Find the Best Cultural Fit With Your Next Job

Remember, interviews are a two-way street.  Your talents and abilities are being evaluated, but it is also important to make sure that the company’s culture work for you.  If not, the assignment or work experience will be short-lived.

Fortune magazine rolled out their “100 Best Companies to Work For in 2012” list.  These are the employers that, according to Fortune, offer “dream workplaces”   Three highlights include:

  • Google (#1) – noted for its culture, mission and free meals
  • Wegman’s Food Markets (#4) – noted for its heath programs, including a “health hotline” and smoking cessation programs.
  • REI (#8) – noted for its outdoor culture that includes discounts on merchandise, sabbaticals and free equipment rentals.

However, it is important to remember that one size does not fit all.  Just because these companies are lauded for their perks, it does not mean that everyone is going enjoy working for them.  People are different and their needs are different.

Every company has its own unique culture – defined as a set of values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths” that have developed over time and currently operate within the company.   It is what sets the tone for the office and guides the daily interactions among staff members.

Culture is like a good pair of shoes.  If you try to shove your feet into them because they are trendy or you want them badly, then your feet will ache every day and you will be miserable.  Therefore, it is important that you not misrepresent your personality or your work style in an attempt to fit in with a certain culture.  Whereas you may be initially thrilled with the job offer or the temporary placement, that initial euphoric high will soon give way to unhappiness.

So what are some steps you can take during the interview process to ensure a good cultural fit?

Before the interview:

  • Determine what you want in a job, within reason.  Part-time work for full-time pay is not possible, but everyone should go through this analysis as a first step to determine a possible cultural fit.  Think about your dream position and figure out what it would take to attract you to that position. Do you want to work for a family-friendly company?  Is having a social outlet at work good for you? Do you want the opportunity to work in teams? Solo?
  • Research a company’s culture.  Start with their website.  Focus on what a company says about itself and how it says it.  In addition, talk to past or present employees; they can provide valuable insight.  Online networking sites can help you expand your network and help you learn more about the company.

During the interview:

  • Observe, Observe, Observe– Pay attention to the following:
    • How you were treated while interviewing.  Actions speak louder than words.  Watch how your interviewer and others within the company behave and pay attention to the consideration that they pay to you and others.
    • How does the environment feel to you? Pay attention to what is on the walls and the feel of the lobby.
    • Take a look around at the physical layout – are the cube walls short or tall, are the VPs in offices or cubes?Ask questions – It is OK to ask questions in order to evaluate how a company’s culture might work for you.
  • Ask Questions – it is OK to ask questions in order to evaluate how a company’s culture might work for you.  Some possible questions are:
    • Please describe the managerial style at this company?
    • What does it take to be successful here?  Take note of the personality traits that are encouraged and rewarded and think about what this says about company culture.
    • What three words (or phrases) would you use to describe the company/department culture?  Listen carefully for the adjectives that are used.

It is important to note that it is extremely rare to find a company where the culture aligns exactly with your own viewpoints, values and beliefs.  But, since we spend most of our day and define (to a large extent) who we are through our jobs, strive to find a company where your values and the corporate culture can co-exist.