Is “Fit” a Bad Word?

11 Apr 2022

Is “Fit” a Bad Word?

The difference between hiring for culture fit vs strategic fit

Having spent almost 25 years in the search industry, the word “fit” has always been the beacon by which search practitioners guide their clients through the hiring process. Today this word has come under scrutiny, many even consider it a bad word – one that should be abolished into the fire and brimstone as it alludes to exclusivity, bias, or homogeneity.

Obviously, the word itself does conjure up such ideas as suitability, quality, and dare I say for some of us, ill-fitting jeans!

However, is it as problematic as some might think?

Going back to my experience in executive search, it was “culture fit” that we used as the secret sauce to describe a fantastically matched hire, but for some the term can create ambiguity. When some organizations refer to culture fit, they are describing how a candidate aligns with their values. For example, an entrepreneurial organization will value candidates that are innovative, conceptional thinkers. Often this is referred to as “values fit” or “contribution fit”. Others understand culture fit as personal experience – how they connect and work with colleagues. It’s this secondary interpretation that creates bias or potential feelings of exclusion.

Here is where we run the risk of hiring in one’s own image or as I have seen some leaders do, hiring teams of people that share common characteristics. These leaders may pepper in some variety, but for the most part believe that their team will be more engaged due to their commonality.   

Not only can hiring for cultural fit be ambiguous, but we have the added problem of it being extremely hard to measure. Engagement surveys might point to misleading data, especially when considering the above example.

Today we understand that diversity is what should be driving our hiring practices. This requires the consideration of strategic fit: where organizations need to identify their business objectives, DEI goals and approach to ESG in order to understand the talent gaps they have and seek out those that strategically fit these objectives.  Many organizations are on a journey to unpack and replan their workforce through a diverse, equitable, and inclusive lens.

As you look at your organization and evaluate your DEI and ESG values and objectives, you are inevitably looking to hire for these strategies. This is no longer about hiring what looks and feels the same or choosing individuals that are part of our own ecosystems.

This is about making strategic moves to uncover the power of diversity of thinking, experience, background and overall, one’s ability to bring our whole self to our careers.

If we as leaders and as hiring decision-makers consider “strategic fit” instead of “culture fit”, might we ultimately move forward in breaking systemic privilege?


Consult an Odgers Berndtson professional today. (416) 366-1990 or email us.