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.

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

@Sandra- I wouldn't say it's a buzz word.  It's a misused word, perhaps.  But all the things you described could go under the category of "culture"  

@ Tiffany- Curious, what do you see from the candidate in the lobby that causes you to make that judgement?

Comment by Tiffany Branch on October 12, 2012 at 1:02pm

I can tell by the way they greet me, their attire, or simply the brief convo we have walking to the interview room.  Just the other day, one candidate was so in my face she annoyed me before I was able to get her to the first interviewer. She was trying too hard to impress during our brief chat. 3 managers interviewed her and all thought she had "great skills" but was a little "overbearing." Now, in another firm where I worked, she would have been perfect. Everyone there was "extra.' LOL


Also, I'm  not your HR person who "stays" in the HR area and doesn't interact with the business. As a matter of fact, I sit with the group I support. I know all their ways, likes, dislikes, etc. When you are really in-tuned with the teams you support, determining the fit starts to become second nature.




Comment by Tiffany Branch on October 12, 2012 at 1:16pm

@Jerry, if a candidate worked for a mom and pop but never a big firm, it doesn't mean they wouldn't thrive, but behavioral questions should be asked to see if the candidate would be able to succeed and be comfortable with a larger firm.

Candidates also have to be honest with themselves and know the types of environments that are best for them. If you like structure, formal training and a lot of feedback, the smaller start-up or mom and pop may not be best. If you are very creative and like your ideas to be heard and implemented, a really large and process driven environment may not be best.


When I do exit interviews, outside of money, many people leave a company because of the realtionship with the manager or the overall culture of the office/org. In one org, I always asked candidates about their need for compliments and recognition and if and how it motivated them. If they were all about being recognized and wanting to hear "great job," I passed. That org was cold, and could care less about the employees. Managers rarely provided feedback and if they did, it was negative. I had to escape because the place was like working in a funeral home. However, folks who were more passive, went along with the status quo, weren't strategic, etc. thrived there. Strange, but true.

Comment by Bill Schultz on October 12, 2012 at 2:02pm

@ Tiffany- First impressions are certainly important.  On the rerse side, I've been visiting offices for so long that I can tak one look at the receptionist and know what the CEO is like. If you want to learn company culture, visit the joint.

Comment by Tiffany Branch on October 12, 2012 at 2:25pm

@Bill, I agree. When I coach job seekers, I tell them they should be observing and interviewing the company as well. I had 2 intvws on the same day and the 2nd one I knew wasn't going to work out. They had no formal reception, just a phone. The person I was to call wasn't in her office and never sent anyone to check to see if I arrived. I'm sitting in this doorway, and folks are just passing me by, some mulitple times, and after 45 minutes someone finally asked if I needed assistance. Everyone seemed cold and rushed. The interviewer got stuck in a mtg, (ok stuff happens) then I could tell she would be a micro-manager because of the demands on the team. The current contractor, who was leaving, gave me this "don't do it" look and vibe.

Well, I got offered both contracts and I clearly didn't take the 2nd one. I would have been miserable. It's been 6 mos and they have already gone through 2 contractors. My "candidate experience" was poor and I was able to dodge a bullet.

Comment by Dave Wood on October 16, 2012 at 7:51am

The cultural mix in multi-disciplined agencies that I've worked for has say the least.

You can, frequently, get the two different personality groups that you referenced in the last paragraph sitting side-by-side and not having a clue what one another does from day-to-day.

It can feel like a real life sitcom.

Comment by Martin O'Shea on October 16, 2012 at 9:57pm

Great article Amy, and have to agree that culture is hands down, plays a key role into placing a successful candidate. 
I don't think you HAVE to visit the office in order to determine the culture simply just get an understanding of the client you have been talking to and I'm sure if the client is an experienced one they would give you some specifics of the type of person or it could be a case of knowing each other for some time that specifics don't need to be shared. 
All in all the culture should be almost like a unwritten law of recruiting where both parties have an understanding of the matter but don't need to mention anything.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on October 17, 2012 at 11:55am

thanks everyone for commenting - I agree you don't necessarily have to walk in the building to understand the culture - but it can help. It's critical to ask the right questions and dig into "a day in the life" if possible... and keep in mind that culture doesn't only change from company to company but also department to department. Even in sales - you'd think sales is sales but our SMB account executives and field account executives could not be more different... just one example.

Comment by Martin O'Shea on October 17, 2012 at 9:38pm

Wouldn't you think that it would be apart of our job description by now then? 
As it clearly plays a vital role in a successful placement, in most cases anyways.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on October 18, 2012 at 9:33am
Martin, wouldn't that be nice? :) too often job descriptions are laundry lists of must haves compiled by a hiring manager and blessed by HR. I won't start a debate here about what either of them know about "recruiting" (if anything).


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