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To Hire For Cultural Fit, Apply the “No Jerks” Rule

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One of my YPO clients asked me to co-write an article on cultural fit with him for their group’s internal website. YPO, or Young Presidents Organization, is comprised of thousands of CEOs around the world with companies over $20 million in revenue that are run by people typically 30 to 50 years old. Cultural fit is a critical topic for them.

I suggested hiring for cultural fit isn’t that tough as long as you follow this simple rule:

Rule 1: Don’t hire jerks.

By jerks I mean people who always complain, they’re negative, they need to be told what to do, they are unwilling to compromise or they just don’t get along. Few people are like this all of the time. However, the circumstances of the job can make anyone become jerk-like.

So to accurately measure cultural fit, you need to carefully determine someone’s propensity for becoming a jerk at your company. You can’t rely on personality and gut feelings to make this important assessment. This is done far too often: excluding the right people for the wrong reasons and hiring the wrong ones without the proper due diligence.

How to spot a jerk

Be careful. Anyone can become a jerk if three or more of the following conditions apply:

  • The person took the job primarily for economic reasons. This can become a problem once the new hire discovers the job isn’t as good as hoped.
  • Job expectations weren’t clarified up front and the actual job turned out to be less than desired.
  • The new hire and the hiring manager don’t get along. Anyone can become a jerk under this situation.
  • The person has a big ego. One POTUS candidate comes to mind, maybe two. These are the perpetual jerks. Avoid these if you can but sometimes they bring a lot to the table.
  • The candidate hasn’t coached, trained or developed other people including peers and support staff. True jerks never do this, so this is very revealing. A person is definitely not a jerk if people regularly ask this person for advice and he/she gives it freely.
  • The person’s work style doesn’t match the pace of the organization or the resources available. This is big. That’s why people from big slow-growth rule-bound companies struggle at smaller companies where the rules are made up daily.
  • The person isn’t flexible enough to deal with change. Sometimes people who are very structured and work in structured jobs find it difficult to deal with change.
  • The person hasn’t collaborated in the past with the types of people he/she needs to collaborate with in the current job.

By digging into the person’s major accomplishments by asking the most important question of all time, you’ll be able to determine all of the above. While avoiding hiring jerks is important, the same questioning pattern can be used to identify exceptional people. In this case, look for the factors that indicate a high degree of job satisfaction, the ability to work with others and the flexibility to match the pace of the organization.

How to identify people who would be a good cultural fit

Of course, to determine the job satisfaction part you’ll need to prepare a performance-based job description before you even start the process. The big point though is that you need to make sure the person is taking the job for the right reasons. That’s how you avoid hiring good people who eventually become jerks.

You can test for this a few days before making the offer by asking the candidate to forget the salary for a moment and ask if he/she really wants the job. If the person says no, don’t make the offer. You’ll be hiring someone who could become dissatisfied very quickly. This is a real clue the candidate has not been thoroughly vetted, the company rushed the hiring process or the candidate isn’t very discriminating.

If the person says yes, ask them to explain why. Then separate his/her answers into short- and long-term factors. Short-term factors include things like the employer brand, location and job title. Long-term factors include work that is motivating and important, working with the team who he/she has met, the leadership qualities of the hiring manager and the chance to be in a culture that maps to the candidate’s internal motivators.

If the emphasis is on the short-term factors the potential for dissatisfaction is high. When people leave jobs for short-term reasons and accept them for other short-term reasons a condition known as the vicious cycle of underperformance and dissatisfaction is created.

However, when people accept jobs for long-term career reasons and they have been thoroughly vetted, have a clear understanding of real job needs, can work well with the team and their work style maps closely with hiring manager’s, they will become exceptional employees. Bottom line: This is how you prevent hiring jerks and how you hire for cultural fit.