Hiring as Cultural Gatekeeping into Occupational Communities: Implications for College Students, Faculty, and Career Advisors

WCER Working Paper No. 2018-1

Matthew T. Hora


January 2018, 35 pp.

ABSTRACT: With the increasing price tag of college and rising student debt, the employability of graduates is a dominant narrative shaping postsecondary policy and practice. Yet, completion and the acquisition of a credential alone does not guarantee employment, and research on hiring reveals its subjective aspects, particularly when cultural signals of applicants are matched to those of organizations. In this qualitative study of 42 manufacturing firms, the prevalence of hiring for cultural fit is examined using thematic and social network methods to analyze the interviews that were conducted. Results indicate that 74% of employers hire for cultural fit, but, contrary to prior research, this matching process is not simply a matter of fitting applicant personalities to monolithic “organizational cultures” or interviewer preferences. Instead, employers match diverse applicant dispositions (e.g., personality, attitude) and competencies (e.g., cognitive, interpersonal, intrapersonal) to the personalities of existing staff as well as to industry-specific norms that are dominant within specific departments. The paper discusses implications of these findings for college students, faculty, and career advisors, especially in light of the potential for discriminatory practices during the job search and hiring process.

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keywords: higher education, student employability, skills gap, discrimination, education policy