Is the ideal candidate more of a cultural fit or skillset-based?

Every employer would like to get both of these valuable aspects in one employee. And, of course, there are many hard-working people out there who cover both skills and culture fit. If push comes to shove, however, and we need to choose which one is better (learned skills or natural adaptability), this is not so simple.

A skillset and a culture fit are the most welcome and valuable assets that an employer can notice in an employee. Think of it this way—you need to hire someone and want to ensure they will be a part of a team, but what if that employee has relatively subpar or just average-to-good skills? On the other hand, it must also be tough to consider the option of a not-so-ideal cultural fit but a stellar and flawless skillset.

We need to clarify that every employee with their role is an investment and a valuable contribution to a team/company. Of course, both approaches bring pros and cons that you should apply to your business as they resonate best for your organization.

Below we will cover both aspects—skillset and cultural fit—and compare them, to hopefully arrive at a conclusion of which part wins and why that matters for your business’ successful growth.

Skillset vs. cultural fit

Hiring managers ought to know who they hire, and some of you who do know usually prefer candidates who will fit in well or who have rich expertise and a strong skill set. Ideally, the perfect candidate would come with both at once. However, one trait will always be more dominant, so it’s helpful to weigh the two options according to your business.

Hiring a skillset

When you hire someone with a stellar portfolio, neat CV, and outstanding work experience, you know that you will get outstanding work quality at all times. It gets even more interesting when there is a specific, rare, or high-demand skill that you look for, and when the candidate has that skill, it seems like you’ve struck gold.

The next dilemma would be how a candidate with the perfect skillset would fit in if they seem like a mismatch for the company culture or, in contrast, if they are a cultural fit. This is when you decide what bodes well for your company long-term.

You can focus on the skillset if that’s what you need to facilitate growth, but try not to get nitpicky about technical evaluation, i.e., just that aspect alone. An excellent skillset is a great asset, but can you determine what sort of employee that person would be solely by looking at the resume and nothing else?

Hiring a cultural fit

This is a whole new story when you look to hire an excellent cultural fit with a good or satisfactory skillset. If you are incredibly proud of the company culture you have nourished for quite some time, it’s understandable that you’ll want to hire a professional who is the perfect cultural fit. They would get along with others in the company well, communicate nicely, and add to the excellent cohesion of a team and strive to complete a mutual long-term company goal.

Besides, every company, manager, or leader would define being a great cultural fit differently. Do you define it as simply being adequately extroverted, communicative, and with overall diligence to commit to tasks as much as to communication? In this aspect of the hiring process, there will always be some personal, biased opinion you’d use to make comparisons. So, take all the advice you can to help you narrow down on the right decision and meet your company’s goals for growth.

Comparison and verdict

When push comes to shove, try to weigh the options with simple, practical examples. Imagine you want to hire a developer, engineer, or programmer with a proven skill set and an “intimidating” portfolio. Now, if you won’t frequently communicate with the developer and leave it all to their solitary, in-depth work, then hiring for a stellar skillset is the obvious choice.

On the other hand, if you need to fill a role of someone that also needs to be frequently (or most of the time) online during specific hours and communicate a lot with others in the team, internally in the company, or externally with clients, then you might need the better cultural fit that also has good skills too (perhaps not ideally honed , but definitely above average).

From such examples, you get the entire point of weighing these in—it is crucial to know what role you need to hire for, and based on that, to go for one choice. Still, if we need to make a verdict and choose one of the two, then we have the answer for that as well.

A person that’s a cultural fit will not disappoint when it comes to self-improvement, critical thinking, and improving existing skills. This candidate will always get along well with everyone in the company/project, and they will need less training than others who are just limited to some specific (strong) skills they got.

Besides, poor company culture does not happen overnight, and it is more likely to have poor company culture if you look solely for skills and never for a good cultural fit. Communicative employees that like their job are the ones who create a great company culture, and with that, achieving success is inevitable.

The takeaway

Both hiring for a good culture fit and greatly honed skillset are essential and even better when found both at once in a single candidate. And yes, that is possible, but this trait tandem is more often seen with those that represent more of a cultural fit above all else.

A cultural fit will always get along well with everyone, leave some room for self-improvement, and they will grow with your company. In a way, it’s similar to a mutual, two-way partnership.

You should remember that hiring a cultural fit with skills that could be improved will bring you way more benefits than hiring someone with a skillset that won’t fit in with the company culture (they will probably need to work just as much on their skills and try to fit in later on).

If you have two candidates with similar skills but who differ majorly regarding the cultural fit part, the job seeker who is the better cultural fit will be more prominent and likely chosen for the job. Remember this simple tip next time when you evaluate the perfect candidate for the job that you offer.

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