More surveys are coming out showing that despite high unemployment, employers are having a hard time filling critical positions.

It makes sense: It’s an employer’s market and hiring the wrong person is very expensive, costing up to three times a bad hire’s annual salary, according to some surveys.

And employees are finding that while they may be a great candidate, there is one other test to pass: the “culture fit” test. Even as a candidate may appear as the ideal employee on paper, proving that you align well with the company’s culture is becoming more and more important.

In an article for talent development firm People Assured, Ian Foster and Jonathan Meyer write that companies that emphasize cultural fit during the hiring process have a better chance of   securing more effective employees and who will contribute greater value over a longer term.

“Recruiting for fit is about hiring the right people for the organization, not just good people who have the required skills, experience and leadership potential,” they say.  

Defining culture- It’s about values

HR plays a critical role in assessing culture fit, says Development Dimensions International talent manager Bruce Watt. In an article about culture fit, he writes that HR “must not only deploy the systems and tools but also ensure that hiring managers are skilled in both the use of the tools and interpretation of results [of assessments]. DDI research has found that most hiring managers rely on gut feel when making decisions about culture fit.”

Susan M. Heathfield,’s Human Resources guide, says “Culture is difficult to define, but you generally know when you have found an employee who appears to fit your culture. He just feels right.”

But there are more methodical (and less subjective) ways to assess culture fit. Foster and Meyer say that it’s important to first define your corporate culture. To do this, employers need to take an in-depth look at factors such as company values, work environment (i.e., how employees treat each other, dress code), leadership style, structure and the personal qualities that are necessary to succeed in the organization.

Heathfield says, “The candidate whose values, beliefs, outlook and behavior are congruent with those existing within the current organization is likely to be a good cultural fit.”

Christina Stovall, director of Human Resource Service Center for HR outsourcing company Odyssey One Source, analogizes culture fit to matchmaking, or marriage. “It’s about finding a match, someone with the same values,” and who meshes well within the organization, she says.

All companies will go about defining their corporate culture differently, but the important thing is to import some kind of strategy for narrowing down the most culturally fit candidates.

Ways to find the best fit

A new white paper, “Ten Tips for Hiring Great People” from offers some ways employers can find the best possible fit.

Before even posting a job listing or scheduling an interview, says to think about the reasons someone would want to work for your company. “You want to attract people who believe in your mission and will come to work every day excited about what they do. Believing in a company’s mission and liking one’s coworkers are the two main reasons people stay.”  

Also, it’s important to make time to hire. With all of their other tasks, it can be hard for hiring managers to find time for recruiting. But, “as painful as it may be, the most important factor in hiring great people is devoting time to the process,” says  

Taking just 30 minutes per day to download resumes received, reviewing them and separating potential candidates from the stack is a manageable way to get started. Then, at the end of the week, review your selections and decide on a short-list of candidates to phone screen. cites one survey by The Saratoga Institute, an HR consultancy firm, that found that poor culture fit was the main reason for the nearly 30 percent of employees who leave their companies voluntarily or involuntarily before the end of their first year, a number that has been increasing over the last four years. says that culture fit is important in any company, but is especially important for small and medium-sized because personality clashes tend to have a bigger effect when one bad fit can make up a decent percent of the company.

“A poor culture fit drains organizational effectiveness, kills employee morale and hampers creativity,” and the bottom line is employees who aren’t fully engaged with your company culture won’t give their best on the job.

Stovall says assessments are helpful for finding the benchmarks that potential employees should meet. By surveying or asking the top three performers’ questions about their job, “to find out what makes them tick,” employers can then use that data when qualifying candidates for a good fit.

Behavioral-based interviews are another good way to screen for cultural fit. suggests: “Ask questions that uncover competencies that you can’t train for, like being a self-starter, possessing good judgment or having personal integrity.”

Microsoft recruiters like to ask off-the-wall questions like, “How much artificial turf is in North America?” and, “What’s wrong with Microsoft?” to determine how well a candidate can think on their feet.

Stovall asks questions that help reveal aspects of their personality, such as “What did you like most (or least) about your last job?” or asks them to describe their best or worst boss.

Last but not least, reminds employers to be sure to do a thorough background and reference check before making an offer of employment.

 It may seem like a lot of work, but the time invested will go a long way toward finding the best—the most culturally fit—employees.