Playmates vs. Professionals: Who Are You Hiring?

 -  11/30/12

Just because your hiring manager bonds with a candidate over membership in a college fraternity doesn’t mean he’s the best hire. Diverse candidates offer different and beneficial perspectives.

Are your hiring managers looking for a Kappa Mu when they should be looking at KPIs? Are they finding a Sigma Chi when they should be figuring out ROI?

As it turns out, cultural similarity often trumps qualifications when it comes to evaluating potential candidates in job interviews.

According to a study conducted by Lauren Rivera, an assistant professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., employers at professional service firms appear to be more focused on finding a candidate who’s the right fit for the firm’s existing employee base in leisure pursuits, background and self-presentation rather than the person best able to do the job.

The study, titled “Hiring as Cultural Matching: the Case of Elite Professional Services Firms” and published in the December issue of the American Sociological Review, showed that more than 70 percent of the evaluators Rivera interviewed at law firms cited fit as the top criterion for assessing a job candidate. At investment banks, it was more than 60 percent and at consulting firms it was closer to 40 percent.

That's not likely much of a surprise to anyone who has spent time around lawyers, consultants and top-flight bankers. But while cultural fit is important, especially at elite professional firms where candidates spend many nights and weekends together on the job, it comes with a potential downside.

“Some of the hiring process was screening out candidates who could potentially be high performing [and] bring different perspectives to the table but [who] were missing some of social class cues,” Rivera said.

An effective hiring practice should aim to create cohesion among employees and cultural similarity can be a good signal of that potential connection among prospective co-workers. But an ideal hiring process should also bring diversity to the table.

A diverse slate of candidates — both in surface-level aspects such as race and gender as well as deeper-level diversity in culture and styles of thinking — is associated with more creativity, better team decision making and more openness to alternative information and scenarios, Rivera said.

Article Keywords:   culture   assessment   hiring   talent acquisition   biases   evaluation  


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