Hiring for 'Culture Fit' is Absolute Garbage...and Absolutely Important

Perhaps one of the most irritating terms to arise during the current tech renaissance is 'culture fit'. What, pray tell, does the term mean?

Ostensibly, 'culture fit' is intended to mean that a potential job candidate will immediately 'gel' with the existing team. Once critical 'culture fit' has been achieved, a company will reap the benefits as the Borg-ified development team bangs out line after line of beautiful, scalable, and coherent code. Launch parties ensue, followed shortly thereafter by an IPO. Investors cheer. The team eventually celebrates being flush with success and cash by sipping Mai Tais on a tropical beach.

Unfortunately, that isn't the reality. In the best case, the team suffers from a lack of diversity and is held back from achieving great results as it becomes mired in groupthink. In the worst case, 'culture fit' is a means by which a team can turn into a members-only club that keeps out individuals who are deemed different (for example, by being women).

'Culture fit' is a terrible thing, right? Something that should inspire us all to grab our pitchforks every time the foul utterance escapes some fool's lips?

Actually, no.

Why? If for no other reason, because no one wants to work with a jerk. Making sure that someone isn't going to turn into a team cancer or a morale-killing psychopath is important. The workplace isn't meant to be an episode of Game of Thrones, folks.

Development teams shouldn't be looking for a candidate's 'culture fit' if by doing so they are only evaluating the rather shallow layer that can be quickly and easily perceived. Does this person look similar to me? Does this person have the same background? Does this person have the same interests? These questions aren't important.

What is important? A person's 'culture fit' in terms of their values. Specifically, the values that matter for the company's success. Take, for example, Atlassian's stated values. That company places an emphasis on being honest with its employees and customers. The best way to evaluate a candidate's 'culture fit' for Atlassian is to determine if the candidate shares the same emphasis on honesty.

Folks, you should evaluate potential job candidates on their competencies and their ability to embrace the company's values. Don't use 'culture fit' as an excuse to exclude people who are 'different'.