Marrying Hot Tech Skills with Cultural Fit

Daryl Zapoticzny_Headshot

Daryl Zapoticzny, VP of Global Talent Acquisition at AOL

Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workforce analysis states that only 30 percent of professional workers in the US are “engaged’ on the job. The other 70 percent range from “checked out” at work to “actively disengaged”. The implications of this analysis are particularly alarming for those of us in recruiting, as we tend to be the first line of defense for eliminating candidates who aren’t prepared, either by competency, skill or motivation, to be successful in our organizations.  In Talent Acquisition we also tend to be the first to come under fire if the overall talent in the organization is perceived as disengaged or the culture seems ‘broken’. We must have hired the wrong people, right?

As recruiting professionals, without a crystal ball to see into the future, we are left to our own devices for developing a sourcing and screening process that effectively does just that – uses as much information as possible to be predictive about a candidates future success.  To further complicate things, as Dice’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data showcases, we’re in a fierce competition for technical talent in the US with a shortage of skilled prospects and an ever-growing pool of new job openings.  Understandably the emphasis for hiring managers is placed on finding someone with the technical skills they need to meet their goals, and snatch them up before someone else does.

teamworkCultureSometimes you get lucky and that works – the technical fit also turns out to be a great cultural fit. But as we read more about how disengagement impacts the bottom line, and consider the undeniably bleak findings from the Gallup analysis – we are no longer in a world where we can hope for luck.  Individuals who might have high technical competency, but low aptitude for collaboration, constructive criticism and consistent effort create more problems than they solve.  It is no surprise, therefore, that for many companies hiring criteria has become heavily weighted on cultural fit and we are tapping into a plethora of resume, social and interview data to make informed decisions.

At AOL we have taken a fairly direct approach to address the need for a broader fit assessment.  We specifically designated and trained employees across the globe to be Cultural Ambassadors (CA’s) for the company. These individuals are solely focused on identifying the cultural gems from a pool of candidates who otherwise prove technically competent.  We consider these cultural assessments an additional level of information about a candidate’s potential. Although it can be tempting for our hiring teams to make cultural allowances for candidates when their technical competency is outstanding, or the position is especially hard-to-fill, CA’s help us hold the quality bar across the company.  Since the program’s inception 4 years ago, we’ve noticed a significant increase in hiring manager and interviewing teams also commenting on culture fit in their assessments – which has culminated in a ‘culture shift’ around ‘culture fit’.

As an HR leader, what should you be instructing recruiters to look for to aid in assessing cultural fit?

  • strmIcon_bubbles“Find the “Givers” – By scouring technology focused social networks like GitHub and Stack Overflow, recruiters can ascertain whether candidates make the effort to help others with their coding projects or whether they just focus on their own projects. Social data can also help you determine if someone is genuinely passionate about the same values as your company. If you are a design-centric company, look for individuals who comment on design through their social channels.
  • strmIcon_pinPointPinpoint Cultural Values – Many organizations have company values, but are they aligned with the actual cultural and social norms within the company? If they aren’t a reflection of reality, or what you want your culture to be, this would be a good starting point. Pinpoint what they are, and then identify the key actions you would look for in a candidate as evidence of values-alignment. For example, one of our values is “We are in the business of helping people”.  A key action we’d look for through behavioral interviews would be how the candidate considers others when making decisions.
  • strmIcon_learnGradIdentify Career Learners – After you’ve set criteria and processes to screen for a fit with your company’s cultural values, you’ll need to assess the extent to which candidates prioritize developing skills. You want candidates that take a long-term view with their careers. Both resume data and social data can help illuminate how candidates keep at the head of their fields. Look for candidates who use multiple channels to learn: events, continuing education, online communities and certificate programs.

It requires more candidate research, but the payoff can be the difference between a happy, engaged, effective employee or someone who causes conflict, stifles innovation or damages team morale. If two-thirds of your workforce is disengaged, that dead weight will compromise even the most creative, fast-moving workforce.

The fact is, you can help a gifted new hire grow their skills, but it is a much larger and likely unsuccessful undertaking to teach someone how to live your company’s values if they don’t come naturally. Asked to be someone they’re not – or fit in a place where they’re uncomfortable – people power down.

Editor’s Note: For more information on using big data to assess the cultural fit of technology professionals, check out Dice’s Open Web service at www.dice.com/openweb.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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