You’re so fit

“I just didn’t feel they were a right fit”.

That’s the feedback heard time and time again in recruitment. But is it fair? Is “fit” something that you can reasonably justify and does it really matter?

As much as we would like to pretend recruitment is a science, so much of it still resides firmly in art. We make decisions not just based on technical skills and abilities, but on how we feel about the person. And the irony is that we both accept and reject this concept in modern HR practice.

On one hand we applaud the Google approach to assessment and selection being analytic and impartial. At the same time we congratulate Netflix for their intolerance towards mavericks and disruptive individuals. We want you to have the skills, but we want you to fit in.

Of course fit has a whole host of discriminatory overtones to it too. I’m not entirely sure I’d be judged as a good fit in a conservative, Catholic institution. But that is perhaps a too trivial way of looking at things. What about a woman applying to an all male environment, or a muslim to a secular workplace?

Yet at the same time, I understand the importance of “fit”, the need for someone coming in to the workplace to embed within the team and to gel with the organisational ethos. In many ways I think the organisational fit will be more important than technical skills in the future of our corporate lives.

But is “fit” ever justified? I think it is. As a candidate, I assess an organisation on whether I think I’ll be happy there, whether it matches with my ethics and opinions. So why shouldn’t organisations do just the same thing, providing it isn’t discriminatory?

I think that’s ok. Don’t you?


  1. daviddsouza180 · June 9, 2014

    Recruitment is by its very nature discriminating. It is a choice based upon what you see and what you understand to be the case – with a cluster of assumptions about the future thrown in. It’s discriminating with a little ‘d’.

    I think the challenge around ‘fit’ is to ensure that it is a push for recruiting people who are fit for purpose – for delivering what the organisation requires now and in the future . You don’t need to fit the current template to be part of what the organisation requires next. However lots of organisations struggle with blending the present, future and past workforce into a coherent whole. That’s part of the challenge, what if my current employees aren’t the fit for where we need to go next? Do they get to be involved in the selection process for new hires?

    The thing about ‘fit’ in hiring is that the jigsaw is always in flux. We want diversity and we want everyone to have shared values. That takes work..

    Or do we want diversity of Values too? Do you value that above everyone playing nicely? If everyone is willing to challenge is that a lack of diversity or the embodiment of it?

    Questions, questions…

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      We want you to be both different and the same. That’s the stupidity of our profession.

  2. Lorna Leeson · June 9, 2014

    The problem with “fit” is that it’s broad ranging and highly subjective. One person’s “they share our values and have skills and experience that enrich our organisation” is another’s “they don’t look/sound like anyone else in the team”.

    What hiring managers often mean by “fit” is “do I like them?”, which in itself is fine but is based on such vague and subjective criteria (their pinstripes on their suit didn’t match being one of my ex-colleague’s justification).

    So being clear about the elements of “fit” that are important – fit with values & behaviour, fit with expectation and what each other can bring to the party, are essential for successful recruitment. You don’t have to go on gut instinct to assess them though.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      Great point and helping to find the language to explain what they mean by fit?

  3. changinghr · June 9, 2014

    Nice one Neil. ‘Fit’ tells me that organisational control is very much alive and well with us. Creating organisations where there is an equilibrium rather than those where positive lines of disruption exist. This ‘unfit’ element still terrifies organisations to death which is why so many of our institutions remain rank rotten dens of groupthink. People who fit are capable of poor productivity, bad behaviour or stellar performance telling me that despite years of recruitment a hire remains a risky investment. I guess with such things at stake we fall back on unconscious bias and hiring those in our image.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      We need to disrupt ourselves, but only when we’re ready. And have sorted everything else out. Put the kettle on.

  4. DCJT · June 9, 2014

    I can only speak for our business, but we have found that fit is the most important element when finding new starters. Of course we need to look at core skills, but our business is small enough where every persons efforts are felt. Culture is what we live and breathe, and our CEO put our business success down to the employee engagement we have.

    I find that amazing companies and performance comes from giving 110% rather than 100%, and that comes from finding someone that has the right fit in and join the ‘vision’.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      Strong company culture is nothing to be ashamed of.

  5. janetwebb · June 9, 2014

    Why do we want people to fit? And what is meant by fit anyway? I agree with Lorna that “you just don’t fit” is often blah blah speak for “I don’t like you” which is not a justifiable reason for not hiring (or sacking). Sometimes having someone that doesn’t fit can be a bonus – particularly if a team is rather stable and safe and needs a bit of shake up. In the same way you might go and work for someone completely new and scary just to give yourself a challenge. And while we are at it let’s please question the need for industry specific experience – but perhaps that’s for another time.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      Ah the industry specific experience one……I think I covered that once before.

  6. markgilligan2013 · June 9, 2014

    Great blog Neil. Though I think if you are going to reject a candidate and the reason is you’re doing so is because you don’t feel that they will fit into your organisation, should we be prepared to actually feedback to the candidate the reason(s) why they aren’t a good fit? As you pointed out it can lead a candidate to think along the lines of discrimination with a capital D not a small d .

    If we take that time to actually look at the reason(s) why we don’t think a candidate will be a good fit we would challenge ourselves and our biases before discounting the candidate and feeding back to them.

    Is it exceptable to just feedback to them, as many do the reason for not offering the role is because of “Fit” and leave it at that?

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      Completely agree. We need to be brave enough to explain why, but I think people often fear discrimination in doing so.

  7. Tim Baker · June 9, 2014

    Good post, it can either be very valid or a cop-out, when the trush is they “just didn’t like them”. I agree with Mark, some justification for it is necessary. When rejecting on fit, what is being assessed or even judged is personality and style, this is what makes you a good “fit” or not. Therefore more detail is the fair way to feedback; “they were too aggressive” or “they seemed too timid and shy for this client group” would give candidates more value. The trouble is you often get disagreement from the candidate resulting in a bitter taste, just keeping it to “fit” can safe face and is usually the route taken.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      That’s a great point about the bitter taste. I guess it is a bit like dating, rejection based on you is hard.

  8. markgilligan2013 · June 10, 2014

    Tim the candidate is already going to have a bitter taste if ruled out purely on “Fit.” with no explanation, as it gives them no idea as to where they may have gone wrong. In just keeping it to fit, it could easily be thought by the candidate that it was on the basis of a form of Discrimination with a capital D, especially if that person is covered under one of the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act.

    If we are honest there isn’t an easy way to deal with this for the recruiter, hiring manager etc because it is so subjective. The most we can hope for as candidate when a decision to hire or not is made on the basis of Fit is that the decision maker has done their utmost to ensure that it is fair, honest and none discriminatory.

  9. Anya Taylor · June 10, 2014

    Mark, I have just given written feedback to all my candidates and two did refer to fit. However that was not the only reason and the others are all legitimate business or experience related.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      Then you’ve backed it up, which is great. Thanks for commenting with a real life example.

  10. Tim Baker · June 11, 2014

    A lot of this is about the risk-averse hiring landscape that we currently see. Sometimes people who don’t fit and are a bit different, can add the most value. Everyone will know people in their teams who are like this, people are just not hiring them at the moment!

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      In difficult times we all head for the easy middle ground?

  11. Meg Peppin · June 14, 2014

    I think fit is one of those meaningless phrases that is a cop out clause, just a cover up for “you don’t look like me, you’re too old”, or – “you didn’t give me eye contact, you talked over me, your dress taste is naff,I don’t think you would be fun at our Friday drinks, your degree isn’t from the right place”. A whole bucket of stuff that only means something to the beholder.

    If you can’t describe it clearly to yourself then think about it so you can.” If you do know why they don’t fit and you can’t won’t tell them…perhaps there is a question to ask yourself.

    Don’t we all feel on the edge, on the outside? What is the importance of fit? We arrive and don’t disrupt the dynamics, we don’t make anyone uncomfortable? A middle aged man in a team of younger HR women won’t fit? Maybe not as cosy, for sure. Fit says, safety in numbers.

    • Neil · June 29, 2014

      But we talk about business being more intuitive and feeling, but then say we can’t do that in recruitment? How does that work?

      • Meg Peppin · June 30, 2014

        Understanding and being able to clearly qualify our decisions, reactions, choices – recruitment, business, relationships – it’s the same for all.

        If a recruiter would be unable to very specifically describe why someone “wouldn’t or wouldn’t fit”, then they probably don’t know. And if they don’t know, then what are the criteria informing their judgement? It’s the same for any other decision.

        I see intuition as a word open to interpretation; how I make meaning of intuition is this – it is more around being confident about what I know, what I have experienced, and trusting that when I am receiving signals, I will listen to them and explore them.

        I know from many years of experience recruiting many people, that sometimes my “gut feel” serves me well, and other times, it doesn’t. I can therefiore only benefit from using rational processes where my gut feel gets qualified. We get the people who are best equipped to do the work, and we get some more that we mightn’t have done.

  12. Lola. · June 19, 2014

    Reblogged this on On The Path to….. and commented:

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