When you’re sorting through a pool of job candidates, what do you look for? For an engineering role, you’d like to see applicants who know their way around a complex codebase, or have several years of experience with your core frameworks. If you’re looking at applicants for sales roles, you’ll be looking for examples of major deals they’ve closed or some translatable skills. Every single role is different, but no matter whose resume you’re looking at, there is one universal question you should ask: will this person add to our company culture?

Company culture is a difficult thing to summarize because it looks different at every company. But regardless of what drives your team to make products or come up with solutions, you need to make sure that everyone can work together to reach those goals. 

Contrary to popular belief, a cohesive company culture doesn’t require everyone to think the same way. In fact, a strong culture is one that empowers employees to share their individual perspectives and come up with unique solutions to organizational challenges. 

What Is Company Culture?

Company culture is the set of values, goals and behaviors that leaders and employees at an organization share. A healthy company culture encourages employees to build purposeful and lasting relationships with the company’s mission and each other.

“There is no secret that today, most companies hire candidates who fit the company not only by having the appropriate hard and soft skills but also by key values,” said Jake Vygnan, co-founder and COO of Las Vegas-based LGBTQ+ social media platform Taimi. “Therefore, the key thing that we want to see in future employees is a genuine interest in the project and a desire to grow personally and professionally.”


Free Guide: Culture Code

Strategies to decode, maintain and improve company culture.

Yes, technical proficiency is a necessity for any role. But finding and hiring employees who can embody your company’s culture is in many ways equally as important. Your people are what make your culture, and your culture is what attracts talented people, so including culture values as a central component of your recruiting strategy isn’t just important — it’s non-negotiable.


What Is Company Culture?

The term “culture” can be a little nebulous, but here’s a simplified definition: it’s the values, ethics and behaviors exhibited by your teams that help you get closer to meeting your organization’s mission. Creating a cohesive company culture requires everyone on your team to rally around a common goal or value system, so that all your employees see themselves as crucial contributors to their organization’s growth.

“Essentially, your company culture is your moral compass. It can be what helps a company thrive, or what will absolutely hold a company back from its true potential.”

As an HR leader, fostering a healthy company culture should be one of your main objectives. Without a strong and close-knit culture, your company won’t be able to unite its teams around its mission, and your employees won’t feel passionate about showing up to work each day. As such, company culture is crucial both to the happiness and well-being of your employees and to the overall survival of your business. 

“Company culture is the heartbeat of the organization,” said Anthony Smith, chief HR officer at Chicago-based HR tech company Elements Global Services. “Essentially, your company culture is your moral compass. It can be what helps a company thrive, or what will absolutely hold a company back from its true potential.”

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How Can Culture Help With Recruiting?

A major part of your talent strategy should always be to find people who will help realize your company’s mission and values. When you onboard new employees who feel connected to your company vision, their fresh perspectives will allow your culture to evolve naturally. This in turn will attract talented job seekers who want to work for companies that are both committed to strong values and flexible enough to meet changing times. 

“Just because you have one culture doesn’t mean that you’re going to be stuck with that culture for the rest of your organizational life,” Smith said. “You have to make sure that your people are part of the culture. You also need to represent your culture externally to the market to attract the right people. When recruiting, HR needs to be critical and take a step back to define what they want their culture to be.”

Company culture can’t just be a sidebar in your recruiting strategy — it needs to take center stage if you want to be a successful and relevant industry player. Here are some tips from HR experts on how to incorporate culture into your recruiting and hiring strategy.

How To Use Culture In Your Hiring Strategy

  • Spread the word. Advertise your company culture through job postings, corporate events, and on social media.
  • Find your cultural fit. Ask questions during interviews to understand candidate values and whether they align with your company’s culture.
  • Don’t create a culture vacuum. Prioritize diverse hiring so your culture can be informed by a variety of perspectives and voices.
  • Give candidates a firsthand experience. Adopt working interviews in your talent strategy and connect candidates with current employees who can help bring your culture to life.


Spread the Word

Your company’s culture is about more than just taking care of your people internally. Your values, how you treat your teams and how you give back to your community all contribute to building your company’s identity. These can be a magnet for talented job applicants, but they have to know about it first. Get creative with how you advertise your company culture — it can be done through the language in your job postings, at recruitment events and even on your Twitter account.

“It is worth mentioning the culture in the description of the company and vacancies and going through it in more detail during the interview,” said Vygnan. “We also recommend the candidates to visit the company’s social media pages before responding to the recruiter so that they can understand whether the team and company values are right for them.”


Find Your Culture Fit

Without the right people, you’ll never be able to build the culture you want at your company. During the recruiting and interviewing process, you want to find people who will embrace the culture you want to cultivate first. That way you’ll know they’ll be aligned with your mission and values even before they walk through your door.

“As we develop the world’s largest LGBTQ+ platform, [we want employees to] be as committed and excited about our product and mission as we are,” said Vygnan. “If just one person on the team is not excited about this idea, it might impact the mood and motivation of every employee in the office.” 

There’s no straight answer as to how someone might be a culture fit for your organization, and it can even depend on the role. What might make someone a culture fit for a marketing role is different from that of an engineer or SEO specialist. Every role requires different skills and personality types, which you should take into account.

“You might be sacrificing your long-term culture just to solve an issue for the next three-to-six months.”

“Culture can be really tailored to the role — what is important, and how that manifests on a daily basis,” said Aakash Kumar, founder and CEO of New York-based staffing technology company Shiftsmart. “For example, sales roles tend to need an extroverted person, other roles may not.”

Of course, technical skills, experience and ability are absolute necessities in any prospective hire. But value alignment, soft skills, and attitude toward work are in some ways equally as important to building a team and organization that is truly dynamic and long lasting. 

Before filling a role based on technical skills alone, ask yourself: 

  • Is this a person I can see myself spending every day around? 
  • Do they seem like they’d get along with the existing team?
  • What unique passions and drive would they bring to the role?

“I think the trap that a lot of companies fall into is hiring based on short-term skills,” Smith said. “You might be sacrificing your long-term culture just to solve an issue for the next three-to-six months. You really need to flip it upside down and hire people first based on behavior that is linked to the culture that you’re trying to build, and then work on training them on the skills they need.”


Don’t Create a Vacuum

Culture fit is important to keep in mind during recruiting, but it can also be a double-edged sword. If you only hire people who think, act and look like you, your company will become an echo chamber, and new ideas can’t thrive. 

“Unless you hire based on cultural diversity, you’re creating a silo of culture within your organization,” said Smith. “We always hire based on values — if they’re aligned with our values, then we make the offer. But if they fit with who we are right now, they might not necessarily help us expand into the full potential that we can be. You have to look at diversity as a competitive advantage.”

Homogeneity is already a problem in the tech industry at large — don’t make it a problem at your company. Rather than letting your culture stagnate by hiring people who match with the one you currently have, recruit people who will help build the culture you want to see far into the future, one where diversity of experience and thought are welcomed.


Ask the Right Questions

To find out whether someone is a cultural match, where do you start? It’s a little more obvious what questions to ask if you want to learn someone’s technical skills. But finding out if someone fits your culture is more complicated than just asking if they agree with your company values. 

Try asking questions about what your candidate would like from their employer. For instance:

  • What did they like about the culture at their last company?
  • How do they want to see their managers interact with their reports? 
  • What do they think leaders should do to encourage team bonding? 

You’ll gain a clearer perspective of their values and motivators, and will also better understand how your culture might need to adapt to draw in more candidates.

“[Employees seek] flexibility, fairness, openness and transparency,” said Michael Clouser, chief strategy officer for UK-based technology investment organization The Startup Race. “[They want] companies that care about more than just the monetary bottom line, that embrace diversity, inclusion of all and equity of treatment.”

“Don’t wait for people to leave,” Smith said. “Before we do exit interviews, we do stay interviews and ask people ‘What do we need to do to keep you with us?’” 

Your talent strategy needs to be about more than just recruiting. Combining retention is a key move to make if you want your team to thrive. That means not only asking prospective employees what kind of culture they seek, but also asking your top performers how they’d like to see your culture grow.

“Don’t wait for people to leave,” Smith said. “Before we do exit interviews, we do stay interviews and ask people ‘What do we need to do to keep you with us?’” 

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Give Candidates a Firsthand Experience

Putting your company’s culture into words is important, but words only go so far. You can’t replace the experience of seeing what your company values in action, so try to give applicants as much of an immersive feel for your company culture as possible.

“People want to be able to see themselves at a company, see how they’d relate to who they’d be working with. They want to visualize what it’s actually like to work there,” Clouser said. “Employee-generated multimedia content such as videos, podcasts, and blogs [show] what it is like to work in the company.”

As a leader, you can do your best to illustrate what your company environment is like on a daily basis, but those anecdotes and highlights will be more impactful for applicants if they come from their peers and potential teammates. Make sure job candidates get a chance to talk with their future peers and coworkers during the interview process. It’s a more effective way for them to see how they could fit on the team.

“People want to be able to see themselves at a company, see how they’d relate to who they’d be working with. They want to visualize what it’s actually like to work there.”

“We make peer feedback easily accessible,” Kumar said. “If someone wants to talk to people at their level about a role, we make them available in a non-interview setting so they can get to know what the actual day-to-day work and environment is like.” 

As an HR leader, you can only exert so much control over the trajectory of your company’s culture — the rest is determined by your employees. To build a culture that is truly inclusive, engaging, empowering and motivating, find candidates who value those principles. Then, show them how joining your team will help them live up to those values.

“Understanding the meaning behind somebody’s work is absolutely critical,” Smith said. “Any candidate is looking to bring meaning to what they do every day. If you can make sure that you show that you’re building a culture of meaning, you’ll show candidates that what they’ll be doing will have a real impact.”


Free Guide: Culture Code

Strategies to decode, maintain and improve company culture.


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