One of the “grayest” and most frequently overlooked aspects of the hiring process is finding a good “cultural fit” between a prospective new hire and the members of the corporate aviation team he or she is about to join.

Unfortunately, finding out you have a cultural “misfire” can have some severe consequences. For one thing, it can end up being extremely expensive to the department and the company as a whole.

That’s why it’s strategically important for corporate aviation directors themselves to assume a key role in determining whether a candidate for a department position has the right cultural fit—or not.

It’s a vague and often uncharted area, because, by its very nature, an organization’s human resources (HR) department is typically focused on more measurable and specific employee-oriented issues (e.g., filling open positions, dealing with employee grievances and/or overseeing employee reviews). More often than not, the flight department’s HR partner likely won’t have a direct connection to the team’s unique cultural needs.

What Exactly is a Cultural Fit?

A cultural fit, as it relates to the corporate aviation industry, refers to the close professional and collegial bond of flight department members and their prospective new hires.

After a candidate’s been extended an offer, the “cultural fit” idea doesn’t necessarily mean that the new hire needs to join the rest of the team for the weekly happy hour, or even that they spend time together socially, outside of the office. It simply means that the members of the department and the newly hired professional are in “synch;” that they share both a vision and a strategy about their work, and have the same approach to getting things done efficiently and with the best interests of the client/employer in mind.

That’s how a cultural fit works in the aviation world.

Characteristics of a Solid Cultural Fit

When they’re interviewing candidates, aviation directors have to walk a fine line to determine if it looks as though there’s going to be a good cultural fit, because asking certain personal questions can be both ethically and legally questionable.

Instead of prying, the interviewer can pose questions about policies with the candidate’s current organization, and then step back and see how they react. For example, he or she might ask them what they think of the company’s vacation allowance, or the number of hours they’ll be required to work each week. A perfect question to ask is, “Where do you want to be in five years?”

An interviewer can look for some key indicators that a candidate will be capable of forming a close cultural fit with the members of his or her department. One to watch for is whether or not the candidate has strong qualifications for the position, and another is if he or she demonstrates the essential work traits necessary to become an effective member of the team.

These are fundamentals, and a good means of gauging the likelihood of a cultural fit.

Benefits of a Cultural Fit in Corporate Aviation

There are numerous benefits to be gained when an aviation department and a new hire truly match the definition of the ideal “cultural fit.” Below are three important ones:

  • Increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Nothing should be more important than knowing an employee can be trusted, and, by the same token, nothing should be more important to the new hire than knowing their employer will stand behind him or her as well. A highly satisfied employee typically translates into a highly productive employee.
  • Improve employee retention. When an employee and employer hold the same core beliefs, the same vision and the same work ethic, the relationship certainly promises to have greater longevity than if they don’t share those things.
  • Become an employer of choice. One of the most important criteria for being recognized in the aviation industry as an “employer of choice” is that the company and its employees share a solid relationship with one another and demonstrate a shared cultural fit.

Downside of a Poor Cultural Fit

There are an equal number of disadvantages to a flight department not working well with a new hire as there are advantages when the cultural fit works smoothly. Following are a few of the potential negatives.

  • Negative financial impact. The cost of replacing a new pilot, for instance, because the former person didn’t share a cultural fit can easily exceed $50,000. The price is often higher if relocation costs or flight simulator training is necessary.
  • High turnover rates. A corporate flight department is very likely to lose that new hire quickly if, during the selection process, the hiring manager doesn’t recognize that the candidate is likely better off working on projects alone—especially when he or she is trying to find someone who can work well in a collaborative environment. That’s just one example of a failed cultural fit. There are many more like it.
  • Loss of employee morale. An unhappy employee is often less productive than other employees, so a candidate who shares the cultural beliefs of their department and the organization is far less likely to fall into this category.

Bottom line: ensuring the right cultural fit when selecting a candidate for a key position in a flight department is something that is often overlooked by an aviation director and/or hiring manager, but it can have serious repercussions if and when the fit is simply not there.

On a positive note, it’s not too difficult to identify whether the fit is there, since it’s all about proper preparation, with both parties asking the right questions (and getting the right answers), and, also, performing the necessary due diligence throughout the course of the interviewing process.

And, lastly, for those seeking a career change, I encourage you to check out Jennifer [Steele] Pickerel’s blog on how to prepare for the all-important interview.