Hiring for Culture – The Ultimate Guide

Carolyn Taylor

With the growth in skills-based hiring, fractional employment, and the transactional gig economy, there have been questions about the importance of corporate culture in hiring and retaining talent. But far from diminishing in currency with candidates, your culture is one of the most powerful tools you own to showcase why, in a world of increasing choice, people should come and work for your organisation.  
In this article, we will examine what is meant by company culture, why it’s increasingly important in recruitment, and how you can use it to attract the people you need. We’ll also explore several trends in what candidates are looking for from employers, what businesses want from people, and how to hire for cultural contribution.


What do we mean by hiring for culture? 

​At Walking the Talk, we believe that culture is created through the messages people receive about how they should behave to fit in. Some behaviours are encouraged, and others discouraged, or not tolerated. The sources of these messages are the behaviours of others around them, the organisation’s systems, processes, and symbols. Each of these send messages throughout an organisation about what is valued, rewarded, and allowed. Leaders are instrumental in setting the culture and role modelling the behaviours they want to see throughout the company.  
Hiring for culture is about looking at the likely contribution that any leader, whether an external candidate or existing employee, is going to make to your culture and working environment. This is not about measuring perceived culture ‘fit’, but about assessing what culture the person will help to build and develop, and the legacy they will leave.    


What is the role of culture in recruitment?  

There are three main reasons for the increased importance of culture in hiring.

1. The best talent want to work for companies with a great culture. 

Culture and values trump cash for Millennials and Gen-Z. These people are looking to work for organisations whose purpose and values align with their own. As such, they will be researching your culture and reviewing how well you live up to your values.  

2. Candidates have never had more choice.  

With a global skills shortage in many industries, talented people are often in high demand. They have more choice, which means that as well as financial rewards, they will be considering culture in their employment decisions.  

3. Growing appreciation of the importance of hiring for cultural contribution.

Recruiting and employing people is becoming more expensive. Companies want to increase their likelihood of ROI by hiring people who will contribute positively to their culture, as these people are quicker to add value and more likely to stay.


Why is hiring for cultural contribution important?

Hiring people based on potential culture contribution is so important when you are attempting to enhance or evolve your culture because they will accelerate your culture change process. Your recruitment process must be used strategically to help build your desired culture.


How can you use your culture to recruit the talent you need?

To utilise your culture effectively as a recruitment vehicle, it must be managed like any other business asset. In our experience, the best companies at doing this share three defining characteristics when it comes to culture:  


Key culture characteristics for recruitment


1. Their culture is clearly defined, and they can articulate its key strengths in a compelling way.

What this means for you: Reflect deeply on your company culture. Look at your behaviours, systems, and symbols. Talk to your people. Through this research, consistent themes will emerge. The key is to bottle these into a succinct summation of who you are, what you do, and why you do it (your unique Employee Value Proposition – EVP) – in a way that is genuine and resonates with today’s candidates.

2. Are proud of their culture and talk about it all the time – internally and externally. It’s explicit and implicit in every business activity.

What this means for you: Every piece of communications issued by your business should reflect your culture, and you double down on your EVP in your recruitment marketing materials. Your search agencies should understand and be able to talk confidently about your culture. You will make direct references to your culture at every stage of the recruitment process, so candidates know exactly what to expect and there are no surprises.

3. Have an active, ongoing programme of work to enhance or evolve their culture. The culture is managed in a structured way, and this is felt by all stakeholders.

What this means for you: You need to have a strategy and systems in place that support the development and promotion of your culture. For your culture to be attractive to candidates, it needs to be an authentic, living, breathing part of your organisation that is continuously monitored. Indeed, according to Gartner, the most forward-thinking companies focus 80 percent of their efforts on delivering their EVP promises.


What are the top cultural characteristics candidates are looking for in companies?

I mentioned earlier that candidates are increasingly looking to work for companies with a clear purpose and values. They are also seeking:

High-performing organisations.

Economic pressures, especially on younger people, mean they want to work for companies with superior performance, and therefore rewards. They want an achievement culture which is based on meritocracy, where people are held to account and expected to be accountable, where rewards are linked to performance and non-performers do not stay around for the long term.

Career development opportunities.

Candidates expect to have clear career paths that stretch them and enable growth. They want a culture which values people development, mentoring, personal growth, and learning.


There is a growing desire for autonomy and freedom among today’s entrants into the workforce. They want to make their own decisions about how, where, and when their work gets done. You need a culture which values empowerment, where leaders are encouraged to delegate, and people are encouraged to step up and take ownership.


What are the top cultural contribution attributes companies are looking for in candidates?  

While there is some crossover between what candidates and companies want (notably on purpose and empowerment), there are some emerging critical capabilities that organisations repeatedly tell us they lack, and need:


Businesses need people who take ownership, follow through on their commitments, admit when things have gone wrong (and what they’ll do differently next time), and don’t try to lay the blame on others or external circumstances.


Traditional hierarchical structures are being replaced by networked, matrixed organisations that work on influence and cross-functional teamwork. Candidates need to think (and lead) laterally as part of One Team, and not in a silo.  


More than simply generating ideas and improving creativity, companies need people who know how to master risk so they can grab more opportunities, and are comfortable with ambiguity.


How can you assess culture contribution and hire for it?

Top tips: 
  1. Understand and explain what’s great about your culture, but also, what might not be for everyone (so candidates can self-select in or out).  
  2. Be clear on what you are not changing about the culture, so you (and the candidate) can assess whether they will belong in your company. 

  3. Do everyone a favour by being explicit on expectations. How exactly do you want the candidate to impact your culture? For example, do you want them to maintain, or disrupt? 

In our experience, organisations often struggle with finding the tools and support they need to measure culture contribution effectively, which is why we built the Taylor Assessment, a personal assessment tool which is built by culture experts and is based on culture contribution. 
Far from being redundant in the recruitment process, company culture is in fact growing in relevance to candidates. Organisations with a great culture story to tell will find themselves magnets for the best talent that will drive their cultures, and businesses, forward. 
Get in touch with us to learn how we can help you define and hire for your desired culture: 
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Should you hire for culture?

When you’re leading a culture change, your people are constantly looking for signs about how serious you are about it. It’s only when leaders are seen to be walking the talk that your people start to see that your organisation is serious about change, and their behaviour follows suit. 

Your choices about who you hire, and promote, send a strong signal about what you really value, not what you say you value. If those choices align with your stated desired culture, they will accelerate your change. If they don’t, they will undermine your credibility and cripple your change plans.

Is culture fit the same as culture contribution?

No. Culture fit is about your current culture. But if you are trying to change your culture, one of the challenges is hiring people who represent your desired future. They may seem so counter to the current culture that they can either be rejected by your organisation, or leave voluntarily. Yet they can become beacons of the culture you are seeking to create. 

When you hire with culture contribution in mind, it enables you to have an open conversation with a candidate about why they have been hired, what you are looking for them to build, and how you can effectively onboard them so they can fast track their contribution to your desired culture.  

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