The Culture-Competency Balance: What Hiring Managers Look For As Companies Grow

Job searching. [Insert inevitable sigh.] It's a stressful process that feels like a full-time job in and of itself. However, the more you know about a company's hiring process, the easier that process becomes for you.

At many companies, the hiring process usually goes something like this…

  1. Post job description with an application deadline.
  2. Candidates apply.
  3. Close position at deadline.
  4. Review applications.
  5. Phone screen selected candidates.
  6. Review, then move some candidates to next round of interviews.
  7. Conduct in-person interviews.
  8. Review, then narrow down to one person.
  9. Check references.
  10. Make an offer.
  11. Hired!

There may be other things thrown in there, such as assignments, multiple rounds of phone screens and interviews, or skill-based assessments and personality tests. Though the process might vary slightly by company, often one of the most important things that is being evaluated is experience and skill level—otherwise known as competency.

Another major quality in evaluating a candidate is culture fit. At small companies and early-stage startups, this is a fit with the entire team. At larger companies, it often means a fit for the department.

How are fit and competency weighed? In my experience, it changes over time as a company grows and evolves.

[bctt tweet="Culture vs Competency: What Hiring Mangers Look For As Companies Grow, by @erin_gifford" username="StartupInst"]

I was the second full-time hire at cove, a DC-based startup that launched in fall 2013. This inevitably means I have been an integral part of hiring many team members as we grew the company throughout the DC area and into Boston, our second market.

For the first few hires, this is how the scale for competency vs fit was weighed:

competency vs fit
competency vs fit

This isn’t to say that competency wasn’t important—obviously we wanted people who could do the job. But even if someone checked the box on every single skill we required and desired, we weren’t going to hire someone who wasn’t a good fit for the team. For example, for small companies—especially early-stage startups like cove—everyone has to have an all-hands-on-deck mentality. In the beginning at cove, we all street-teamed, cleaned bathrooms, laid carpet, worked onsite host shifts, and cried and laughed together. We needed to find people who were down for the ride—including the highs and the lows.[bctt tweet="Early-stage #startups need ppl who are down for the ride—the highs + lows, says @erin_gifford" username="StartupInst"]

Now, about two and a half years in, our hiring scale has changed:

competency vs fit
competency vs fit

As our team has grown, we have formed various departments and our jobs have become more specialized within those departments. As a result, fit is becoming more important within each department, and less imperative on a companywide scale. Because specialization is becoming more efficient than ‘all-hands-on-deck,’ we are able to hire with a more balanced focus on fit and competency. Fit is becoming more important by department, versus with every individual in the company.[bctt tweet="As an org grows, #culturefit is more important for the department than the co., says @erin_gifford" username="StartupInst"]

I predict that over the course of the next few years, as cove continues to expand and grow, our hiring scale will become more balanced:

competency vs fit
competency vs fit

As we scale, it will become ever more important to hire the most skilled and experienced professionals, but it will remain equally crucial to continue to build a team that works well together.

To those of you looking for a job or considering a new position, take some time to consider the size and stage of the company to which you are applying. Understand how their hiring scale may be balanced. At the same time, figure out what kind of scale you want to be a part of at this point in your career. Consider whether you are really a good fit for the company at this stage and if your skills are right for the position. Lastly, keep this in mind as you are not only offered positions, but rejected for them, too. It happens to everyone. Good luck![bctt tweet="Job seekers—take some time to consider size + stage of an org, says @erin_gifford" username="StartupInst"]

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickrcc