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The New Hiring Dilemma: Fit Versus Competencies

August 07, 2007

Fit, not skills, is often the deciding factor for hiring and promotional opportunities in many businesses, whether the organizational leaders and HR recognize it or not. "’Fit’ can get an organization into trouble," says Mark A. Williams, diversity consultant and author of Fit In! The Unofficial Guide to Corporate Culture. He identifies fit in his book as "the elusive match between a job candidate’s profile and that specific combination of unspoken and informal social, behavioral, and cultural criteria unique to every organization."

Williams thinks HR executives should be concerned because the elusive, informal criteria that comprise fit can prohibit the hiring of diverse, creative, talented individuals. For example, if you have settled into a recruiting process that includes sourcing prospective staff from the same industry and similar companies or specific universities and colleges, you could be missing out on a large pool of job applicants.

You could also be utilizing hiring criteria that are biased. What happens, for example, if someone with significant weight issues applies for a position as a customer service or sales representative with your company, and the manager’s preference for those positions is someone who is thin, asks Williams. "That bias is a preference, but is it necessarily connected to competency? Probably not."

If you continue to hire individuals with homogenous styles, skills, and characteristics for jobs, you may be limiting disagreements and creating more harmonious work environments. However, you could be putting a lid on creativity. "What may seem a difference of opinion may be different ways of approaching problem solving from people with different backgrounds," says Williams. "All these differences that can lead to conflict are also the stimuli for innovation and creativity."

If you do hire employees of diverse backgrounds that may not mesh with the company style or fit, they may find the experience disheartening. They may even leave if they are treated differently or don’t feel included as part of the team. "The psychic, spiritual, and emotional dilemmas of not quite fitting in the organization are very stressful," notes Williams. "When people are that stressed and out of sync, they are not productive. They’re psychologically and emotionally detached and going through the motions." 

In fact, a survey completed by Williams reports that 48 percent of people who do not feel as if they’re fitting in with the work culture are actively looking for other jobs outside the organization.

Get Rid of Fit Requirements

What should HR executives do? First, they should audit their organization’s practices to determine whether there are unwritten criteria for fit and whether informal, behind-the-scenes mentoring of favorite staff and promotion of those favorites into higher job levels exists, explains Williams. 

Once any issues of favoritism and hiring decisions that are not based solely on the competencies required for a job and its responsibilities are identified, HR executives and corporate leadership should determine what steps to take to counteract subjective decision-making and management practices. 

Providing equal opportunities to all employment candidates and staff will level the playing field and contribute to a more innovative work culture. Differences in background, opinion, and style contribute to the growth of successful companies. 


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