Goodbye Culture Fit, Hello Value Fit: What 5 Companies Look for in a Hire

Leaders at five Chicago tech companies share why employees whose values match their company’s values strengthen the team while also diversifying it — and what they’re looking for in their next hires.

Written by Kimberly Valentine
Published on Jun. 29, 2022
Goodbye Culture Fit, Hello Value Fit: What 5 Companies Look for in a Hire
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The term “culture fit” can feel alienating to jobseekers. You may be thinking: I’m a skilled software engineer, but what if I’m not a millennial with a graduate degree, equipped with references from “The Office”?  

When culture is approached too narrowly by a hiring manager, it quickly leads to a team that lacks diversity — a team with similar ideas, similar backgrounds and similar perspectives. That just doesn’t work in business, especially in the tech world. 

Innovation and growth is cultivated by the diversity of a team. In fact, research by McKinsey found that the companies with the greatest diversity outperformed those with the least diversity by 36 percent. But prioritizing diverse hiring extends beyond the bottom line for businesses. 

A 2021 survey by CNBC and Survey Monkey found that a company’s prioritization on diversity and inclusion is important to 78 percent of employees — “very important” to more than half.

Instead of finding the right culture fit, many companies look for candidates who can add to their cultures. Fit matters, but in regard to values rather than culture. The willingness to help others, even if it falls outside of your job description; the commitment to do what’s right and own your mistakes; the curiosity to ask questions and suggest solutions — hiring for a match in values strengthens a team without limiting cultural diversity. 

Kristin Ennuso, midmarket sales director at Braze, looks for candidates who showcase qualities that reflect the company’s values. “By seeking employees who embrace our value set, the natural result is a diverse group of humans who feel comfortable speaking up, challenging the status quo, exploring new ideas and taking intelligent risks,” she said.

At TravelPerk, an interview dedicated to measuring a candidate’s alignment with the company’s core values is a key part of the recruiting process, said Britt van Dijk, talent acquisition specialist. Focusing on values leads to diversity, she explained, “whether that’s someone who comes from a different industry, has a unique personal and professional background or brings something new and fresh to the team.”

Built In Chicago sat down with Ennuso, van Dijk and leaders from three other tech companies to learn how hiring is centered around company values — and who can add to, rather than fit, the cultures they’ve built. 

 

Braze sign in the office
Braze

 

Kristin Ennuso
Sales Director, Midmarket • Braze

 

Braze helps brands connect with their customers and process consumer data through its customer engagement platform. The company’s tools help brands stay top of mind, reaching consumers with relevant contextual advertising. There’s a high level of collaboration on the team, explained Midmarket Sales Director Kristin Ennuso. She said it’s found both internally and in “how we partner with customers in our shared mission to help them forge human connections with their customers.”

 

What is one element of your company culture that stands out?

I believe the level of collaboration across the organization stems from our “taking your seat at the table” value. Whether it’s a tenured employee answering questions that arise for new hires or our VP of sales rolling up his sleeves to play an active role in deal strategy, it’s inspiring to be part of a culture where everyone cares about the team’s success. There’s a palpable energy — teams and individuals feel supported, included and inspired to create some of the best work of their careers.

 

How do you identify the attributes that translate to success at your company?

We use our core values as a guiding light to approach hiring and internal promotions. I’m doing a lot of hiring these days, and I look for common themes: individuals who are naturally and deeply curious, who have a keen desire to improve their understanding beyond what’s on the surface and who are constantly seeking to uncover the why. 

Grit is a core attribute we look for, as well as an intrinsic motivation to come to work every day and do great work. Collaboration is at the core of how we operate. We believe in the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats, so we are invested in helping and supporting one another, while also having some fun along the way. 

Grit is a core attribute we look for, as well as an intrinsic motivation to come to work every day and do great work.”

 

How do you protect your company culture while being inclusive of new ideas and people?

We refreshed our core values in 2020, and employees helped to uncover what it is that makes Braze unique. Inclusivity is foundational to how our values were developed. For example, our “be a human” value means that each of us contributes to the company culture through our own individuality. We operate with integrity, and above all else, we are kind. 

 

 

Strata Decision Technology team photo in the office
Strata Decision Technology

 

Jennifer Ittner
Senior Director, Data Science • Strata Decision Technology

 

Strata Decision Technology develops financial planning software designed to make healthcare more affordable. The company’s platform helps healthcare providers analyze performance and improve planning to increase margins. “Everyone on our team has a true passion for healthcare,” said Jennifer Ittner, senior director of data science, who noted that a passion for healthcare is different from experience in healthcare. “Healthcare is such a complex industry and we are looking for people who want to dig into the data to solve big problems.” 

 

What is one element of your company culture that stands out?

Everyone is willing to jump in and help when needed. Our data science team specifically does a lot of independent analytics, but if someone on the team needs advice or just a second set of eyes to review their work, people are always ready to help. With a mission to help heal healthcare, we have a wealth of data and tools that can provide new insights for our industry and advance our work.

 

How do you identify the attributes that translate to success at your company?

On the data science team, we look for data geeks — and I use that term affectionately. We look for team members who love to work with data that is plentiful, even ugly at times. We look for people who are ready to tackle and transform it to work in analytics, and who are curious and like to solve problems. We want team members who aren’t afraid to ask questions and challenge ideas in a positive and productive way. 

 

How do you protect your company culture while being inclusive of new ideas and people?

The beauty of being a newer team is that we are always looking for people who can add something unique. Specifically, we seek out candidates who have new skills and different experiences than those already on the team. We want people who are willing to not only contribute but also teach others what they know. Different is good, and uniqueness is valued.

We want people who are willing to not only contribute but also teach others what they know.”

 

 

Elevate K-12 team members at a 5K run
Elevate K-12

 

Darcy Peters
Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist • Elevate K-12

 

Elevate K-12 develops high-quality teaching opportunities for educators and learning opportunities for students. A wide range of subjects are taught on the live-streaming instructional platform, with something new always in the works. “Because employees find purpose and are passionate about the company’s mission, everyone is open to new ways of doing things,” explained Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist Darcy Peters. “Change is the best way to help the company grow and ultimately help students nationwide.”

 

What is one element of your company culture that stands out?

Our CEO, Shaily, is the biggest supporter of not only the company’s mission but also her employees. She makes time to ask about their day and talk about any challenges their roles are facing. When we participated in a community running event, she invited employees to grab a coffee afterward. While everyone wanted to ask her about company growth, she was more interested in learning about us. 

She exudes a passion for helping students and teachers, and she shares in celebrating the wins of each and every employee. It’s inspiring and motivating to know I am working for a company with a CEO who truly cares.

 

How do you identify the attributes that translate to success at your company?

Regardless of the department, every employee has a builder mentality. Many open or recently filled roles were created due to the growth of the company, and we like to talk to candidates who are excited about making a role their own and helping the company grow. 

Being open to and excited about change is important. The phrase “we’ve always done it that way” is never said here. Since we are still in a hyper-growth state, we’re always open to new ideas, which are not only accepted by coworkers but also brought to fruition. 

Being open to and excited about change is important.”

 

How do you protect your company culture while being inclusive of new ideas and people?

Our talent acquisition and human resources teams partnered together to create a DEI program. We are educating ourselves on inclusive recruitment processes, updating our sourcing strategy to be more accessible to diverse groups, revamping our job descriptions to avoid gendered language and reevaluating our interview process to eliminate unconscious biases. DEI is an ongoing initiative; I am proud that we are taking the time to lay the groundwork for a more diverse and inclusive company culture.

 

 

TravelPerk team members out at a restaurant together
TravelPerk

 

Britt van Dijk
Talent Acquisition Specialist • TravelPerk

 

TravelPerk powers an all-in-one platform that enables business travelers to book and manage their travel plans with access to real-time support. Behind this growing company is a team that shares a sense of belonging and fulfillment. Finding new team members whose values align is a top priority, said Talent Acquisition Specialist Britt van Dijik. “Team spirit is a big thing here. We only win when we all win.” 

 

What is one element of your company culture that stands out?

We bring our team together as often as we can, whether it’s for an off-site event or our weekly all-staff meeting. This weekly meeting provides an opportunity to connect with colleagues, gain visibility into what’s going on in the business, meet our new employees, ask our leadership team questions, celebrate our milestones and give shout-outs of appreciation. Everyone has a voice and can be heard. We all look forward to this meeting, and we’re able to end our week with a sense of fulfillment — it has undoubtedly strengthened our company culture.

 

How do you identify the attributes that translate to success at your company?

Our interviews with candidates tend to be a conversation. Naturally, we want to know about a candidate’s career, but we also seek a positive mindset, a builder mentality and humility. We look for candidates who set high standards for themselves and those around them. We’re a growing unicorn and we need team members who can step out of their comfort zones and scope of work. 

Those of us on the talent acquisition and people team recognize the challenges employees are facing now or will come across as the organization grows. We look for candidates who have confronted similar situations, and we want to learn what actions they took to resolve issues and plan for growth. 

We’re a growing unicorn and we need team members who can step out of their comfort zones and scope of work.”

 

How do you protect your company culture while being inclusive of new ideas and people?

Our company lives and breathes its values; they are part of our culture and we search for a similar set within potential hires. Portraying these values will always be key for candidates — each candidate goes through a cultural interview during which they can share their perspectives and show their alignment to our core values. 

We aim to have a diverse interview panel, such as peers, managers, top leadership members and cultural interviewers from different teams and departments. This helps us maintain different perspectives. A top candidate will not only be a culture fit but a culture add.

 

 

Mike Mason
Talent Acquisition Manager • Tovala

 

Tovala is a food tech company that makes home cooking simple. Freshly prepared meals are delivered to customers’ doorsteps to be cooked in smart ovens that scan packaging for the right temperature and time. This younger company is not content with the status quo, explained Talent Acquisition Manager Mike Mason: “One phrase you will never hear here is ‘we’ve always done it this way.’” 

 

What is one element of your company culture that stands out?

We believe in our product and our team, so one of the core cultural ideals we strive for is providing our employees a sense of ownership over our collective success. In 2021, we began offering stock options to all of our full-time and part-time employees. By giving employees a stake of ownership, we ensure everyone feels invested in the future of the company and empowered to provide suggestions, innovations and feedback to foster our success.

 

How do you identify the attributes that translate to success at your company?

Based on advice I received during my early years as a recruiter, I ask a specific question in each of my introductory interviews: “Aside from title and salary, what are three things that are most important to you in your next role?” Identifying motivators and allowing candidates to speak to their goals provides insight into their psyche and how their goals relate to our company’s values. Common denominators on the team are humility and the willingness to put the team first, so the way a candidate describes their experience working in a team dynamic is something we pay close attention to.

 

How do you protect your company culture while being inclusive of new ideas and people?

Our company has grown immensely over the past five years, and our culture has evolved as well. We are committed to a growth mindset, and we assess candidates on what they add to our organization rather than how they fit in. In order to reach the goals we’ve set, we look at every new hire as an injection of a different perspective and new ideas.

We are committed to a growth mindset, and we assess candidates on what they add to our organization rather than how they fit in.”

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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