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In the modern working world, the term cultural fit is currently on everyone’s lips. This refers to the congruence between the values, attitudes and behaviors that apply and are practiced in a company on the one hand and those of potential employees on the other. The central question is: Does the applicant fit into the company? 

Def. Cultural fit. The term cultural fit (in German = kulturelle Passung), which originates from personnel psychology, describes the match between the existing organizational culture in a company and the desired organizational culture from the perspective of (potential) employees. A high cultural fit is achieved when employees can identify with the organizational culture, i.e., with the values, attitudes, and actions practiced within the company.

Cultural fit: More appearance than reality? 

But what role does cultural fit play in modern personnel selection? Is the term primarily a buzzword without any relevant meaning or implications for the everyday work of HR managers, or should the examination of the cultural fit between companies and applicants already be on their agenda? This question was investigated by meta HR consulting and Employour in a shared study. The surprising result: While more than 80% of the HR managers surveyed consider the cultural fit between applicants and companies to be important or very important, an actual measurement of this has so far taken place in less than 10% of the personnel selection processes. Perceived importance and actual implementation so appear to be in marked contrast – the reality of personnel selection in German companies once again appears to be lagging behind changes in the labor market. The reason: Not least a number of myths and circulating half-knowledge around the term, a frequently low scientific foundation of the test procedures existing on the market and a lack of know-how regarding the use of scientifically sound methods.

We uncover myths and misconceptions surrounding the concept of cultural fit and reveal recipes for success for a scientifically sound cultural fit measurement!

6 myths about cultural fit

Myth 1: Cultural fit is subjective, not scientifically measurable, and therefore in contrast to “classic” personnel selection criteria.

Cultural fit typically captures “soft factors” such as expectations of leadership styles, preferences for collaboration, or overarching values such as integrity. At first sight, the concept of cultural fit seems to be in contrast to more classic “hard factors” such as intelligence or the ability to concentrate. However, a closer look behind the facades of this frequently used buzzword shows that there is more behind the term than the mere preference of applicants for a certain office design. Particularly when tests of cultural fit are scientifically based and specifically matched to job requirements, the contrast turns out to be smaller than initially assumed. Because if values and attitudes are clearly defined and translated into concretely observable behavioral or personality dimensions (e.g., team orientation and openness to experience), they can certainly be measured with the help of scientifically based psychological test procedures or psychometric mini-games. You can find out how this can look and succeed in concrete terms in our article Successful and scientifically based cultural fit measurement in three steps.

Myth 2: Cultural fit is a “nice to have” for employees, but does not play a role for the company’s profit.

Working time requires a lot of our time. As a result, more and more employees want to work for a company whose values they can identify with. It is therefore hardly surprising that the concept of cultural fit is gaining in importance, particularly in the context of the New Work movement. But the benefits do not end with those for the employees. If there is a high cultural fit, employees and employers benefit equally. The simple reason: Satisfied employees are better employees – as proven by various studies. A higher cultural fit not only improves employee satisfaction, but also the relationship between employees and therefore cooperation within the team. Other reasons to focus on cultural fit include faster onboarding, fewer terminations, and higher retention. The conclusion is that cultural fit is more than a “nice-to-have,” but a critical competitive factor for a company’s success. The better employees fit into a company and can even identify with it, the more successful the company will be: In the short, medium and above all long term.

Myth 3: Cultural fit harms diversity in the company

But wait: Doesn’t cultural fit automatically mean pure conformity and sticking to the status quo? Isn’t cultural fit the opposite of diversity, i.e. the desire for greater diversity in the company, which is currently being called for everywhere? And isn’t it always said that diversity and variety of thought is the secret to greater success in a company? Diversity or best fit – which is it?

In fact, the arguments for the apparent contradiction between cultural fit and diversity are not entirely taken out of the air – because in the search for the best cultural fit, there is definitely a danger that the diversity concept will be trampled underfoot.

A little thought experiment:Imagine that 20 years ago, the leaders of large, established companies (yes, we mean the “old white men” everyone talks about today) would have only hired employees (yes, “gendered” was not used back then) whose values and attitudes matched theirs. Applicants who questioned established behavioral patterns in the company or brought other values with them would have been sorted out of the applications – the reason: Lack of cultural fit. True to the motto: Birds of a feather flock together. 

What do you think, would we already be that far today in terms of topics such as sustainability, openness to other working time models and gender- equitable organizational cultures? Decide for yourself!

So a certain degree of caution is definitely necessary in this case. Nevertheless, if cultural fit measurement is scientifically founded and based on clearly measurable dimensions defined in an empirical job profile, cultural fit and diversity do not have to be in conflict with each other. Finally, values and attitudes are then not measured that have no relation to professional success (e.g., attitudes toward same-sex partnerships), but rather those that systematically predict professional success and play an important role in daily cooperation (e.g., attitudes toward hierarchies and teamwork). Consequently, cultural fit is also permitted as a criterion for personnel selection under the Employer Equal Treatment Act (AGG). It is important that the procedures used exclude errors of judgment (see unconscious bias) by objective test performance and evaluation. In addition, they should regularly and continuously review procedures for possible discrimination against minorities. After all, we all don’t want a lack of cultural fits to be used as a new loophole for discrimination in personnel selection.

Myth 4: Cultural fit is only important for personnel selection

Cultural fit is not only central to the selection process, but also plays an important role as an employer branding tool in recruitment and as an employee retention tool in HR development. And this is especially important with an increasing shift from an employer market (vacant jobs < talents) to an employee internal market (vacant jobs > talents). In a labor market where applicants are free to choose between potentially interesting employers, the question is increasingly coming to the fore: Does the company suit me, and can I identify with it? The cultural fit is becoming one of the most important selection criteria for high potentials. Whereas 20 years ago a prestigious company, good pay and a company car were enough to attract young talent, today they expect more, not least a high level of identification with the corporate culture. More than half of German employees say they have already quit their jobs because of discrepancies between corporate culture and their own values.

Myth 5: A cultural fit of 100% is ideal

We are used to striving for the 100% – no matter whether in our daily work or in partnerships. But does this also apply to cultural fit? Is a cultural fit of 100% really ideal? The answer may come as a surprise at first, but is nevertheless: No. After all, it is not always a matter of identifying applicants who are a 100% match for the company. Often, even a 70-80% fit is closer to the ideal – people agree on the most important aspects, but some points of friction still exist that spur exciting discussions. Similarly, the goal can also be to recruit employees who complement the team and cover aspects that have not yet been covered or have been insufficiently covered in the team. An example would be the hiring of a very risk-averse person, although so far more risk-averse decisions have been made in the company in order to adapt to the rapid developments in dynamic markets. Because, as Arne Arotnow said: “Perfection comes from corners and edges”.

Myth 6. Organizational culture applies across time, locations, and departments

Often, the organizational culture is defined in the headquarters and then literally “imposed” on all organizational units. This may still work quite well in small and medium-sized companies with few locations or in a small, up-and-coming start-up. However, it becomes more difficult when different locations and even national cultures (e.g. individualistic cultures such as Germany and collectivistic cultures such as China) and phases of corporate maturity (e.g. further development from start-up to established company) come into play. In addition, the organizational culture can also differ extremely between departments within the company. For example, good teamwork and communication may be understood and practiced quite differently in the HR department than in the IT department. Computer scientists who actually fit in well with the values and attitudes practiced within the IT department would consequently be rejected, as the fit with the overarching and less differentiated culture might not be given.The problem: Even if the corporate culture no longer fits the business unit or has never fit it, it is held on to for years, across locations and departments – adjustments do not take place. The consequence: The backward-facing and undifferentiated definition of culture paralyzes change and genuine diversity – future orientation and change fall by the wayside.


The analysis shows that cultural fit is not a guaranteed solution for happy employees and company success. Especially not if companies rely only on good-sounding slogans and hip-looking procedures when selecting test procedures, for which, however, only insufficient scientific quality criteria are available. Defining and implementing the cultural fit makes all the difference. You can read how this can be achieved in our article: Successful and scientifically sound cultural fit measurement in three steps.

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