Report: Job Seekers Think Culture is More Important Than Money

A few of my friends are looking for jobs.

Some are unhappy in their current role, while others are out of work for one reason or another. They've all told me the same thing about their search: there are jobs out there they could do, but they're holding out for something that's a great fit.

Many job seekers today have that luxury. As of July 2019, the US unemployment rate sits at just 3.7 percent. That means businesses have to really compete for talent.

What makes your company attractive to talented employees?

  • It's probably not desperation.

  • It's usually not money.

  • It might not be your product or service (unless it’s incredibly popular).

A new report from Glassdoor reveals that culture is the most important thing that job candidates are looking for. Here are some highlights along with some suggestions for landing top talent.

A group of colleagues sitting at a conference table with the word “culture” written on it.

About Glassdoor's Mission & Culture Survey 2019

The Glassdoor report was conducted by The Harris Poll. 

A total of 5,113 adults were surveyed, including 2,025 in the US, to learn how a company's culture contributes to employee recruitment and retention. The remaining participants were from the UK, France, and Germany. The highlights below focus on the results for US job applicants and employees.

You can read the full report here.

What do job applicants look for?

Culture is extremely important to job applicants. Employees are looking for an organization where they believe in the mission and feel pride in their employer. It's also vital for people to feel like they fit in with the organization.

Here are some of the top findings from the report:

  • 58 percent said culture is more important than salary.

  • 77 percent would consider a company's culture before applying.

  • 89 percent think it's important for a company to have a clear mission and purpose.

This is one of the reasons companies should have a customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding service that gets everyone on the same page. Companies with a strong vision are able to unite employees behind this compelling purpose.

Culture is what keeps people, too.

Many of my friends are looking for jobs because the culture isn't right at their current company. In the report, 74 percent said they would start looking for another job if their company's culture deteriorated.

I did a separate study on contact center agent burnout and discovered that 74 percent of contact center agents were at risk of burnout. A lack of a customer-focused culture was the number one risk factor.

How can you become an employer of choice?

Offering a competitive salary, good benefits, and a healthy work environment are table stakes. You’ll have a difficult time attracting any decent employees if you don’t do those things. The real differentiator for top talent is a customer-focused culture.

Start by creating a clear purpose—89 percent say it's important.

The next step is hiring for culture fit. 

A word of caution here. There are a few common mistakes that frequently cause customer service leaders to accidentally hire toxic employees:

  • The culture is not clearly defined.

  • Relying too much on resumes and interview questions.

  • Trying to hire "rock star" employees.

You can avoid these traps using this guide to hiring for culture fit.

Once you've revamped your hiring process, it's time to advertise your culture to prospective job applicants. Many organizations create a culture page to do this. The page often contains:

  • A description of the culture (mission, vision, values, etc.)

  • Information about what it's like to work there.

  • Video testimonials from employees.

Here's how Southwest Airlines provides an overview of the culture:

Screenshot of the culture page on the Southwest Airlines career site.

REI emphasizes the employee experience in this example:

Screen shot of the culture page on the REI careers site.

The Container Store uses this video to share employee testimonials.

Finally, make sure you back up that great culture with an effective onboarding experience. You can use this guide to help you.

How to Avoid Hiring Toxic Employees

Advertising disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

Larissa (not her real name) was partying with coworkers and subordinates outside of work. There was a lot of drinking and things got out of hand. People started arguing and a fight broke out.

Intoxication impaired Larissa's judgement. She added fuel to the fire by choosing sides and gossiping.

There was fallout the next day at work. Employees were upset about the altercation and angry at Larissa for her role in it. After all, Larissa was a manager and someone people expected to be a voice of reason.

Her boss quickly got wind of the story and had to investigate.

Larissa admitted her role in the fracas, but didn't accept responsibility. She felt that what she did on her own time was her own business, without understanding that a manager drinking with employees can still be considered a work function.

Her boss subsequently learned that Larissa had created issues at her last job. None of that surfaced during the interview process because Larissa's references had lied about her qualifications and conduct.

Avoiding toxic employees like Larissa can be tricky. In a surprising revelation, many common hiring practices actually attract toxic workers. Here's how to avoid that.

Recruiter evaluating puzzle pieces representing employees. One piece clearly does not fit.

How common are toxic employees?

Michael Housman and Dylan Minor conducted a study of toxic employees in 2015. They reviewed 58,542 customer service employees from multiple companies and found that 1 in 20 were fired for toxic behavior within their first year of employment.

Toxic behavior is defined in the study as "an egregious violation of company policy. Examples include sexual harassment, workplace violence, falsifying documents, fraud, and general workplace misconduct."

It makes sense to avoid hiring toxic people, but that's easier said than done. Larissa got hired by getting references to lie on her behalf and falsifying her resume (more on that in a moment). 

So how can you spot a potentially toxic employee? The study highlighted three specific factors to look for. 

How can you screen out toxic people?

The study identified three prominent risk factors for toxic behavior:

  • Overconfidence

  • Self-regarding

  • Rule-orientation

Let's take a closer look at each one, starting with overconfidence. 


These are employees who believe they're awesome, even when they're not. 

Study participants were asked during the interview process to estimate their level of computer skills. The applicants were later given a skill assessment to determine their actual skill level.

A whopping 34 percent were overconfident, with the skill test revealing they were less skillful than they had claimed. These employees were 15 percent more likely to be terminated for toxic behavior than the rest.

I've run my own experiments that reveal customer service employees consistently overrate their abilities. These overconfident employees are less likely to accept feedback, learn new skills, or improve their performance because they don't believe they need to.

One of the warning signs Larissa's boss missed during the initial interview process was Larissa lied on her resume. She overstated her qualifications and was overly confident about her ability to do the job. 

You can avoid hiring overconfident employees by having them demonstrate their abilities during the selection process whenever possible. This might include a computer test or asking them to write a sample customer email.

Some abilities, like defusing an angry customer, are more difficult to test in an interview. One solution is to ask candidates to relate a specific experience rather than respond to a hypothetical situation. So you might ask, "What happened the last time you had to defuse an angry customer?"

Janis Whitaker's excellent book, Interviewing by Example, provides lots of great examples and ideas for crafting these types of interview questions.


Pop quiz. What type of person do you think is generally better at customer service?

  1. Someone who is self-centered

  2. Someone who cares deeply about others

If you answered "someone who cares about others," you're right. The study found that self-centered, or self-regarding, employees were 22 percent more likely to be terminated for toxic behavior.

Recall that Larissa focused on her desire to party and have a good time with friends, rather than her responsibility to be a good role-model when socializing with subordinates outside of work.

Many customer service leaders make the mistake of designing a selection process that attracts people who are more self-regarding.

  • Including self-centered terms like "rockstar" or "superstar" in the job posting.

  • Promoting perks like games, incentives, and prizes for top performers.

  • Selling candidates on advancement opportunities, rather than the job itself.

The way to fix this issue is by emphasizing teamwork and company culture in the interview process. Here are just a few ways to do this:

  • Highlight culture on your career page, such as this one from Squarespace.

  • Use team-focused descriptions in job postings.

  • Screen candidates for culture fit using this guide.

Above all, do away with contests, games, and prizes that promote self-regarding behavior. There's extensive research that proves incentives can crush an employee's motivation to do the right thing.


Job applicants in the study were asked to decide which of two statements most applies to them.

  1. I believe rules are made to be followed.

  2. Sometimes it's necessary to break the rules to accomplish something.

The surprising twist is people who chose "I believe rules are made to be followed" were 25 percent more likely to be fired for toxic behavior. It seems that someone stating they are a rule-abider doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll actually abide.

Customer service managers with a lot of toxic employees tend to be overly focused on rules.

  • Attendance policies

  • Dress codes

  • Conduct policies, such as the use of personal cell phones

The solution to this challenge can be counterintuitive. Customer-focused leaders spend less time on rules (what not to do), and more time reinforcing positive behaviors (what to do).

For example, rather than reviewing the attendance policy with an applicant, a customer-focused leader might emphasize why an employee might want to come to work every day. Perhaps the company offers fun and challenging work, has a compelling customer service vision, and creates an environment where coworkers genuinely trust and support each other.

Take Action

Hiring good, non-toxic employees is difficult.

When I wrote about customer-focused companies in The Service Culture Handbook, the chapter on hiring was the most difficult to write. There were too few companies that did a fantastic job recruiting the right people.

You can make strides by avoiding overconfident, self-regarding, and rule-oriented job applicants. I've also created this hiring resource page to give you more tools and information.

Hire better by redefining your purple squirrel

A client of mine recently struggled to find the perfect candidate for an open managerial position. They wanted someone who had outstanding technical and managerial skills, but this combination was proving impossible to find. They were also a small nonprofit organization, so the perfect candidate had to be willing to work for a salary that was well below market.

Recruiters often use the term “purple squirrel” to refer to the perfect candidate for hard to fill positions like my client's. Like purple squirrels, these people are often difficult, if not impossible to find.

It’s time to get real
A recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog advised companies to stop searching for the perfect candidate because it is often a futile effort that does nothing more than waste time and money.

In my client’s case, searching for a purple squirrel had caused them to leave an important position unfilled while they searched for someone who didn’t exist. They found a fair number of people with the required technical skills but not the managerial skills or vice-versa. On the rare occasions when they found someone who appeared to have both, they quickly learned their budget was nowhere near that person’s salary expectations.

It was time for my client to face reality if they wanted to fill this position. 

Redefining your purple squirrel
When my client turned to me for help, we were able to create a solution in just two hours by using a worksheet to profile of an ideal, rather than perfect candidate.

This simple tool, available for free on my website, works by differentiating between qualities a successful employee must have and qualities you'd like an employee to have. For example, a call center employee must have the ability to effectively communicate with customers over the phone. It would be nice if they also had experience using the call center's customer relationship management software, but this isn't essential since training is available to new hires. 

The worksheet helped my client realize they had confused wants with needs. They wanted someone with outstanding technical skills, but technical skills weren’t essential to the job. They were hiring a manager, not a technician, so what they really needed was someone with enough technical knowledge to effectively manage their team.

Assessing organizational fit
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins famously suggested that successful companies focus on getting the right people on the bus. The worksheet helps you go beyond job-specific criteria and identify what type of person would be a great fit with your organization. In other words, who are the right people for your bus?

In my client’s case, they realized that the only way to find someone whose salary expectations fit their budget was to find a manager who was truly passionate about their mission. Further analysis revealed that all of their successful employees had this trait in common, regardless of position.

My client was able to hire a manager to fill their open position within days of redefining their purple squirrel. Best of all, they were really excited about the person they'd hired and didn't feel as though they had settled on someone who wasn't qualified.

Check out this short tutorial video below if you'd like to see how this tool works (click here if the embedded video doesn't appear). When you are ready, you can download the worksheet and give it a try.