Should You Hire for Culture Fit or Talent?

September 15, 2015

5:07 pm

When hiring your core team, do you choose talent over culture fit, or attitude over talent? This is probably one of the most pressing questions many companies today are struggling with, especially startups.

When your company is just starting up, it is essential to hire candidates who believe in your mission and what the company stands for so they will work hard in helping you reach your goal.

However, as your company grows, its needs may change and so will the need for more talent. That’s when your company starts to receive more resumes from talented people who may have the right skills, but don’t necessarily fit in with the company culture. At this point, the question of hiring people who are a good culture fit in your organization vs. those with raw talent can start to confuse some startups.

Balance Talent and Culture Fit

Morris Miller, founder of Rackspace, said that they put extra emphasis on people who are a culture fit in their organization rather than just talented. While technical aptitude plays an important role, it is not the sole reason for them to hire a person.

Keep in mind that your company won't always be a startup and that great talent is extremely crucial for the company’s growth. In order for your company to scale, you need to have forward thinkers, innovators who share the vision about where the company is heading. If you just keep on hiring because of culture, you might hire some individuals who do not actually deserve a job but got in just because they “share” your vision.

On the contrary, if you're just opting for talent, some people might find it too challenging to work in your company because they are not accustomed to high work stress and long working hours, as is the case with most startups. While many hiring managers may think that they have to prioritize cultural fit, the idea is to achieve a balance of culture fit as well as talent. In achieving that balance, you will have to let go of some good resumes.

There is an interesting anecdote from Brian Chesky, founder of Airbnb, when he was asking one of his investors this very question. The reply he received was “Don't f-up the culture.”

If you hire too many people who aren't a culture fit, your early employees may start to get dissatisfied. In order for startups to maintain the balance, new and talented hires need to be clearly introduced to your values and vision, while those who have helped build the company from the ground up can help train and demonstrate that vision.

If a prospective employee is slightly lacking in talent but is a culture fit, you can help them work on their weaknesses. But if an employee does not fit culturally, that's a harder change to make. At the end of the day, maintaining the right equilibrium between talent and attitude will ensure you have the right team in place.

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Josh has over 12 years of experience in the tech industry. His interests include data visualization, big data, and analysis as well as the intersection of journalism and technology.