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Can 'cultural fit,' more than your C.V., increase your odds of getting hired?

Posting in Cities

Could your taste in movies help you ace a job interview at an accounting firm? Or wreck your chances at a design consultancy?

Yes, and yes, according to reporting by Logan Hill for Bloomberg Businessweek. Citing data from the employment website Glassdoor and an article published in the December 2012 issue of the American Sociological Review, as well as numerous anecdotal examples from well-known companies such as Ernst & Young to private equity firms to internet start-ups, Hill illustrates the growing trend among employers to probe job candidates for their personal tastes and interests. It seems that "cultural fit" might be a growing factor in hiring decisions.

Hill reports:

Northwestern professor Lauren Rivera [author of the American Sociological Review study] concludes that companies are making hiring decisions “in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners"...As a result, Rivera argues, “employers don’t necessarily hire the most skilled candidates.”

Why? Well, as in dating, chemistry matters. If you want a long-term relationship, in romance or in the workplace, compatibility counts.

Some of the questions that Hill reports have been asked in real-life job interviews in a variety of industries include

- "Star Trek or Star Wars?" [In terms of personal preference for entertainment, presumably...]

- "What's your favorite website?"

“What are the top five cities you want to go to and why?”

Hill wisely questions whether the trend of hiring people who fit in culturally because of their recreational preferences might lead some companies toward building homogenous work forces. Diversity could suffer, as well as a company's ability to come up with a spectrum of fresh ideas and internal debates, usually needed to develop the best products and services possible. But he concludes that asking unexpected, unrelated-to-work questions might actually help employers find original thinkers or potential hires with unusual or diverse backgrounds. That's if they pay attention to candidates whose answers are anything but generic.

In other words, if you answer question number one from the list above with "I like the original Star Wars movies but can't even watch the newer ones, and I hate the Star Trek TV shows but loved the Star Trek movie reboot" at a job interview, and then add, "But honestly, I prefer Japanese steampunk to American science fiction franchises," you'd likely fit in. And if hired, you'd help the company fit the identity of an open-minded place to work, too.

Image: Aidan Jones/Flickr

— By on January 5, 2013, 11:36 AM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure