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Should You Hire for Culture and Train for Skill?

Bringing in new talent can be one of the most transformative things a company does. Fresh insight and diverse experience can revitalise and bring exciting innovation, while developing a workforce of passionate and driven people can create new levels of cohesion and productivity. In light of this cultural importance there is a growing argument that ‘culture fit’ should be the emphasis when hiring, as skills can be taught on the job. So how much merit is there to this and what are the downsides?

The Benefits

  • Listing lots of skills in your advert can very quickly and significantly reduce your applicant response. Particularly in such a competitive job market, people are very wary of applying for jobs if they don’t meet most of the ‘desirable’ criteria (there is an assumption that other applicants will meet all the criteria and so it would be a waste of time to even try). So by listing only the absolute essential skills alongside your cultural requirements you can noticeably increase your relevant applicants.
  • This also opens you up to receiving ‘curveball’ applicants - people you never would have specifically requested but who have an interesting set of skills and experience that could be very valuable to the role.
  • Ultimately this means you’re hiring the best person - what recruitment should be about! So who is going to bring the most value to your organisation? Who is going to fit in and stay longer? This can reduce not only your recruitment costs but also the disruption of staff turnover.

The Downsides

So far, so good, but what’s the catch? First, let’s look at the obvious exceptions:

  • Many technical roles such as engineering and programming involve highly developed skills that simply cannot be taught on the job: a mechanical engineer is not going to be able to learn electrical engineering in any sensible training period. Most start-ups also don’t fit with this as they frequently don’t have the time or resources to train an employee and just need them to start immediately. Also, they may not have a developed company culture in place to reference.
  • But even if this approach is possible, the main cost is time. It will take longer to sort through applications, you may need to interview more people and even once you’ve hired you still have to spend time training them. This is not going to work if you resort to last-minute hiring.
  • Competency-based questions take an element of skill and experience to answer well. This can unfairly disadvantage people with less writing skills that may not be relevant to the role.


  • Hire as early as possible. By not rushing the process it lets you do it thoroughly and effectively, hopefully leading to lower recruitment costs in the long run as well as increased company performance.
  • Decide if the role is appropriate and split out the absolutely essential skills from the trainable. This helps you get a clearer idea of what you want before you start looking.
  • Remove any non-essential criteria from the job advert – you can still discuss the main tasks and responsibilities which will give people a feel but won’t put them off otherwise.
  • Tell people you give all necessary training. This not only allays any concerns but also makes your company look more attractive to work for.
  • Ask competency-based questions as an addition to the CV. Behaviours, attitudes and values can be much more subjective so be as specific as possible and ask for detailed examples. Here you reach a difficult task of balancing information against putting people off applying. These sections are time-consuming to complete so you can either limit the number of questions or ask for lots of brief examples. If you have sold the job well then people will be happy to take the time. It can also be helpful to briefly explain how to answer the questions e.g. relating to personal experience, giving multiple examples.
  • Make sure you keep your new culture-based criteria consistent throughout the recruitment process. It can be very easy to slip into old habits and focus on skills when screening and selecting.
  • Talk to us! We’re here to help you hire the very best people.