What is culture add in hiring? A complete guide

Last updated:
June 30, 2022
July 20, 2022
min read
Rebecca Anderson
Instant Commerce
culture-add in hiring
Table of contents

What is culture add hiring? You have likely heard of this rising trend, but it is not yet obvious what it means to hire for cultural add.

In short, culture add is when a new candidate brings something to the table beyond the homogeneous style of your current office culture. They add to the culture instead.

But let's start at the beginning. The art of hiring has been developing for decades and, to be realistic, for hundreds of years.

How do you know if a new person will make a great addition to your team? To do this, we've tried to ask the pertinent questions which have developed over time.

At first, it was, "Does this person really have the skills to do the job?" As we learned more, we began asking, "Is this person reliable and a team player so their skills can be useful to the company?" Then, we (the hiring world) realized that co-workers who like each other boost each other's productivity.

This is the birth of Cultural Fit, the concept of building an office culture and hiring people who get along in that culture.

So we started trying to figure out what each office culture was. Are you a fun, joke-loving office culture? A workaholic overtime office culture? Do you share homemade lunches or order food in? Do you collaborate with yes-and brainstorming or a formal meeting style?

All of these elements come together to form your office culture. But it wasn't quite enough to build the perfect teams. This is when we discovered the value of culture add.  

What is culture add?

Culture add is when you hire to add diversity to your team’s culture (for example, different skills, personalities, backgrounds, etc.).

Hiring for culture add means hiring team members that bring something new to the table instead of perfectly matching the current team.

Culture add is about making your team heterogeneous instead of homogeneous. It's about the mint and peanut butter chips in your cookie dough ice cream. It's the things that make each team member unique and make your entire team better as a result.

Let's take a look at an example. 

Culture add Example A:

You have a team with a routine. They work well together, keep up the quota, and do things as they've always been. You bring in someone new, a curious, energetic person who might, with cultural fit, be seen as a disruption.

They sit on the grass at lunch, do leg lifts at the desk, and ask "Why" when told, "this is how things are done."  They also get along well with everyone and are genuinely interested in answer to every "why."

Soon, more of your team is eating lunch outdoors, one team member has brought weights to curl while making phone calls, and processes are improving because asking "Why" sometimes leads to better answers.

Culture add Example B:

Or let's look at the flip side. You have an office of twenty-somethings whose developing office culture has resulted in competition, late nights, and regular pizza orders.

An older pro transitioning laterally from a different sector joins the team with new ideas and insights. They know more about the wider industry and value going home on time instead of competing for who can stay the latest.

Your team members who were starting to burn out adopt this new mindset  and join the older team member as they walk to their car at 6:15 each night. New restaurants with healthier menus are tried, and rapport with clients improves as your team gains on-staff understanding of broader industries.

What does culture add mean? It means bringing something that transforms the team for the better instead of perfectly matching the current way things are done. 

What is the difference between culture add and culture fit?

Culture fit in its day was a revolution. The "office culture" was supposed to be separate from regional, religious, or ethnic culture.

Two people from wildly different backgrounds who were both serious-minded engineers with a family schedule could get along and work well together.

A solid group of middle-aged parents, a cohort of wild 20-somethings, or a team of competitive salespeople were examples of cultural fit.

Companies began hiring people who had personalities they liked and that seemed to match the current team. In terms of reducing workplace conflicts and increasing empathy, culture fit was a hit. But it has a dark side.

Too much culture fit is the death of creativity. Too many like-minded people do not have new thoughts and do not inspire each other to innovate through variety or friction.

Cultural fit also naturally leads to biased hiring. Saying "Not a culture fit" all-too-easily masks prejudices and unjustified feelings of dislike when interviewing candidates. Known and unknown cultural bias - the religious and ethnic kind - was not solved by hiring for culture fit because "culture fit" is too nebulous a concept.

In terms of hiring bias, we often want to hire people who are like us, and we want to hire people who we want to hang out with after work. This is a really bad way to build a diverse and inclusive team
Madison Butler
Founder and CEO | Blue Haired Unicorn

The difference between culture fit and culture add is that culture fit tries to create a team of identically minded people.

Culture-add looks for new and interesting people who know what they can bring to the table. Instead of asking, "How do you fit into our team?" you are asking, "What can you teach us? What is your special passion, well of experience, or methodology that can  make the team stronger?" 

Should you hire with culture add in mind?

Absolutely. Culture add is the latest in what you could call the hiring technology chain. If civic technology includes learning how to make smart laws that help people live good lives, then hiring technology includes how to hire to build the best team - and each decade, we learn more about what works and what doesn't.

Hiring for culture add is embracing what we learned from a few decades of culture fit, just as our ancestors discovered that culture fit was better than hiring for workers of the “right” color, gender, and height.

Hiring with culture add allows you to enhance your team, not just make it bigger. What does each professional have to teach your team, or how can their skills enhance the quality of each project?

Culture add hiring also relates to eliminating "not a culture fit" objections; instead of seeing differences as problems, we see them as an opportunity.

Any real objection must be justified based on what you are really hiring for - competencies, knowledge, and reliability.

With cultural add hiring, someone who comes from a unique background or has a unique set of skills is a plus, not a minus, in the interview rounds

Cultural add interview questions

Let's take a look at a few interview questions that can be used to help you hire for cultural add. These questions and those like them will inspire your candidates to open up and share what really makes them unique so you can hire for those who have a lot to bring to the table - not just a repetition of the skills listed on your job descriptions.

"How do you personally benefit a team when working with colleagues?"

Ask how they, as opposed to others, might benefit the team or a coworker. You are not asking for platitudes about being helpful, but rather the skills they have and how they might use them to bring up the team.

They might mention that they are great at data entry and often help others with their accuracy. Or they might note that they are a good coach or reveal a collaborative nature by describing their entire helping-a-coworker process of delving in and solution-seeking together.

"What skills, interests, or passions do you have that sets you apart from others in this role?"

The passions and off-list skills of an employee are part of what makes them a unique member of the team.

One may care deeply about data accuracy; another might bring graphic design to the table from years of drawing and art programs in their school days.

One might tell you about how they got started in the industry through charity work, or they might be your night-owl who is comfortable taking late-night calls.

"Tell us about a time when understanding another person's perspective was beneficial in the workplace."

Culture add is also about understanding the value of each other's differences. Ask candidates how they have benefitted from understanding the perspectives of others. Ask what was accomplished with this understanding and what they learned as a result.

"Tell us about a problem you solved creatively."

Creativity is one of the ways that we are all different. Three diverse people may solve a problem in three different ways, bringing three different solutions to try. Ask each candidate about their creative problem solving and other ways they use creative thinking in the workplace.

"What is your impression of our company culture? How might we improve?"

New candidates won't have seen much of your office culture, but they may have an impression of your brand and reputation as an employer. Their answer to this question will likely be political, but it can also reveal what they believe most office cultures could benefit from or ways to improve.

Related reading: check out more interview questions to ask your candidates to find the right fit

Building stronger teams with culture adding

Hiring for culture add is one of the best ways to strengthen your team, one new hire at a time. Why fill your office with personality clones when you can build a creative, diverse, and innovative team of differently-minded professionals? While rapport is important, a vibrant team with a shared good attitude is all you need to unlock the future of diverse and productive hiring.

Download our culture add questions down below!

Questions to ask to assess culture add

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