Skills & culture: How to attract people that fit both


Hiring the right people can feel a lot like dating – everything may look good on paper, but the spark might not be there in real life. The same goes with hiring skilled employees that also jive with your culture. Here’s why you need to find potential hires that have the skills and the spark, and how to do it.

Attitude versus aptitude: Why culture surpasses skill 

Skills are crucial—there’s no denying that you need technical talent. You obviously can’t hire someone who can’t write great code as a developer, and you can’t onboard an IT pro who doesn’t have a clue about server infrastructure or security. But beyond technical know-how, we encourage tech leaders to hire people who embody the values of their organization. Why? You can teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. 

People with personalities that aren’t compatible with your company values aren’t going to be compatible with your team. So no matter how talented that iOS developer is, if they’re going to disrupt your team in a negative way, they’re going to be more work than their skills are worth. At Pluralsight, we hire for culture first, and skills second. We’d rather have a position sit open for months than shortcut by hiring a skill-savvy person who isn’t a cultural fit. We firmly believe that creating or improving culture not only increases employee satisfaction, but increases financial return as well. Happy employees = happy customers = happy shareholders.

Display your culture throughout the hiring process

Sometimes companies forget the importance of displaying their values in the hiring process. This can lead to undercutting – and even threatening – the organization’s culture. Fast growth has been counterfeited when companies haven’t taken the time to create a process—and company leadership needs to step up here more than ever before.

Take, Zappos for example. Founder Tony Hsieh was adamant about core values from day one, yet he estimated that $100 million was lost from making poor hiring choices due to moving too quickly. Tony cautions about making sure to “weed out those that are just there for a paycheck.” When you hire too fast, the downside becomes lack of clear intent. When both the organization and candidate don’t have a solid idea of expectations and culture, you’re bound to see problems down the line.

Employment brand is just as vital as overall brand, and linking the two together is really powerful. Employers can optimize the applicants they receive when they write clear, unique, accurate job descriptions. Additionally, infuse your mission into the qualities you’re looking for in candidates. For us, we’re an entrepreneurial-minded company on a mission to close the technology skills gap and change the way tech pros learn. So, when you visit the Pluralsight careers page, we list out our three core values: truth seeking, entrepreneurship and eternal optimism. And our job descriptions reflect these values in the qualities we’re looking for—even though they’re not necessarily the “hard skills” required to do the job—soft skills are just as important. We want to make our values clear by outlining perks like ownership, work/life balance and paid family leave and attract those with the same values. 

Ask the right questions in interviews

In the benchmark study of organizational success, Good to Great by Jim Collins, he argues organizations need to find the “who” before the “what.” He made the classic case for getting the “right people on the bus.” In this benchmarking process, you examine who an applicant is, rather than his or her skillset.

So what should (sometimes talent-starved) tech employers initially look for? How do you gauge first interactions to find potential culture fits who ALSO have the skills? If you're really serious about your values and defining the behaviors that are an outcome of those values (which you should be), we suggest using interview questions that align with company values. Get really clear on which behaviors tell whether that person would fit or not—these interview questions can help. 

Often, people work in tech because they think they’re comfortable in environments with rapid change and high ambiguity. But, sometimes that’s not truly the case, which is why it’s really important to let applicants taste the culture in the hiring process and decide if it’s for them. And that’s a big reason why we do “culture interviews” at Pluralsight—and I recommend most companies should. 

For example, some candidates might want a manager to give them a defined process for their role. We encourage autonomy at Pluralsight. This inclination to , ideate, create and progress is part of our DNA. It’s what gets us up in the morning and makes us excited to come to work each day. For our employees, this looks like independence to build a process and the autonomy to figure out how to get something done. If that lights you up and gets you excited, then, like many tech organizations, a high-growth, fast-moving environment could be the place for you. Like we said, find employees with both the skills and the spark.

Learn more: Recruit vs. retain: The real cost of hiring and turnover


Anita Grantham

Anita Grantham serves as Pluralsight’s Chief People Officer and oversees the entire employee journey, from recruiting and acquisition to employee growth and retention. Whether she’s negotiating better benefits or helping design workspaces to better serve Pluralsight’s teams, Anita loves creating an environment where people can do their best work.