02/21/2017 Molly Moseley

Look to email to help gauge cultural alignment

Hiring managers know that finding the best talent is one part science, one part art and one part gut instinct. While it’s easy to check for quantifiable skills (10 years in the health care industry, advanced educational degrees, specific certifications), it’s not as easy to verify personality traits that ensure a good cultural fit.

This is incredibly important because it’s often cultural fit and ability to adapt that really makes a hire successful. Plenty of people might be able to do a job based on required skills. Not as many are able to fit into the organization and be a positive part of the cultural fabric that makes up the company.

Determining cultural alignment during the hiring process is difficult. You may only meet with a candidate a handful of times before a decision must be made. How someone looks, acts and communicates all influence your opinion about if they’ll fit. While your intuition may often be right, we’re all human, and it will at some point be wrong — a costly HR mistake.

Because it’s such a gamble, many companies are trying new strategies for verifying cultural alignment. Email, for example, can reveal a surprisingly large amount of information about cultural fit. Studies show email can even predict the likelihood that a candidate will stick around and advance up the ranks.

Researchers from Stanford and The University of California, Berkeley published an extensive report based on analysis of 10.24 million emails exchanged over five years among 601 full-time employees of a mid-sized U.S. for-profit technology firm. One of the most compelling findings included:

“Rank-and-file employees with high cultural fit have a cumulative probability of 48 percent of being promoted to a managerial position by the end of their third year at the firm, which is 1.5 and 2.7 times greater than their counterparts who exhibit median or low cultural fit, respectively.”

What’s more, emails that demonstrated poor cultural fit were from candidates much more likely to get fired:

“The implications of low cultural fit for involuntary exit are particularly dramatic: at 46 percent, the cumulative probability of involuntary exit after three years is four times greater for an employee with low cultural fit than it is for one with median cultural fit.”

Company emails are a treasure trove of linguistic information that can tell a whole lot about an employee’s potential. When hiring managers take a closer look at candidate emails noting similar linguistic cues, they can gain important insight into cultural fit, and ultimately, insight into whether this person is worth onboarding.

Considering the rapid growth of companies with telecommuting options, email has never been more important. Just one example is technology company Buffer. Their hiring page notes the main way they gauge cultural alignment is by analyzing email wording. Because the company is made of remote teams worldwide, this helps them ensure anyone they hire is a good fit.

What role does email analysis currently serve in your hiring process? Do you believe it’s the key to better understanding an employee’s ability to culturally align at an organization?