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Cultural fit and web-based recruiting

September 24 2002 - Many large businesses use the Web in some form for recruiting, making access to the application process easier for job seekers and cutting the time employers take to fill jobs. Web-based recruiting can also reduce recruitment costs by as much as 95% compared to more traditional methods. But are these businesses attracting applicants who fit their company cultures?

"Companies are not only interested in skills and abilities; they want to know if an applicant will fit in their culture," said Raymond A. Noe, Robert and Anne Hoyt Designated Professor of Management at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.

Raymond Noe argues that a clearly defined culture can "help with employee commitment, allow the employees to understand what the company stands for, and provide growth opportunities for those who match well." It follows that enabling potential recruits to understand a company's culture should be a key part of its efforts to attract and retain high performers.

A recent study by Noe, Brian R. Dineen and Steven R. Ash, published in the August 2002 issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology found that feedback concerning cultural fit can affect a Web-based applicant's attraction to an organization.

Noe, Dineen and Ash conducted an experiment using a fictitious company website to examine person-organization fit and how feedback influenced job seekers. Applicants completed a preliminary screening regarding their values preferences and were then given feedback about their likely fit with the organization's culture. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who did not seem to have a good match were less attracted to the company. But the results were more complex when looked at in detail.

As part of the study, student participants were asked to review background information about the business, what it did and how it had grown. They completed a 'tool' designed to collect their values preferences; and then received random, predetermined feedback about their fit with the business.

Participants then viewed values information about the organization. Finally they were asked if they were interested in and attracted to the company.


* Feedback from a preliminary cultural screening can have an influence on the participant's level of attraction to the organization. But study participants did not just rely on this feedback. Instead, they acted as 'somewhat discerning consumers of the feedback, evaluating their fit based on their inferences about material on the web site, as well as integrating the feedback into their assessment of fit.'

* The self-esteem of individual participants played a role in how the feedback was received. Students with high self-esteem were more likely to trust their own judgment above a low cultural fit score. Random test scores more easily swayed participants with low self-esteem even if they were a good match.

* Organizations can influence potential applicants by providing feedback about their cultural fit. The interactive capability of web-based recruitment makes this a significant feature compared to other forms of recruitment such as newspaper and recruitment brochures.

The research findings point to significant benefits of Web-based recruiting that incorporates an organizational fit component, providing a win-win situation for both the job seeker and the organization, Noe and Dineen said.

"Specifically, it helps job seekers more accurately decide up front whether or not they would be a good fit with a company. If they decide they would not be a good fit, they can elect to forgo the application process, saving themselves and the organization time and administrative resources," Dineen said.

When jobs are plentiful, the culture fit tool allows job-seekers to 'deselect' themselves, by reducing their options to those companies they believe would match well with their values.

When the job market is less favorable to job seekers and businesses are swamped with applications, the inclusion of a culture fit tool can help to narrow applicant pools by giving job seekers with a poor match the encouragement to opt out of the application process.

This type of organizational feedback could help companies of various sizes, including the smaller ones, Dineen said.

While large organizations may have very public cultures, "job seekers don't have a preconceived notion of fit with smaller organizations," he said. Including the feedback tool in their Web-based application process may help smaller organizations publicize their culture. That, in turn, would help job seekers make better choices about pursuing employment with small companies.

The researchers suggest future areas of study, including the financial outcomes of using tailored feedback and evaluating the applicant pool before and after implementation of a cultural fit assessment tool.

The use of web technology has just begun to reshape the recruiting process for companies, Noe said. The person-organizational culture fit tool has the potential to make job seekers more savvy while also providing a smaller, "better fitting" applicant pool for organizations.

"There is so much traffic on the Internet," Dineen said. "People need ways to filter through all the information. The culture fit tool can serve as an accurate shortcut that benefits both organizations and job seekers."

Points to consider when developing a web-based cultural fit tool

1. Consult with professionals in organizational culture measurement and use established methods to help assure that you are accurately measuring the nature of your company's culture and providing accurate feedback to job seekers.

2. Design your culture fit feedback tool so that it is anonymous, and let job seekers know this up front. Otherwise, job seekers may attempt to put their "best foot forward" and not gain an accurate assessment of their culture fit.

3. Provide the culture fit tool before describing the culture of the organization, to avoid influencing the job seekers' responses.

4. Provide the fit feedback in a way that allows job seekers to understand their fit score.

5. If cultures tend to differ by segment of a company (such as by geographic location or department) consider adopting a separate cultural fit feedback tool for each segment.

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