When you’re on the job hunt, it’s crucial to think about a wide range of factors before accepting a position. Obvious points of consideration include compensation, benefits, schedule, responsibilities, learning potential and advancement opportunities.
But sometimes, less blatant aspects of the workplace can make all the difference between a happy office atmosphere and an unpleasant one. These environmental factors often fall into the category of “culture fit,” and while it can be tougher to define a strong culture fit than it is to identify a competitive compensation package, this element greatly influences the overall comfort and satisfaction of new employees and long-time workers alike.
We’re here to tell you exactly what culture fit entails, how companies decide whether their employees are compatible with their desired culture and how an applicant can determine a positive fit for herself.
What is culture fit, and why does it matter?
Culture fit describes the alignment between an employee's behaviors and beliefs and a company's culture and values. Essentially, culture fit encompasses two defining aspects of the workplace: the company’s mission and the way that the office operates (and, of course, the intersection of these two facets).
Most bosses seek to hire employees who feel a strong connection to the work performed by the company and the guiding principles behind the business. For instance, if you’re applying for a job with a non-profit focusing on children’s education, a passion for improving the lives of kids is vital to a solid culture fit.
However, even if you’re deeply invested in a company’s work and mission, the actual day-to-day flow of the office and the accepted pattern of coworker interactions also needs to vibe with your own personal style. If you’ve ever endured a “toxic” work environment involving a boss and/or colleagues with whom you don’t get along, then you’re aware of the importance of compatible workplace energies. Companies understandably prefer to invest resources, time and money in employees who can smoothly adapt to the culture they’ve created, and these employees are therefore able to attain a higher level of job satisfaction and professional success.
How to assess a candidate’s culture fit
Because culture fit is, by nature, a variable concept, managers can’t use a strict formula or set of standards to assess this quality in each individual job applicant. However, certain screening procedures and interview tactics can help to reveal the candidates most likely to succeed in your particular work environment. Examples of these questions and strategies include:
During an in-person interview, walk the candidate around the office and tell her a bit about the workflow, the way in which employees interact and the orientation of the workspace itself. After she sees and hears about the space, ask for her impressions. The more specific she is about what she likes (rather than offering generically-positive responses), the more likely she is to fit into your company culture.
Ask the candidate to describe the management style that inspires her strongest work performance, as this will reveal a great deal about her job-related priorities and whether they fit into the atmosphere of your office.
Personality evaluations like the Myers-Briggs Test can often prove helpful in the hiring process. If the nature of your work appeals to a particular disposition, these tests provide an easy snapshot of the candidate pool and allow hiring managers to hone in on the individuals with the most pertinent personality traits to the specific position.
How to assess a company’s culture fit
Just as employers can (and should) use the interview period to ascertain a candidate’s culture fit, job seekers also have opportunities to ask revealing and useful questions about company culture during this time. A few questions to consider:
1. “What does your training process look like?”
The way that a company approaches training can tell you a lot about their priorities and their communication styles, all of which feed into culture fit. For instance, a company that trains new employees by pairing them with “mentors” most likely values close collaboration and one-on-one partnerships, which are different approaches than training via group seminars and lectures.
2. “What do your employees appreciate most about working for this company?”
Learning what existing employees value about the company can help you decide whether your own needs and preferences can be met by this particular culture.
3. “Does the company provide opportunities for socialization between coworkers?”
The social expectations of a workplace can massively affect employee happiness levels (in either direction), so asking about that aspect of the culture during the interview can provide helpful insight and allow you to make a clear decision.
Examples of positive culture fits
A professional relocates to a new city and therefore feels eager to meet new people and form a new network of friends and contacts. She accepts a role at a company that regularly hosts employee happy hours, picnics and retreats, giving her the chance to form social connections with her colleagues in addition to strong working relationships.
A worker who self-identifies as an introvert takes a position at a company that fully embraces private offices, the wearing of headphones and the use of messaging platforms and email in lieu of in-person chats. She feels comfortable with these communication patterns and is therefore able to excel at her work tasks.
An employee adopts a dog and is reluctant to leave him at home during the work day. Luckily, she’s employed by a company that not only tolerates four-legged companions in the office, but encourages their presence.
A new mom wants a workplace that supports parents and upholds a strong policy for family leave and for PTO, in general, and her company regularly proves its commitment to these initiatives.
Culture fit may not count among the most common “dealmakers” or “dealbreakers” for job seekers, but because it can contribute to (or detract from) employee satisfaction in a major way, candidates and employers should never underestimate its importance.