for culture fit with our clients?

Like so many things in recruiting – “it depends”. For the most part, I say YES. It’s not the only factor, maybe not even the most important factor, but certainly too important to be ignored. Consider this –

Many years ago I was a third party recruiter working in the homebuilding industry. I recruited ANYTHING and EVERYTHING for my clients, but my bread and butter was mostly the field guys – warranty representatives, superintendents, project managers. It was not unusual for me to send the same candidate to a couple of different builders if they were interested.

One particular young lady was an experienced Customer Service Manager on the warranty side. I set up interviews for her with two different clients. Builder A was a very friendly, warm, almost goofy place (their mascot was rubber chicken or something). Builder B was a very “corporate”, buttoned up organization. Suits and ties all the way.

My candidate interviewed with Builder A first. She stopped by my office on her way home from the interview. When she walked in I could tell she was, quite literally, shaken up. The interview had been a complete disaster. Everyone looked like slobs, there was a basketball game happening in the parking lot when she arrived, and there were all these stupid rubber chickens everywhere. She asked “what the hell were you thinking sending me there??” I had a hard time convincing her to go to Builder B, since if I worked with Builder A I must be crazy too.

Extreme example? Perhaps. But even my client at Builder A agreed that I probably should do a better job of probing for culture fit. I’m even more convinced now as a corporate recruiter. I have several examples of candidates who weren't a fit for a particular department or manager only to be hired on another team where they’re now killing it. Essentially the same job function, but the team dynamic is a very different.

There are so many questions I should have asked all those years ago. How did she feel about weekly potlucks? Would she find impromptu parking lot basketball distracting? Did she have phobia of rubber chickens? You bet I cover all those things now. Oh there is kool-aid, Mr. Candidate. You will be asked to sip it. And by the way, the cool kids bring their own ping pong paddles.

For me - being in the building, getting to know each manager well and even sitting in on their staff meetings has made me a more effective recruiter. I know not every recruiter can do this. I have clients in other parts of the country that I haven’t (yet) met, and do the best I can with the information I get by phone and email. The job type can make a difference too – if you’re plugging in contract coders who are going to sit in a cube all day long and never talk to a single person, that’s a way different “culture fit” than the marketing guy who has to create content for 12 different business groups.

Culture matters. Don’t let a rubber chicken stand between you and a successful placement.

Views: 628

Comment by Ryan Leary on October 10, 2012 at 9:57pm

Amy, Great post here. I am just getting back from HR Tech and the need for Culture fits and assessments are in demand. (At least from an HR perspective) It's a challenge for sure but for an Independent / agency recruiter placing those that are a strong fit for the environment of the client could me the different between a big placement fee and nothing.

Comment by Jerry Albright on October 11, 2012 at 7:07am

I don't get paid to guess the type of "culture" fit one candidate might have versus another.  I put qualified people in front of my client and THEY decide who fits.  Your example of the lady and the chicken mascot place is not the norm - and I don't see making something a part of my process just to cover on-off weirdness and fluke scenarios.


How does the typcial agency guy go about screening for culture by the way?  "Do you like big or small companies?"  "What type of environment suits you best?"  These are questions I find laughable.  While I will ask someone the type of place they're looking for - and keep an eye peeled for wackos that won't fit anywhere - I don't play the culture game in general.


Disclaimer:  When there is a particular odditty/culture/team/owner/way of working/etc. I most certainly WILL and DO discuss it.  I'm not an idiot.  :)  I just think (and know) that "culture" has been beat to hell.


If I work in a "family owned" company - does that mean you shouldn't send me to an interview with a global company?  Or what about a place that goes on outings every Friday as a team?  If I haven't done that - does that mean I'm out?  Where and HOW are we all to learn and adapt to new environments if we're stuck to only fitting one "culture" - that being the one we are leaving or just left?


Comment by Amy Ala Miller on October 11, 2012 at 10:37am
Thanks Ryan! Certainly not the number 1 consideration but too important to completely overlook.

Jerry I already know how you feel about this and prepared myself for your comment. :) I think your disclaimer is exactly my point. Culture fit doesn't trump skills / experience, but it can give an edge. As far as the small company/large company mismatch, don't you probe for how they'd adapt to the opposite? As long as the candidate knows what to expect and (hopefully) is looking for a change, then we can position that in the interview. And the typical questions recruiters ask are dumb... There are better ways.

Besides, don't you recruit IT? Bunch of wackos... :)
Comment by Jerry Albright on October 11, 2012 at 10:41am

I would like to go on record with a slight change here.  I just got off the call with a client - we discussed where "culture" might be the main issue with someone he/she just interviewed.  This is a smaller, conservative company where the leadership is not as "technical" as many IT shops are.  This is most definately a "culture" issue and I have a better focus and understanding of who we're looking for.  Not that the word "culture" is the right fit here - rather "leadership, management" - which is not necessarily culture, per se.  But I'll go with it as the catch-all phrase of the day and try to do better.  I'm here to learn, apply, refine and grow.  You win Amy.


Comment by Amy Ala Miller on October 11, 2012 at 10:48am
Lol love ya Jer...
You're right about the term being abused though. It's like "candidate experience". It used to be just being professional and now we're giving out freaking awards and congratulating ourselves on being masters of the recruitosphere because we have the best website or job fair swag. Puke.
Comment by Bill Schultz on October 11, 2012 at 12:46pm

"Candidate Experience" is another phrase for "What to do with people we don't want"

The only candidate experience I care about is when a company thinks it's Google and has 4 technical phone

screens on and accomplished candidate. I wonder when the candidate will experience going elsewhere.  

Comment by Bill Schultz on October 11, 2012 at 12:47pm

"an" accomplished candidate*

Comment by Sandra McCartt on October 11, 2012 at 1:12pm
The abuse of buzz words, bastardization of the english language and the burning need that recruiting and HR seem to have to develop some kind of biz-speak to be cool has, in my opinion, created a climate where the users of same don't know what they are talking about.

Culture I hate the use of that word. How about, tell me about the people in your department? Is it a diverse group in terms of age, background and interests. Do they work as a team or do they each have individual reporting requirements. Are they an outgoing, friendly group or do they tend to be quiet personalities who come to work, do their job and go home? Can you describe for me the background and personalities of the people in your department that you feel are the most productive, the easiest to manage and may be promotable?

Nobody can specifically describe "culture" other than in generalities. If we know what the people are like in a department or a company. How they work, how the execs manage, is everybody working at a fever pace or do they have enough people so employees do not have to work under pressure, what is the average age, do they socialize with each other outside of the office. Are most of the group family oriented or are they focused on sports, the bright lights or being at all the trendy events?

Given that kind of information I think we have the ability to screen several candidates with the skill sets required and know pretty well which candidates will be happy working there and which candidates management will feel will be successful.

In my opinion people need to relate somewhat to the people they work with to be happy and productive.

My big question to both a candidate and an employer is, "what or who is the most irritating person you have ever worked with or has worked for you and why?"

Culture is a buzz word. What and who people like or don't like is where the fit is made or not.
Comment by Barry Frydman on October 12, 2012 at 8:46am

My focus is reps  into both large and small IT sales organizations.

Sure they have to have experience and a good track record. That's the easy part.


I'm looking to place reps at 3 competitors.


One company pays sh-t, has great career potential and you can bring your dog to work.


One company is based in downtown Toronto, pay great, want only stars, have reps making 400k+,

  -The staff wear either torn blue jeans or $1500 suits and live close to downtown (very expensive thing to do in

    Toronto) and the owners are 45 and think they are still in thier 30's


One company is based in the boondocks and is breaking into Toronto,really nice people who will give a new rep lots of time to prove himself, work from home, low base high commissions, very low key.


Call it what you want but they ain't looking for the same people even though they will be doing the same job.

Comment by Tiffany Branch on October 12, 2012 at 10:36am

I am a HR / Corporate Recruiter. "Culture" isn't a buzz word. It is very important. I can typically tell as soon as I greet someone in the lobby if they will fit with the group I am recruiting for. You must know your organizations culture and the culture of the specific team in order to get the right candidate. If they are coming for an in-person interview, we are pretty sure they have the "skills" to do the job, it's whether they will be successful doing it in this particular org with this particular team.


When I have been in a pure Generalist role, many of my employee relations issues were not about an employee who wasn't as "skilled" as we thought they were to do a job but an employee who wasn't getting along with a boss, a peer or an entire team. In many instances, where it was possible to move the person into a different team/role, oftentimes they were successful.


I don't expect external recruiters that I partner with to screen for cultural fit, if they do, great. I see it as my job and know what will work best for my org and hiring manager. With my current client, if you expect a quiet environment, with no ringing cell phones and folks who repsect your space, this is not the place for you. However, if you like to joke around, be interrupted multiple times per day, have people sitting on your desk and engage in comical/sarcastic banter, then I may have an opp for ya!


You need to be a member of RecruitingBlogs to add comments!

Join RecruitingBlogs


All the recruiting news you see here, delivered straight to your inbox.

Just enter your e-mail address below


RecruitingBlogs on Twitter

© 2021   All Rights Reserved   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service