How start-ups can compete on culture

    Hiring a candidate who will fit in with your company culture is crucial for any organisation, but it is especially key at a start-up. In the early days of a business and as it scales, every single person who joins makes a huge impact, writes Sarah Stevenson, director at Hays Thames Valley.


    Employing people who are a good cultural fit is, quite rightly, being prioritised by employers at start-up and scale-ups. Findings from the Hays Tech Start-Up Report explored below highlight just how important cultural fit is to employers at these organisations and what measures they are taking to draw in top talent.

    Teamwork and experience are top factors of cultural fit

    We know from our research that out of 114 founders and employers at tech start-ups and scale-ups across the UK and Ireland, almost all (99%) think it is important that a new hire is a good fit for their business and its culture. Culture is important to the extent that if a candidate was the wrong fit, it discourages employers from hiring them. Over four in five (84%) say they wouldn’t hire someone who is a poor fit, even if the candidate had all the required technical and soft skills for the role.

    Teamwork was revealed as the most important factor to assess whether a candidate is a good cultural fit for almost two thirds (65%) of employers at these organisations. This is regarded as more important than being able to work independently (64%) and being passionate about the product or service (59%).

    In keeping with the importance placed on good fit, candidates with experience working at a start-up are also preferred. Over half (51%) of employers say it is somewhat important to hire someone with this experience, with a further 19% considering it to be very important.

    Fit only assessed via basic channels

    Clearly hiring for cultural fit is important to tech start-up and scale-up employers, but findings also reveal that limited recruitment processes are being used to measure this. Three quarters (75%) of employers rely primarily on reviewing a candidate’s CV, followed by methods such as bringing in a candidate to meet the whole team (74%), conducting two or more interviews (64%) and reviewing and researching their social media accounts (56%).

    How effectively do these methods assess something as nuanced as cultural fit? A CV alone is unlikely to give a true indication of whether someone is a good match, and neither is looking through a candidate’s social media accounts. 

    Encouragingly, a quarter (25%) say they bring candidates in to socialise with the wider team, which can be a great way to discern whether someone will fit in, however this isn’t always an option.

    Employers are encouraged to assess candidates for traits such as their ability to work in a team, their capability to take on a variety of roles and responsibilities, their proactivity and their passion. These soft skills shouldn’t be overlooked as possessing these is crucial to being successful at a start-up, both in terms of aptitude and cultural fit.

    Culture and flexible working are strong selling factors

    Based on these findings, promoting company culture ought to be a focus for employers at tech start-ups and scale-ups throughout the recruitment process. We recommend that employers ensure they have a written set of company values to encapsulate this, and that these are clearly communicated on their company website, in job ads, interviews and throughout the onboarding process. Encouragingly, 86% of employers at tech start-ups and scale-ups offer flexible working options, which should also be a huge selling factor for these organisations.


    To download a copy of the Hays Tech Start-Up report, visit:

    Alternatively you can contact Sarah Stevenson directly at: