When you find yourself actively browsing the job market, thinking about your next career change, or even succession planning. You will find that the words “cultural fit” come into play often, but what do these words actually symbolize?
From an employer’s perspective, cultural fit is something that is normally not directly specified in a formal job description; however, it can be identified by the choice of wording used throughout. Typically, in an organizational setting, cultural fit refers to the values, beliefs, and behaviours that the organization is looking for in their next potential candidate.
This terminology also goes both ways, as from a candidate’s perspective, cultural fit is starting to become a more prevalent indicator of why candidates are choosing to accept new job offers and leave their current roles behind.
The issue with utilizing cultural fit as a decision-making criterion however, is understanding how companies and individuals begin to assess their interpretation of the shared values, beliefs, and behaviours that they are looking for; as this remains to be primarily subjective in nature.
Throughout my role as a Recruitment Specialist, I believe the interpretation of cultural fit stems from three specific sets of skills that go above and beyond the typical qualifications found in a job description. Throughout this article, I will be signifying what these skills sets are, what they symbolize, and how you can begin showcasing these skills to hopefully obtain your next dream job.
Skillset #1: Interpersonal Skills
When thinking of interpersonal skills, the first thoughts that may come to mind are your ability to communicate effectively and build relationships. Although this is fundamentally true, there are more underlying interpersonal skills that you may not be aware of that a potential employer could be looking for. Those being your ability to show empathy, compassion, cooperation, and your overall deportment.
With that said, how are you able to showcase these qualities to a potential employer in an interview setting? Well, that depends. Most interviews are comprised of behavioural-style questions that are meant to evaluate your future performance based on similar past experiences. In this sense, when you are asked a behavioural style interview question, such as “Tell me about a time when you faced a conflict while working on a team”. It gives you an opportunity to demonstrate not only your conflict resolution approaches, but also your values, your leadership style, and how you foster trust. Overall, it is easy for individuals to say that they acted as a mediator or used their listening skills to come to a mutual agreement between both parties. However, it’s those who speak on their personal qualities such as their empathy to understand the root of the conflict, or their cooperation to motivate their team and help them see the value they bring, that stands out most of all.
In short, always try to put some personality as to the reason behind why you did something. This ends up being equally as important in comparison to the outcome of the situation as the employer can begin visualizing your fit within their team’s dynamics.
Skillset #2: Intrapersonal Skills
If interpersonal skills are seen as outwardly focused, then you can think of intrapersonal skills being those that are inwardly focused. This includes aspects such as your ability to manage emotions, cope with change, handle stress, and continuously learn. In contrast with interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills have the potential to be even more difficult to analyze. The result for some organizations is to utilize a different approach to interviewing that relies on standardized testing to reveal a candidate’s personality, work ethic, and self-direction capabilities.
If we stick with the example of our most common behavioural style interviews however, then the question becomes how you can demonstrate your intrapersonal skills through a behavioural style question such as “Tell me about a time when you failed at a task or project and how did you overcome it?”.
In this regard, we can rely heavily on our intrapersonal skills to demonstrate our own self-awareness and our ability to improve. The common answer you may hear from an individual is that something external or outside of themselves caused the failure, and they have now learned how to manage the expectations of themselves and their team better. In some scenarios, this is a very valid answer, however, when focusing on how you can stand out and showcase your fit with an organization, there are other approaches as well. The most receptive approach that I have witnessed is when a candidate has the self-awareness to speak on their own weaknesses and how they have developed themselves to either compensate, manage, or directly improve that weakness. Overall, the goal is to give the employer the opportunity to recognize your ability to continually improve even in the face of adversity.
In short, don’t be afraid to reflect on and admit your shortcomings, as long as you have an actionable plan in place to continually develop yourself and improve your skillset. This growth mindset has a higher value for employers than an individual who is not able to reflect both internally and externally of themselves.
Skillset #3: Cognitive Skills
The final skillset that is used to implicitly showcase cultural fit are your cognitive skills. These skills are reflected in aspects such as your ability to problem-solve, analyze, make decisions, and be adaptive. Common behavioural style questions that relate to your cognitive abilities may include “Tell me about a time where you had to manage multiple competing priorities and what steps you took to approach them” or “Tell me about a time where you had to manage tight deadlines and what steps you took to ensure work was completed on time.”
On the surface, these questions may seem easier to answer as they’re very structured, logical, and not very open-ended. With that said, it’s for those same reasons that I would propose cognitive questions to be the most difficult to answer due to their particularity. Therefore, when answering these questions, it is important to not only be methodical in your explanation, but it is equally as important to ensure that the employer understands the details surrounding why those situations existed.
For example, it is easy to say that you had multiple ongoing projects and that you used your time-management and delegation abilities to take a leadership role in ensuring tasks were done efficiently. However, it is more valuable to explain why these projects held value for the organization, what the end goals of the projects were, and why you chose to manage your responsibilities the way that you did. With this approach, it allows the employer to gain a better understanding of the situation you were in, what your organization valued, why those values were important to you, and the key steps you took to ensure both personal and organizational success.
In short, your cognitive reasoning is equally, if not more important, than your cognitive ability when explaining how you made a situation successful. In this way, it allows the employer to gain an in-depth understanding of not only the steps you took in a stressful situation, but also the thought processes behind why you placed greater importance on some items over others.
To summarize, cultural fit is a subjective approach utilized by both organizations and candidates to ensure that the next job opportunity is filled by the right individual. In an interview setting, it is important to be able to not only manifest the cultural fit that you are looking for, but also to showcase that cultural fit to the employer as well. To do this, there are three major skillsets that are imperative in successfully demonstrating what that fit has looked like in your past, and how you want it to look in your future. Those skillsets being your interpersonal, intrapersonal, and cognitive skills. To showcase what this fit looks like to your employer, a change of approach, or mindset, may need to be taken in how you answer behavioural-based interview questions. Overall, the goal is to give the employer enough information where they can make that connection of cultural fit with you, and vice-versa.
Written By: Angelo DiDonato
Note: This article is written as an opinion piece from the perspective of a Recruitment Specialist