“Cultural Fit” is only a valid hiring criteria if you can accurately define your culture

Fast Company recently ran an excellent interview with Shanley Kane, the author of “What Your Culture Really Says.”

The entire interview is a good read, as is Kane’s original piece, but I want to focus on a single passage:

“This idea that someone is not a culture fit functions both during the
hiring process and when people are already in the company. I know a
number of women who have been turned down from jobs because they
“weren’t a culture fit.” I know a lot of people, not just women, but it
seems that women are disproportionally affected. “Not a culture fit” is
used as a reason to turn people down for a job. Once they are there,
it’s a way of kicking them out of the culture.

People will say “not a culture fit” without having to define what
that means. It’s almost this sacred space which lets them uncritically
reject people from the company or from the team
. On the surface level it
tends to mean “We just don’t like you. You’re different from us. We
don’t want to figure out how to work with you.” “Not a culture fit”
gives us a really easy way to disregard your experience and you as a

I wholeheartedly agree.  Far too often, startup founders are like fish–they don’t realize that they’re underwater because they’re always swimming in it.  I’ll use an example from my own entrepreneurial career, because I don’t feel guilty about embarrassing myself.

When I started my first Silicon Valley startup, I was still at HBS, which meant that I tried to cram as much as possible into my time at the office.  I didn’t think anything of calling meetings at 7 PM at night, and peppering my team with calls at 9 PM or later.  On one particularly egregious occasion, I convened a strategy discussion for 9 AM on Sunday morning because it was the most convenient time for me.

If someone objected, I very well might have said, “I’m not sure you’re a cultural fit,” because the culture I was unknowingly creating was one of zero respect for work/life balance and family.

Only years later did I understand why some of my best employees had quit.  Oops.

Cultural fit is important, and a valid hiring criteria–but be honest about what constitutes your culture.

1 thought on ““Cultural Fit” is only a valid hiring criteria if you can accurately define your culture

  1. Well said.. People need to put some thought into it and be really honest about what constitutes their culture

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