Interviewing for Cultural Fit

Interviewing for Cultural Fit

Interviewing for Cultural Fit
In a former job, I was a career coach. Career coaching can be a tough gig because your clients are very much at the whim of the economy: when jobs are scarce, clients get discouraged and it’s a long tough slog to find a suitable, meaningful job. When jobs are more plentiful, the clients hem and haw about whether this one is the “right” job for them and how they can negotiate a better salary? However, one thing remains constant across all economic cycles: interviews are two-way events.

When candidates get notification of an upcoming interview, there are several things they tend to worry about. They want to learn all that they can about the company to be able to speak knowledgeably about its vision, strategy and business. They want to brush up on any technical knowledge in order to come across as competent and valuable to the team and position; and, of course, ensure that they know what to wear for the interview so that they look and feel like a good fit for the company.

However, candidates need to remember that they are also interviewing the company. They should ask themselves: Is this a place where I want to work? Is this a place where I feel that I will fit in? Do I feel that I can add value here and create a good work-life for myself? Are the people nice? Do I want to have lunch with them and possibly work late hours? Is it a psychologically healthy and supportive work environment where I want to spend eight or more hours every day?

And then there’s the question that one of my clients posed: Do they like funky socks?

This particular coaching client had been working hard for months on all elements of his job search — his online presence, his resume and cover letter, his handshake and networking skills — everything was finely honed and aligned to present a positive, competent, friendly professional. However, he was very concerned about his socks — could he wear funky socks to the interview?

He’d had professional advice on this before, and the answer was “no”. Funky socks would detract and look unprofessional. Funky socks would undermine his entire appearance. Funky socks would be all that the interview panel would remember, and they might even mock him for it once he left the room. Funky socks were a no-go.

And yet he really loved his funky socks. What to do?

We talked about this for a while — the pros and cons of wearing funky socks to an interview. (Honestly, you never know where a coaching conversation will go!) Eventually, the realization hit — if an interview panel did not place a positive value on funky socks, then that was indicative of a bad fit. He would not want to work there. He needed a work environment that placed cultural importance on fun, humour, appropriate skulduggery and funky socks. If a company cared so much about the socks — while overlooking his top-notch education, impressive professional experience and finely-tailored suit — then it wasn’t the place for him.

When you go into an interview, consider wearing your funky socks — whatever that means for you. Does it mean an alternate resume format that shows off your creativity? Does it mean coming with a portfolio that highlights your professional accomplishments, even though one wasn’t requested? Does it mean asking tough questions about the workplace culture and the boss who will be supervising you? Think about you — what makes you shine and what you need to be able to flourish at work.

Be the real you and ensure that you get a good workplace cultural fit when you interview at a company. You’re going to be spending half of your waking hours there — you want it to be amazing, you want it to fit — just as good as those funky socks!

Lisa Sansom, an accomplished trainer and certified coach, offers professional services, from a basis of applied positive psychology, in leadership, interpersonal communications, change management, team dynamics and other areas of organizational effectiveness.

Originally published in volume 17 issue 5 of Your Workplace magazine.

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