Skip to main content

How start-ups can compete on culture

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Kirill Wright)

Hiring a candidate who will fit in with your company culture is crucial for any organisation, but it is especially key at tech start-ups. These organisations tend to have creative, transparent cultures which embody the values and purpose of the organisation. In the early days of these start-up organisations as they hire more staff and scale, every single person who joins has a significant impact on this culture.

Employing people who are a good cultural fit is, quite rightly, being prioritised by employers at tech start-ups and scale-ups. Findings from the Hays Tech Start-Up Report explored below highlight just how important hiring for 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

Out of 114 founders and employers at tech start-ups and scale-ups across the UK and Ireland who were surveyed, almost all (99 per cent) think it is important that a new hire is a good fit for their business and its culture. The stats speak for themselves in showing just how significant workplace culture is at these organisations and the pertinent role it plays in their recruitment processes. 

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 per cent) employers at tech start-ups and scale-ups 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.

To assess whether a candidate is a good cultural fit, being able to work in a team is revealed as the most important factor for almost two thirds (65 per cent) of employers at these organisations. This is regarded as more important than being able to work independently and being passionate about the product or service.

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

Cultural fit is only assessed via basic processes

Although hiring for cultural fit is clearly important to tech start-up and scale-up employers, findings also reveal that limited recruitment processes are used to measure this. Three quarters (75 per cent) 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 per cent), conducting two or more interviews (64 per cent) and reviewing and researching their social media accounts (56 per cent).

Due to the nuanced nature of cultural fit, a CV alone is unlikely to give a true indication of whether someone is a good match to work at a tech start-up or scale-up. Neither is looking through a candidate’s social media accounts, which is also often a time consuming task. Encouragingly, a quarter (25 per cent) say they bring candidates in to socialise with the wider team which can be a clear indication of whether someone will fit in, however this isn’t always an option.

To discern if a candidate will be a good cultural fit during the recruitment process, employers ought 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 or scale-up both in terms of aptitude and cultural fit.

Culture and flexible working are strong selling factors

It is clear from the findings above that prioritising and promoting company culture ought to be a focus for employers at tech start-ups and scale-ups throughout the recruitment process. Although many tech start-ups and scale-ups already do this, a renewed focus on specific traits may help these organisations better leverage their culture to compete for talent.

Tech start-ups and scale-ups can also compete with their culture by making more of flexible working options, which encouragingly are offered by 86 per cent of employers at these organisations. With more professionals and organisations realising the importance of flexible working, it is an opportunity for tech start-ups and scale-ups to stand out against larger corporate organisations which may not be as agile when it comes to independent working arrangements.

In addition to this, we recommend that employers ensure they have a written set of company values to encapsulate their company culture and communicate this effectively to prospective employees. This statement should be clear and easily accessible through their company website as the first port of call. Following this it should be communicated in job ads, interviews and throughout the onboarding process.

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

If you would like to discuss any of the findings in the report, please contact me at

James Milligan, Director UK & Ireland, EMEA for Technology and Project Solutions, Hays

James Milligan
James is the Director of Hays IT, having joined Hays in 2000. He is now responsible for leading the UK and Ireland IT business.