It's a match: how to answer culture fit questions in an interview

Oct 12, 2022

4 mins

It's a match: how to answer culture fit questions in an interview
Lauren Dunmore

Content specialist passionate about storytelling

69% of leaders credit their success during the pandemic to great company culture, according to a 2021 PwC survey. Survey respondents also confirmed that culture was more important than strategy or operations. Clearly, leaders recognize the importance of hiring people that align with their mission and values.

But where did this idea of culture fit come from? According to Laura Rivera, a Professor of Management and Organizations at Northwestern University, the concept of cultural fit first gained popularity in the 1980s. She says, “the original idea [behind fit] was that if companies hired individuals whose personalities and values—and not just their skills—fit with an organization’s strategy, workers would feel more attached to their jobs, work harder and stay longer.”

Today, the culture fit interview is a standard part of the recruitment process; a way for a company to assess whether or not you’ll mesh with the rest of the organization. But apart from checking out the career page and taking a peek at Glassdoor, how can you best prepare for a culture-fit interview?

According to Michelle Hague, a Colorado-based HR Manager at Solar Panels Network USA, “one of the most important things you can do is to listen. The interviewer will often give you clues about what they’re looking for.” Max Wesman, California-based COO at Goodhire, adds that, “Hiring those who genuinely believe in a company’s vision and value statement sets the wider team up for synergy and success.”

That brings us to the first and most important rule when preparing for a culture fit interview: figure out what the company culture is. Once you’ve determined this, all you have to do is stand out—easier said than done, we know. So here are some pointers to bear in mind that will help you ace your culture fit interviews.

Be prepared

Once you’ve passed the more technical phases of the recruitment process, it might be tempting to not dedicate as much prep time to the culture fit interview. Resist this urge. “Make sure that you know as much as possible about the company’s culture,” says Hague. This will help you impress the hiring manager and ensure that this role really is the right fit for you. So, do your research: look beyond the careers page, check out the company’s social media presence, see if you have any connections that are currently working there, and ask the right questions after each of your interviews.

Hague also advises candidates to practice responding to common culture fit questions. You might be asked things like:

  • Describe your ideal manager
  • How would former coworkers describe you?
  • What do you like to do after work?
  • Why would you be a good fit for our team?
  • What kind of work environment are you the most productive in?

Once you’ve noted what questions you may be asked, it’s time to start preparing exactly how you’ll respond, including examples of where you’ve demonstrated each action in the past. This sample conversation can be used as a template to prepare your answers:

Interviewer: What’s your working style? Are you collaborative or do you prefer working independently?

Candidate: I’ve always found that having a collaborative working style yields the best results. However, I also think it’s important to be able to work independently. So I would say I am a mix of both, depending on what the task requires. For example, in my last position, I was tasked with doing X, Y, and Z. I realized that to produce the best results, I needed to work closely with our HR and Data teams. However, I conducted the initial research independently and then presented it to key stakeholders in the organization.

And don’t forget that you’re telling a story. Keep your audience engaged and speak to what you believe is important to their company culture. For example, if they pride themselves on a flat hierarchy, give examples of how you’ve thrived in similar environments.

Be authentic

Hague recommends being honest. “The interviewer is looking for someone genuine and authentic, so it’s important to be yourself. Trying to stretch the truth or fake your way through the interview will only backfire.” Generally speaking, authenticity is compelling, and difficult to fake. If you’re dishonest with your interviewer, there’s a chance they’ll find you disingenuous. According to a 2006 study, humans can distinguish truth from lies around 54% of the time. So there’s a very high chance that your interviewer will sense that you’re not being completely candid.

Plus, a culture fit interview goes both ways. You also have the opportunity to ask questions to determine if this new company aligns with your expectations. So being honest and open is the best tactic to determine if this new role is the best next career move.

Ask questions

We can’t stress this enough. A culture-fit interview isn’t just about answering questions. It’s your opportunity to get a sense of what accepting the job would look like. Figure out what’s important to you and jot down some questions before the interview. Consider asking things like, what does work/life balance mean to the company and how do they empower employees to have it? What is your future manager’s leadership style and how do they deliver feedback? Do people come into the office every day or is there a remote work policy?

You can also ask questions to show how much you’ve done your homework. If you’ve read on the company’s website that sustainability is one of its key values, ask what this looks like in practice. Perhaps the company just received a large investment—question your interviewer on what this will mean for the organization’s future.

The key to acing your culture fit interview? Don’t underestimate it. Put in the same amount of time and effort you would dedicate to a skill assessment. Research the company, be honest, and use the interview to determine if it’s the right next career move for you.

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