How to balance hiring for technical skills and culture fit

how to balance hiring for technical skills and culture fit - hiring developers for e-commerce

Welcome to the first blog post in a series to help e-commerce and travel tech companies hire the universe’s best developers. Great talent is scarce, and competition in the EU is fierce. But with a large pile of snacks on your desk and this series printed and pinned by your bed (kidding, not kidding) you’ll be finding and hiring e-commerce developers in your sleep.

Why do recruiters and HR managers need to balance hiring for technical skills and culture fit?

In rapidly growing companies, it can be tempting to overlook culture fit in favour of technical experience. It’s understandable – you need developers that can get stuck in from day one. But i identifying developers who will fit into the company culture is just as important as having a high level of technical experience. – No matter how tech-savvy a candidate is, if they thrive as part of a structured team with close oversight, they might not do well in an independent, agile culture. – Depending on the sector, product, company growth and type of role, the balance you’ll need to strike will change. But from our experience, it doesn’t matter how senior the position or how quickly the company is scaling. Soft skills, work ethic and personal values are always as important – if not more important – than technical experience. An ideal hire: someone who has the technical talent you need to help the company grow and the personality fit to thrive in the role and contribute to the work ethos and company values.  

What is culture fit?

  Before we start evaluating how a company can balance hiring for technical skills and culture fit, it’s important to point out what we mean. If you’ve been following our content, you’ll know we spoke to women working in tech to see what startups can do to hire more women. Historically, startups have been young, white and male. This is partly because founders hired within their own network and looked for employees who mirrored their personal experiences and background. No surprise here – this resulted in startups full of identical tech talent. That’s exactly what we don’t want. Study after study has shown that diversity feeds creativity and the ability to solve tricky tech challenges. And in the tech world, it’s crucial that teams represent the audience using and buying the products they create. how to balance hiring for technical skills and culture fit - hiring developers for e-commerce   So by “culture fit”, we don’t mean only hiring people who play Minecraft obsessively, eat Hawaiian pizza for lunch every day and regularly drink five coffees by 11 am. We mean developers who have the right soft skills, personal values and work ethic to thrive in the company. Diversity and culture fit can go hand in hand. Check out our blog post if you need proof.

Why is culture fit important?

So we’ve established that culture fit does not mean new employees have to join in with beers after work on Friday, but so what? Why is it important to align a developer’s work ethic and soft skills with the company’s goals and mission statement?   Aligning personal and corporate values will contribute to the company’s bottom line and result in happier employees.   Need more convincing?  

Why is culture fit important in e-commerce companies?

For companies in e-commerce and travel tech, it’s even more important for new hires to slot straight into the team because they will be creating, developing and testing ideas on their own – sometimes from day 1. E-commerce is a tech sector with a high level of independence and trust. So HR managers and CTOs need to know that a new developer not only has the technical skills but also the soft skills to be successful. Developers in e-commerce need to be creative, proactive and able to take the initiative. In a fast-paced, innovative culture there may be ambiguity and frequent change. As a result, developers need to feel comfortable working by trial and error and generating lots of new ideas. Companies that subscribe to agile methodologies give developers and designers a great deal of responsibility, so it is even more important to get the hiring process right.  

Startups’ high stakes and fast pace make it crucial to prioritize organizational culture in the startup hiring process. A poor culture fit can bring down the entire venture, while a strong fit can strengthen morale, boost productivity and encourage innovation.

Why culture fit is critical 


How to assess for “culture fit”

Hopefully you’ve now been convinced that culture fit is the most important thing since sliced bread (based mainly on this girl’s reaction to sliced bread). But how can you test for it?

1. Get under the skin of the company culture

We work very closely with clients to make sure we’re screening for soft skills, so we can balance hiring for technical skills and culture fit. Before we start sourcing, we make sure our recruiters have a clear understanding of:
  • how the company is structured
  • how the individual would fit within a team and work with their colleagues
  • any methodologies (i.e. agile or scrum) the company subscribes to
  • the company’s work ethic (i.e. is there flexible working)
  • how they measure success, both of a product and an employee
You can assess culture fit all the way through the interview process – from initial job description to final team drinks. If you want to screen candidates from the outset, you could include specific work preferences in job descriptions to identify candidates who wouldn’t fit on paper. But we believe that a personal screening process in person, on the phone or over Skype gives a much better indication of who is suitable for the role.  

2. Ask interview questions to assess soft skills

The questions we ask candidates completely depend on a company’s culture, as well as the type of role and the level of seniority required. To give you an idea of the types of questions we might ask to assess cultural fit, we’ve included some below. We’ve also explained what we’re looking for in candidates’ answers.
What does a startup environment mean to you? What would be your ideal company culture? (Flexibility, adaptability, management style, the way they like to work)
  • How has company growth affected the way you code? (How they deal with rapid growth)
  • Can you describe how your current team is structured? How do you work together? How do you decide what to do next? Looking for how they prioritise – do they use data/AB testing or assumptions and gut instinct? Are they told what to do? Do they create a backlog of ideas?)
  • Can you share an example of an idea you believed in and had to push hard to convince others to support/adopt? Why did you propose this? Why did others resist/push back? How did you convince them? (Collaborative skills, ability to persuade/lead others, whether they listen to and understand feedback, whether they can take the initiative)
  • How much of your week is spent writing code/being hands-on? (Can they work on their own, take initiative, and be practical rather than theoretical)
  • What have you done to positively contribute to a company or product? (Ability to think outside the box, problem solve, work beyond their immediate remit)
  • What do you do outside of work hours to make yourself a better developer? (Motivation, drive, determination)
Ask interview questions to assess soft skills  

How to test for technical skills

Hands-on coding experience and knowledge of a company’s tech stack is obviously super important. Developers can learn certain skills or languages on the job, especially if you have a “learning culture” and training budgets. For some roles however, new employees will have to hit the ground running. As a result, they will need a high level of technical understanding from the start. The good news is that it’s possible to assess soft skills at the same time as testing for technical experience! By asking candidates to explain technical concepts to you, you can also assess their patience, communication skills and empathy. Remember to:
  • Keep questions open-ended
  • Get candidates to explain technical concepts to check their understanding
  • Ask to see work they’ve done (i.e. code samples, open source contributions, GitHub, Stack Overflow profiles)
  • Check whether candidates take responsibility (say “I did” rather than “we did”)
  • Listen to whether they stress accomplishments and products over buzzwords
Check out our blog post for more technical interview tips.  

So, should you stress technical skills over cultural fit?

When there’s such a shortage of tech talent, it’s easy to prioritise tech skills and forget about cultural fit. But in fast-paced, agile work environments, soft skills, work ethic and personal values are everything. Specific technical skills and programming languages can be taught – and self-motivated, driven developers will always seek out new opportunities to learn.  
  Want more e-commerce hiring insights? Check out the rest of the blog posts in the series:   We’ve also put together an e-book full of super useful developer-spotting tips and tricks. From profiles to interview questions, it has everything you need to start filling your tech team with aliens e-commerce developers.
Download your free e-commerce tech recruitment e-book!