On Culture Fit and the Job Search

by Rebekah Kati, Senior Assistant, INALJ North Carolina

On Culture Fit and the Job Search

RebekahKatiWhenever I was rejected from a job, my friends and family would try to reassure me that it would not have been a good fit anyway. Often, this was true, but it made me muse on the idea of a “good fit” in the job search. What exactly does that mean and why is it so important?

“Fit” typically has two aspects. There is job fit, which is how well a candidate’s qualifications and experience matches the advertised position. This is fairly straightforward. The second aspect is culture fit, which is how well the candidate matches the existing workplace culture. A bad fit between employer and employee can make a working relationship very contentious, which is why search committees pay special attention to it. The problem with culture fit is that it can be amorphous and ambiguous. It is almost impossible to assess a culture fit as a potential employee unless you have a pre-existing relationship with employer. How should a job seeker navigate this important, but frustrating part of the job search?

First, make peace with the fact that you may not know everything about an employer’s culture and how well you will fit, unless you’re applying for an internal job. Fit is comprised of many different facets and it is impossible to identify and assess them all. Some aspects of company culture may not be overt, so the employer may not be consciously aware of them. Often, you might have a feeling about how well the workplace culture matches your personality and comfort level, but you won’t know for certain. You certainly will not know the search committee’s assessment.

Second, learn as much as you can about the organization, but don’t try to force yourself into the existing culture during the interview, as this can be detrimental to your chances if done incorrectly. I once attended a presentation given by a job candidate in which the candidate spent the bulk of his presentation time talking about the mission of the university and his aspirations to work in a place with a strong mission. He likely wanted to show that he understood the university and its culture, but he spent so much time on this that he neglected to show how his skills fit the job. Although the library wholeheartedly supported the university’s mission, the search committee was more concerned with the candidate’s qualifications and he missed the opportunity to showcase them.

Third, remember to ask questions during the interview that will illuminate the workplace culture. Questions such as “what is a typical day like”, “tell me more about why you like working here” and “what is your greatest challenge in your work” will not only help you understand more about the workplace, but may give you talking points throughout the interview. It is a good idea to ask these sorts of questions of people outside the search committee to give you a more well rounded picture. You will likely be working with departments other than those represented on the search committee and department culture might also play a role in the overall culture fit.

Lastly, remember that fit matters for you too. Be your best professional self at the interview, but remember that if you don’t feel comfortable in the job, you may not stay in the position long. Don’t ignore signs that the culture may be a bad fit for you. Good luck!

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