Hiring for Culture

I’ve written in the past that I think that it’s important the hire people that get along with your group first, and with technical skills second. It’s not that technical skills aren’t important, but I think that fitting in with a team is more important. We can teach someone to be a better developer. We can’t easily teach them to be a person that others like to work alongside. Certainly, however, the person needs to have the technical skills needed for the job.

When I was interviewed in college, the hiring manager told me there were two important tests to pass: Would he drive cross country with me and would he go out for a drink with me after work? That doesn’t imply that those are the most important (soft) skills for a candidate. It’s that all the other, more quantifiable skills were similar in all the candidates. The ability to get along socially was a differentiating factor.

I was reminded of this reading a blog post that hiring for culture can hurt your culture. It’s a look at a developer’s opinion about the ways in which some startups operate. However I think the author confuses social situations or behaviors with culture. The culture includes much more than our schedule of activities outside of work. It includes our attitude towards work, towards building software, towards each other. Certainly this is mentioned in the piece, but there seems to be an emphasis on the social interactions with new hires.

Certainly a person coming to work at a company that refuses to engage with others in any way outside of work can be a problem. We need to get along with each other as social creatures, and be able to hold a conversation with each other that might not involve work. However I’m not sure that anyone expects every other employee to have, discuss, and participate in the same interests as the manager or even a group of people.

Finding a cultural fit is a difficult task. I do think plenty of people hire the best programmer they find (whatever that means), regardless of their ability to get along with others. I also think plenty of managers hire someone that gets along great, but isn’t a good employee. As with many things in hiring, finding a balance of talent, attitude, work ethic, and social compatibility is important and worth striving for, but difficult to actually achieve in practice.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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2 Responses to Hiring for Culture

  1. Tammy says:

    One challenge of hiring for culture is that sometimes “not a good culture fit” becomes an excuse for not hiring women, LGBT employees, or other minorities. I know this is something I’ve run into in my career. I absolutely agree that a person’s ability to mesh well and function within the team she or he will be joining is important, but I think it’s important to critically ask the question of whether a potential employee is really and objectively “not a good culture fit”, or whether that’s an excuse to avoid diversity.

    • way0utwest says:

      Hiring to fit in doesn’t mean that you only hire people that look like you or you like. It should mean a diverse group of thoughts, opinions, cultures, but one that can work together with mutual respect.

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