Hiring for culture fit and overcoming unconscious bias

Culture is a set of shared knowledges, values and behaviours which together can help you operate the business every day. It can be one of your company’s greatest assets because it’s what differentiates you from your competitors and helps you attract the right talent.

Having a well-defined culture can help increase staff loyalty and engagement by 88%, according to AssessFirst co-founder David Bernard. It can also have a great impact on overall profitability, as engaged workers can more than double business revenue, compared to disengaged workers, David added.

But employees no longer stay within a job for too long – the average job tenure in the UK is 5 years. So employers need ensure they hire culturally fit talent to be able to make the most of their time with the company. For King, a leading social media game developer famous for games like Candy Crush Saga, a large part of the recruitment process focuses on assessing candidates’ personal and professional values. Each of the company’s 5 values are covered within one of the interview stages to make sure the candidate can fit well with the technical aspect of the role, as well as the cultural, according to King’s Talent Acquisition Lead, Gary Manning.

Identifying candidate values

While it can be easy to assess candidates' behaviours, their values and beliefs lie beneath the surface. So Gary and his team have created an interview sheet for each of their 5 values, with a list of questions to help them determine whether the candidate demonstrates an alignment with those values. The questions are similar to the STAR method, asking candidates to draw on their past experiences to exemplify how they overcame certain situations and what they learned from their experience.

“Past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Don’t ask people hypothetical questions because you will get a hypothetical answer,” Gary urges. “Probing into real-life situations is more useful, and accurate.”

The King team has also developed a simple talent matrix to help them narrow down their options, once every candidate has passed the interview stage. With the matrix, recruiters can rate candidates on their capabilities versus their values and beliefs. For an established company like King, with the capacity to train employees on the job, the aim is to hire for values and culture fit first. People get their values from a young age and these are unlikely to change, whereas their skills can be developed as they progress in their career, Gary explains. An employee with the right skills but wrong values will much more likely disrupt the work environment and end up leaving the company early.

Unconscious bias

Everyone holds unconscious beliefs – these come from our tendency to organise the social world into categories and are a result of our intuitive and associative thinking. It’s what determines us to make a hiring decision based on aspects of the candidate’s behaviour or experience that we identify with.

But our brain also has a second thinking system at work, the rational, reflective system, which deliberates and analyses and looks into the future, Gary explains. When hiring, we need to move beyond a recognition or awareness of bias, and focus on how we can ”outsmart” our brain to actually mitigate bias and make fair, equal and inclusive decisions.

Asking flip-it questions (“what if the candidate was different from the first impression they created?”) will help you discover your own unconscious ratings, reaction patterns and interpretations and reset them. Also make sure you train your Hiring Managers to conduct interviews in a similarly fair and unbiased way - prepare some flip-it questions that challenge some common biases or patterns. This will build trust with the participants and give them more inspiration to come up with their own questions. You can also share a story about when you have discovered some of your biases.

View Gary Manning's presentation

Gary Manning, Talent Acquisition Lead, King

"Hiring for Culture Fit by Overcoming Unconscious Bias"