How to Show Culture Fit to a Potential Employer
Research shows that 43% of employers view culture fit as the most important factor when assessing a job candidate.
Unsurprisingly, you’ll find quite a bit of advice online which claims to reveal how you can show culture fit to a potential employer.
However, it seems to me that most of this advice steers you in the direction of being someone you’re not.
“Act this way”.
“Look this way.”
“Demonstrate the company’s values.”
“Don’t forget to speak the company’s language.”
This type of advice might help you get a foot in the door. it might even help you fit into a company’s culture. However, it’s also likely that you’ll be quite miserable once you’re at that company – because you’ll need to put on a mask for as long as you work there.
Let me suggest that there’s a better way. In this article I’ll show you how to:
- find a company where you fit in with the company culture
- demonstrate on your resume that you’re a good fit for that company’s culture
- prepare for the culture fit interview
So, What Is ‘Culture Fit’?
In its simplest sense, it’s an alignment of your values with those of your employer.
For example, if the company believes in democracy and loose oversight, it would have a flat hierarchy, with no (or few) line managers; it would give you a lot of autonomy and expect you to be personally accountable for producing results.
A culture like this is a dream come true if you tend to be entrepreneurial in your approach to work.
However, if you’re used to rigidity, process, oversight and rules, you’d feel quite uneasy in this kind of culture.
Remember, culture fit is as important for you – the employee – as it is for an employer.
You could be the best engineer in the world, but if you believe that fossil fuels are evil, then you’d never be happy at BP, regardless of the position or salary.
In other words, your core values must align with the company you want to work for.
If they don’t, then no matter how much you want to work there, there’s a good chance you’ll never feel you fit into the company’s culture.
Showing Culture Fit In Your Job Application.
Now that you understand why you need to show culture fit to a potential employer, it’s time take a closer look at how to do it.
Below is a breakdown of 7 key strategies that will help you.
- Do Your Homework.
Step one is simply about developing a better understanding of the company you’re applying to.
Here are some ideas to guide you.
- Company website: Pay special attention to the language used on the ‘about us’ and ‘our team’ pages. Is the tone friendly and relaxed? Corporate and smart?
- Social Media: What is the tone on Twitter? What kind of articles can be found on Facebook?
- LinkedIn profiles: Look at the LinkedIn profiles of existing employees. Do they mention the work they do at the organisation? If so, what is said about it?
- Get experience as a customer: Try to get into the sales funnel if you can (e.g. newsletters, blog subscriptions, website membership) as you’ll get a good insight into how they treat potential customers.
- Browse Company Reviews on Glassdoor: A kind of TripAdvisor for employers, this review site displays reviews from real staff on thousands of organisations. Don’t simply listen to opinions – pay close attention to what kinds of people leave which opinions.
- Talk to employees: If you can, have a coffee with a current employee. Ask them what the management think is important. What are the core values and do they live by them?
- Be Sceptical About The Company’s Propaganda.
It’s time for a reality check. Be open to the idea that most of the information you’ve uncovered in the step above is false.
Company websites tend to be aspirational in nature. In other words, they tend to describe how the company wants to be seen, rather than what it is.
Social media activity is not necessarily a sign of a progressive culture.
Look between the lines – do you see signs of a robust, intelligent social media and content strategy? Or are you looking at results of a “tick-the-box” effort?
- Be Sceptical About People’s Opinions.
When you meet people from a company you’re interested in, make sure you meet more than one.
When you meet them, go deeper than polite chit-chat. Your aim is not to get a person’s opinion (those will vary); the real value is in figuring out what kind of people succeed at the company – and what kind of people fail.
Here are a few questions that will allow you to dig deeper:
“What’s your story? How did you end up at XYZ Company?”. This is a useful starting question which can provide you with some insight about the pathways that people take.
“What’s the recruitment process like?”. This can give you a heads-up about things you need to prepare / look out for.
“Why have you stayed there for this long?” – This question allows you to look deeper than “this company is good/bad” analysis. If someone works there because “the company is, like, so cool” and you want to work with people who challenge you intellectually, this could be a red flag.
“What is the company up to?”. If a company is not clear on its direction, then the employees won’t be. Do you want to work for a company which isn’t sure why it exists? Also, do the employees genuinely care about the company’s mission, or are just paying lip service to it?
“What is annoying/frustrating about XYZ?”. A sign of annoying/frustrating things is not a problem in itself (every company is imperfect). A sign of a culture of complaint is. With this question, you’re essentially inviting the person to complain. Watch their response closely. Do they gossip? Do they blame?
“What have you learned / how have you developed since starting at XYZ?”. This will give you insight into how the company develops its people.
“If you could rewind time, would you take the job at XYZ again?”. This can provide you with insight into the gap between the company’s promises and realities.
This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list. For more ideas, check out this excellent piece about testing for culture fit.
Once you have figured out what the company’s culture is, and you believe that you and the company are a good match, it’s time to fine-tune your resume.
Now, I highly recommend that you begin by having your resume written by a professional resume writer (make sure you read this guide to choosing the best resume writer), or you spend a considerable amount of time learning how to write a resume – and then follow the advice closely.
It means you’ll already have a solid resume which communicates your value to an employer. However, some tweaks may be necessary to ensure that your resume is perfectly tuned to each job you apply for.
- In the ‘Professional Profile’ section of your resume, ensure that you emphasise the values that match the organisations and, if possible, how they tie in with your value proposition as a professional.
- Make sure your ‘Key Skills’ section succinctly summarises those skills that demonstrate your fit within the culture. For example, are you an empowering leader, entrepreneurial or process-driven.
- In your ‘Previous Employment’ section, make sure your positions are described using the same language as your potential new employer. Depending on the companies you’ve worked for previously you may need to shake off some of the corporate jargon or lose the creative ‘fluff’.
- Seriously consider using a different resume for each position you apply for so you can truly align your values. We’re talking subtle variations – a full blown realignment would call into question your overall cultural fit.
- Prepare Your Cover Letter.
Your covering letter is another great place to emphasise how well you would fit into a corporate culture.
For example, you can use sentences like:
“The role of XXXX really caught my eye because [demonstration of a core value].”
Or if speculative:
“I am now looking for a role in an organisation that aligns with my [demonstration of a core value].”
Use the covering letter to reinforce why you’re a great fit.
- Ensure That Your LinkedIn Profile Echoes Who You Are.
Don’t forget about your LinkedIn profile! Ensure that it communicates that overarching narrative of who you are, what you do and how you do it.
My advice here is to think about you, rather than the organisation. For example:
- What are your core values?
- How do your skills and achievements align with those values?
- What causes do you believe in and advocate for?
- What characterises your leadership style?
- Prepare For The Job Interview.
So, you’ve bagged that interview! What now?
If you’ve done your homework, this should be the easy part.
Remember, your job is not to fit in with the company’s culture (that’s what we all tried to do in high school – how did that work out?) – it’s to find a company where you’re a cultural match.
Therefore, if you remember anything, remember this: avoid the temptation to pretend someone you’re not at all costs.
However, do spend some time reflecting on who you are, what you stand for, what you care about and what you oppose.
I personally find that going for a long walk in a park or along a beach is the most conducive way of doing this. Carry a notepad and take down insights as they come to you. (Ah, who are am I kidding – who carries a notepad these days? Just bring your phone).
Finally, prepare yourself for some interview trickery. You’ll find plenty of advice about this online, or hire an excellent interview coach.
Think about how you’d answer competency questions angled toward culture fit, e.g. “tell me about a time that your belief in [VALUE] was challenged” or “how would you react if your job role suddenly changed?”
Key Point To Remember.
Culture fit is as important for you as it is for them. In any interaction, you’re assessing your suitability just as much as they are.
There’s little point in getting your dream job if it turns out to be in an organisation that gives you nightmares.