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Defining the Advantages and Disadvantages Cultural Similarities in the Context of the Recruitment Process

| January 16, 2017


Historically, much debate exists surrounding the cultural role and its place within the labour market system. Research examining the labour market has posed that culture is peripheral within occupational sorting with regard to status attainment (Blau & Duncan, 1967; Tilly & Tilly, 1998). While comparatively, sociologists who are concerned with culture indicate that culture plays a crucial part in placing value on materials and rewards, this often includes accessibility to distribution of the most desirable jobs and occupations (Lareau & Weininger 2011). In today’s global economy, many firms across all sectors are competing for talent. In particular, firms in the knowledge based industries, such as IT industry, financial services, engineering and pharmaceuticals, have engaged in a war of talent (Cubik 2013). Given the costs involved in recruitment including advertising and agency fees, selection criteria has become a paramount consideration.

However, in spite of its known importance, limited empirical evidence exists to fully capture the role that culture plays in occupational attainment. It has been suggested that hiring within the labour market is one of the most crucial decisions for organisational success (Bills, 2003). In a study by Bills (2003) it is noted that the attainment of occupational status while ensuring stable income is a predominant factor within the hiring transaction. Within the literature it has been hypothesised that existing similarities amongst employers and perspective employees are crucial and influential in how employers make their decision to hire (Lamont, 1992). To date, there is very limited empirical literature which has been successful and systematic in explaining culture and its role in hiring (Huffcutt, 2011; Stainback, Tomaskovic-Devey & Skaggs, 2010).

The process of recruitment and selection has in the past focused on skills and experience (Marcel et al., 2013). Indeed, it makes a lot of sense to recruit employees with the right set of skills and experience for a job which is similar to their attributes. While skills and experience continue to play an increasing role in the recruitment and selection of employees, research has pointed out to ‘culture fit’ as a key differentiator in the selection process (Hunt 2014). Nowadays, human resource professionals have gone to great lengths to build the organisational culture right into the selection criteria (Croteau 2014). Empirical literature is limited on the impact of cultural matching in determining organisational success. Systematic empirical research on the impact of cultural matching in hiring decisions is virtually non-existent (Rivera, 2012). This literature review will contribute to informing current knowledge on advantages and disadvantages of cultural similarities within the candidate evaluation process. Questions addressed will include: does cultural matching really matter in the hiring process, and is it worthwhile dismissing a highly skilled and innovative candidate for not satisfying the criteria around cultural fit.

Defining the context of this area of research

Culture is increasingly becoming the peripheral for occupational sorting. This has been driven by the popular view that organisations with employees that fully embrace the culture find it easy to navigate through tough economic times (Cubik 2013). Contrary to the popular view, does cultural matching really matter in the hiring process? Is it worthwhile dismissing a highly skilled and innovative candidate for not satisfying the criteria around cultural fit? Exploring this topic is important considering the recent ‘skill gap’ crippling engineering firms.

In the UK, there is currently a shortfall in most areas of graduate recruitment. According to the Confederation of British Industry, the national shortage in graduate recruitment in many areas especially engineering sector may put a brake on economic recovery (Paton 2014). Tens of thousands of engineers are retiring without graduates to replace them (Osborne 2013). Many organisations across the globe are yet to put in place means to measuring cultural fit in their recruitment and selection process (Cubik 2014).  It is time to re-examine the advantages and disadvantages of such cultural matching. Such an objective assessment will act as a wakeup call for managers and HR professionals to critically review their recruitment processes and ascertain whether conformity to mainstream organisational culture gives the best outcome.

Past literature has provided a useful case study which considers elite professional service firms. It was suggested that an often untested hypothesis within this field is how similarities which exist culturally and can be reflected in shared experiences, preferences, individual characteristics or even presentation of self (Bourdieu, 1984). Additionally, that these cultural similarities which are at interplay between employers and those applying for jobs are crucial in determining the employers hiring decision. It is posed that hiring as a process has many more intricacies than just a basic recognition and sorting of skills; rather, a complex process exists which incorporates the cultural matching of potential employees between those who apply for jobs, those who evaluate and the companies who hire them. Past literature indicates that employers seek out those perspective employees who are competent and importantly seem to possess cultural similarities. It was uncovered that culture similarities were of upmost concern to employers, often overriding concerns solely surrounding productivity (Rivera, 2012).

Considerations relating to the advantages and disadvantages of the cultural role in determining how employers hire

Processes are evident which are interpersonal in nature and apparent in evaluating cultural similarities to determine candidate evaluation. These processes empirically demonstrate how cultural similarities predict hiring within the workforce. The process of hiring an employee is a very influential and powerful determinant in influencing outcomes of the labour market. The protocol for hiring practice is a mechanism which can be the cornerstone in facilitating employment opportunities for some, while disabling for others. Hiring is crucial in order to prosper or excel in most occupations and advance in income brackets, therefore, considering the intricacies of hiring are important to understand social closure or opposing economic stratification (Elliot and Smith, 2004).

The hiring process between employers and employees is typically interpreted as a matching process which exists to filter organisational characteristics, with the job requirements, and perceived skill of the job candidate (Tilly & Tilly, 1998). Previous literature has summarised how employers’ hiring decisions as based on: evaluating the potential employee on what has been described as human capital, for example their hard or soft skills and attributes; secondly their potential for social capital, represented by their social connections; and finally in evaluating their demographic characteristics (Pager & Shepherd, 2008). Moreover, research is recognising that gaps exist in our current knowledge on the processes of hiring. It should be noted that when human capital, social capital, demographic traits are all accounted for in understanding how employers hire, there remains unexplained variance. Consequently, investigating how employers carry out their decision making is an area which needs to be informed in the literature (Heckman and Siegelman, 1993).

Much of this unexplained variance could be implicated in methodological and data limitations. A majority of the existing literature in this area is quantitative in nature and places focus on the type of individuals in the application process or comparisons between pre and post hiring, leaving the decision making process unexplained (Fernandez & Fernandez, 2006). Furthermore, constraints are evident in keeping to assessing what is easy to access or observe by using information which is quite often extracted from records of employment. Thus it is clear that in order to fully understand the hiring process, decision-making is an important factor to investigate, to distinguish between how employers evaluate, make comparisons and select new employees. By further investigating this decision making process it is hoped that more subtle factors will be revealed to explain employers’ decisions in relation to the outcomes of hiring (Gross, 2009).

The Role of Culture

Previous investigations into how the employer selects employees have predominantly focused on individual characteristics, the organisational context, or factors within the institution (Pager & Shepherd, 2008). Perhaps, however this process of employment incorporates more than the context of candidates, or companies and recruitment should be recognised as an interpersonal process. Overall, within most industries the main components of an interview for a job are key determinants of success or failure in hiring. Job candidates create impressions of themselves within the interview situation and this impacts upon the likelihood of them getting hired, it has even been posed that this carries more weight than their qualification achievements (Graves & Powell, 1995). However even with this knowledge, within the literature focus often reflects pre or post factors regards hiring. Therefore it is apparent that focus should be placed on interpreting the dimensions which represent the interpersonal nature of the recruitment process (Roscigno, 2007; Stainback et al., 2010).

Within a micro-social setting existing literature describes dynamics which are interpersonal and has concluded that similarities are one of the most substantial indicators in determining how an individual is evaluated and how desirable they are to an employer (Byrne, 1971) and this has been confirmed within an interview setting (Huffcutt, 2011). Research in this area has previously examined gender or race similarities, and in addition similarities in tastes, life experiences, leisure activities, or self-presentation which can greatly impact interpersonal attraction and therefore stratification (Lareau and Weininger, 2003; Wimmer & Lewis, 2010). Upon a first meeting, typically people seek out shared commonalities which could be in knowledge, an experience, or personal interests (Gigone & Hastie, 1993). It is through uncovering these similarities that people connect emotionally and this then facilitates a trusting and comforting environment, creating excitement, and building bonds between individuals (Collins, 2004; DiMaggio, 1987; Erickson 1996). Within psychology there is a well-known hypothesis which poses similarity creates attraction (Byrne, 1971) and similarly within sociology what is known as the ‘homophily’ principle (Lazarsfeld & Merton, 1954) also infers that similarities culturally promote attraction.

However, it should be noted that having similar cultural identities equates to more than simply having shared interests. It is posed that cultural identity importantly determines our evaluation strategy (DiMaggio, 1987; Lamont & Molnar, 2002). Past literature, (Weber, 1946), concluded that having the same interest in things like leisure pursuits, or similar experiences, presentation style, and other life factors create membership within certain groups and are fundamental in determining an individual being included in a desirable opportunity. Very specifically, Weber indicated that lifestyle factors are cornerstone in estimating status within group reproduction and social closure.

In weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of hiring and the role culture plays, even if this is unconscious, cultural similarities may be greatly at play during the evaluation process and be a determinant of rewards. A classic study in this research area was based on interviews in a college between counsellors and students within the community (Erickson & Schultz, 1981). It was reported that similarities which were established within this relationship were the most crucial determinants in shaping the councillors view about a student’s potential and future success. Even within the presence of co-membership, the most important indicator seemed to be perceived similarities in experience. Moving on form this, more recent literature (Lamont, 2009) implicated that within academia research proposals were favoured for academic fellowships when the proposal was similar to the interests of that particular scholar who was evaluating the applicant. These types of selection bias have many important implications, are inclusive of access to resources as well as social rewards, and also in predicting long term trajectories within an educational, social or economic setting (DiMaggio & Mohr, 1985).

Much literature is apparent which has been based on examining culture with stratification and this is disproportionate due to its focus on the educational setting (Stevens, Armstrong & Arum, 2008). Apparent limitations are evident in examining cultural similarities post-graduation. An important area of research clearly appears to be to determine outcomes for students who have gained similar qualifications in the process of applying for jobs within the labour market. A good example to illustrate this phenomenon could be to further investigate the hiring process within the power of stratifying through shared cultural similarities. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of cultural similarities could further be explained by assessing if students gain financial reward through cultural similarities and this would be recognised through the attainment of a desirable job and matching salary. Useful research would investigate the advantages of cultural similarities and if this translates economically (Bourdieu, 1986) within the labour force, this hypothesis has been neglected within empirical literature (Bills, 2003). Furthermore it is known that the qualities upon which we make our assessments are generally not context specific (Lamont, 1992), therefore it cannot be representative that culture similarities are identical, perhaps in both a classroom and interview situation.

Within cultural research there has been a lack of systematic assessment in relation to hiring, and in contrast to this those who academically assess hiring may have previously under-theorised the role of culture. Overall a majority of hiring research in a sociological setting has examined the process of employers evaluating their prospective employees’ hard skills and specifically cognitive skills. Whereas those papers that have explored non-cognitive skills will most likely focus on things that will impact upon productivity and include soft skills (Farkas, 2003). A disadvantage in this field of research is how cultural contexts and lifestyle have been classed as non-productive entities and therefore under studied in an empirical setting (Tilly & Tilly, 1998).

On the other hand, an advantage in this particular area of research has been that investigations which have examined the employment process, have recognised that similarities are an important predictor of candidate employment however, this research has previously been limited by focusing on gender or ethnicity (Gorman, 2005). This may be explained partly by limited data on informative information as it is not always an easy task to capture similarities on underlying tastes or lifestyle factors, and if this information has been obtained then it is somewhat difficult to quantify (Stevens, 2008). Moreover, within empirical literature it is common to use similarities which are demographic in nature when estimating shared culture. It should be clear that both culture and a set structure are mutually reinforcing entities, whereas an individual’s gender or ethnicity can greatly impact their cultural identity (Sewell, 1992; Swidler, 1986). It would be advantageous to examine the variation represented by individual values, experience or beliefs and common behaviour among unique demographic culture (Lamont & Small, 2008). Thus, in order to gain a true and reflective picture of a cultural hiring prospective, research must consider demographics as well as cultural similarities and life experiences between those who are hiring and potential employees (Turco, 2010).

Research exists which has made the assumption that gender and ethnic similarities override any other shared common experiences. These ethnic and gender similarities should be recognised as being greatly influential attributes in determining interpersonal attraction and likelihood of a positive evaluation. Continuing research in this area has confirmed a hypothesis which was outlined by Tajfel and Turner’s (1986) suggesting that in and out group preferences can vary. Importantly, more current literature has revealed that demographics can moderate preferences in a within group setting (Ely, 1995). When examining the hiring process, gender and ethnic similarities between those hiring and potential job candidates have produced inconsistencies in effect (Huffcutt, 2011).


To clarify, previous literature efforts should be made to investigate a range of similarities which incorporate more than gender and ethnicity with their impact on the labour market (Castilla, 2011). The current literature review has presented a review of the literature in this area and it can be concluded that it would be advantageous to assess the relationships between interpersonal characteristics and how people are evaluated based on their shared cultural attributes. From the current literature it can be perceived that shared characteristics are important in a variety of contexts however it is also clear that identifying cultural similarities in the context of employment success would be an especially useful and important piece of research. In psychology it has been shown that between those who perceive themselves as similar, this can actually impact and control the effects of attraction and similarity. Subjectively believing that an individual shares similarities with you on multiple dimensions within a unique context may be a crucial determinant in dis-entangling our understanding of interpersonal attraction (Tajfel and Turner, 1986). Subjective impressions of perceived similarities may be most influential within an interaction which is personalised, run over an increased duration of time and based on identifying additional information to what is visible (Montoya, Horton & Kirchner 2008), this is apt in the setting of a job interview. Previous literature has indicated that having perceived similarities are possibly more important than true similarities on the overall decision within the employment process (Graves & Powell, 1995). Shared culture is imperative to consider if we want to fully understand how perceived similarities operate (Lamont & Molnar, 2002).

In spite of this information and within sociological research the process of hiring has usually overseen shared culture in determining how employers are influenced. Some literature does exist which recognises the importance of cultural similarities and has been seen in a qualitative study by Neckerman & Kirschenman (1991). Here, in relation to urban employers it was hypothesised that cultural similarities predict employers’ decisions. DiMaggio (1992) was responsible for labelling recruitment as a ‘cultural matching’ process. In spite of knowing that cultural similarities are influential predictors of job success (Turco, 2010), cultural factors have typically been excluded or overlooked and deemed as not productive or observable in past research (Pager, Western & Bonikowski, 2009).

A number of authors have emphasised the importance conformity to mainstream organizational culture when making hiring decisions. For example, in their study on the impact of organisational culture on human resource practices, Omotayo & Anthonia (2013) argued that the congruence between individual values and organisational culture was crucial in the recruitment and selection process. They argued that it helped reduce absenteeism and turnover, and that it increased employee morale and satisfaction leading to increased productivity and better performance. In a similar vein, Silverthorne (2004) argues that employees who are better fit to the organisational culture are more likely to experience higher job satisfaction and become more committed to the organisation.

However, to some extent these arguments are debatable; it is not necessarily true that cultural matching in recruitment and selection leads to the best outcome. There is a greater tendency for HR managers to hire people that they think are similar to them rather than hiring those who are objectively good at their job (Booth, 2002). A phenomenal candidate who would have taken the company to another level can be missed out just because he/she could not satisfy the criteria around cultural fit (Marcel et al., 2013). Moreover, a considerable amount of bias in talent acquisition may result when invoking cultural matching. What is the likelihood of missing out on innovative perspectives is an important consideration for future research (Marcel et al., 2013). For the purpose of this literature review, systematic and empirical literature has been presented to understand the advantages and disadvantages of cultural characteristics in determining job success.


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