Ask a hiring manager which top qualities they’re looking for in candidates, and culture fit is bound to be up there. It’s no surprise — research shows that hiring for culture fit leads to reduced turnover, cost savings and happier, more productive employees, so it’s definitely in a company's best interest to find somebody who’s a good match.
But job seekers are often at a loss for how to show culture fit during an interview. And although it can indeed be difficult, it’s far from impossible — you just need to follow a few best practices first.
1. Do Your Homework
The first step in demonstrating culture fit is actually knowing what a company’s culture entails. According to Megan Nunan, Career Specialist at Ama La Vida, “Culture fit sums up all the ‘extras’ about a company that you can’t classify into one bucket. Things like do you align with their values, do you mesh well with those already hired at the firm, could you thrive in the current environment, etc.” Luckily, you can find much of this through your own research before the interview even rolls around.
“There are a few things you can do to get a better sense of the company’s culture before your interview. First, read company reviews online,” says career coach Angela Copeland. “Glassdoor provides great company reviews from employees. The best part is, Glassdoor doesn’t edit these reviews, so you can hear the real scoop straight from the inside.”
Beyond Glassdoor, you can also check the company’s career site and social media pages, Nunan adds.
“Look at what they post about on social media, look at pictures of the office and people working there. These will all give you clues as to what they value and what the company’s culture is like,” she says. “It also never hurts to ask around — if you know someone that either works at the firm or knows someone that works there, taking them out for a quick coffee could be the best investment you’ll ever make in yourself."
2. Get Introspective & Rehearse
As you learn about a company’s values, work style, office environment, etc., you’ll want to think about how those match your own. Not only will this help you identify whether or not the company is the right fit for you — it’ll also give you an idea of what points you’ll want to touch on during an interview. For example, if you’re interviewing at a startup and you realize that you’re highly independent, self-motivated and excel at working at a fast pace, you’ll want to proactively highlight all of those factors in your answers.
In order to do that, you may want to research some of the most commonly asked interview questions and think about how you plan on answering them.
“There are an endless number of cultural fit questions like, ‘what kind of corporate environment do you thrive in, who was your best boss and why, what do you love about your current job,’” Nunan says. “The key to answering these successfully is to first take the time to reflect on the type of company culture that best suits you and then answer in a way that shows you’re intentional about your desire to work at this firm and that your values align nicely with those of the organization.”
And remember: the more you rehearse the answers to those questions (yes, I mean aloud!), the more comfortable you’ll be when it comes time for the actual interview.
3. Dress the Part
When you show up for an interview, you want your outfit to be appropriate — but remember, “interview-appropriate” will have different meanings at different companies.
“I once flew in for an interview at a high-end women’s clothing company in Santa Barbara, California. The job was a perfect fit, and I was incredibly excited. Unfortunately, when I walked in with high heels and an all-black suit, I immediately knew I’d made a mistake. Everyone was wearing Birkenstock sandals and natural fiber clothing. I looked like I didn’t belong,” Copeland shares.
The clothes you wear may not be the number one criteria that your interviewers judge you against, but first impressions certainly do matter. A good rule of thumb is to dress just slightly nicer than everyday employees do. So, for example, if you see employees wearing jeans and T-shirts in office photos, you may want to come in wearing nice slacks and a button-down or a professional, but casual dress.
4. Ask Questions
The idea of having to ask questions in an interview can be stressful — after all, shouldn’t answering their questions be enough? But really, you should think of it as an opportunity. It’s a great way to get a sense of how things operate day to day and, perhaps even more importantly, prove how you would fit in there.
“There is almost always time left at the end for you to ask questions, so come in prepared with a list. What is their work/life balance, do employees usually socialize outside of work, does the company partake in community service, which type of people tend to be successful there, etc.,” Nunan says. “Your interviewer should (hopefully) answer honestly and give you a feel [of] what it’s really like to work there.”
One trick I employed when I was looking for a job would be to “yes, and” an interviewer’s response to my question, which involved agreeing with their assessment and adding why that resonated with me. This reinforced that a) I had done my homework and b) I would be a good fit for the company. Here’s an example of what that might look like:
Candidate: Can you tell me what type of people tend to be successful here?
Interviewer: I would say that the people who thrive at Globex tend to be those who are highly collaborative, passionate about what they do and always thinking about how they can take things to the next level.
Candidate: Thanks for sharing — that definitely lines up with what I’ve heard and read about Globex so far. I find a lot of meaning in my work and am always striving to improve, and it really motivates me to work closely with colleagues who feel the same way, so that's great to hear.
5. Be Honest
Demonstrating culture fit is important, but even more important is finding a job and company that fit your life. After all, if you’re going to spend 40+ hours a week there, you’ll want to enjoy it.
“It does neither party any good to try and fit a mold you weren’t made to fit,” Nunan says. ”There are hundreds of companies out there, so don’t be afraid to trust your gut and find the company that’s best for you both personally and professionally.”
The perfect job and company are out there somewhere, so don’t feel like you need to force it. Odds are, when you do find the right opportunity, you (and the interviewer) will know.