Culture fit became a huge buzzword around 2012, and has since ingrained itself as a requirement for job seekers, consultants, and employers alike. But what do we mean when we say we are looking for a person—or opportunity—that is the right “fit” culturally? And has this concept become so commonplace that we’re losing sight of why it’s really important?
Whether in the tech industry or not, full-time employees spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else. This should incentivize companies to promote great cultures and compel professionals to work with businesses that align with individual values, practices, attitudes, and norms, creating a more positive workplace, better social interactions, and higher productivity. Ultimately, having a compatible tech team helps to create a thriving career for technology professionals and a flourishing company.
So how can both parties ensure they find the right fit? While it’s important to do research before a job interview, when it comes to culture fit, the real work needs to be done during an interview. By asking the right questions and making keen observations, you’ll find yourself a win-win relationship.
Ask the Right Questions: A Measured Way of “Getting to Know You”
As an IT Pro: When it’s your turn to ask questions, be sure to focus on culture fit. While you can directly ask your interviewer to describe the culture of the company you are interested in working with, other leading questions may be more telling. Whether you’re looking to work with a company as an IT consultant or traditional FTE, the answers to these questions will give you a sense of how satisfied and motivated you will be in accomplishing your day-to-day work:
- What’s it Like to Work Here? What are the interviewer’s favorite things about working for the company? What are some of the challenges the company/team has faced? How are conflicts or differing opinions handled? What is the company’s leadership/managerial style? Any variation of these questions will help you determine what a typical day working for a given company looks like, and whether or not that’s something you’d be interested in engaging with.
- What Does It Take to Be Successful? By gaining a better understanding of what others at the company value in their current IT consultants or permanent employees, you’ll learn if your characteristics and priorities meet others’ expectations. Such alignment is key to your professional success, advancement, and happiness.
As an Employer: Determine whether a tech pro is a good culture fit by shaping your interview questions to focus less on the details of a person’s work history, and instead seek to identify what that history reveals about the IT pro’s values and practices—and weigh those against your company’s own. Asking open-ended or story questions is a great way to draw out such details. Other questions that highlight culture fit include:
- Do You Prefer to Work Collaboratively, or Independently? You want to ensure that the tech pro you are interviewing has a preferred working style that aligns with how your tech team operates. What is their style of communication? In the past, did they handle their work independently until it was completed or was collaboration with the rest of the team an active component of the process? Answers to these questions will determine how well an IT pro will work within your tech team.
- How Well Do You Adapt to Change? In the fast-paced world of technology, this question will help you determine if an IT pro’s soft skills compliment your company’s culture. Flexibility, strategizing, and communication skills with non-tech members of your team or adaptability when faced with variable project schedules, changing working hours, and unforeseen needs may be important to assess, especially in regards to IT consultants.
Observe Actions: Let the Non-Verbal Cues Speak for Themselves
As an IT Pro: While you owe it to your interviewer to remain engaged during an interview, you owe it to yourself to engage in observations about your interviewer and surroundings that will give you more insight into the company’s culture. The communication style of your interviewer, the space you are being interviewed in, and the general “vibe” you get from your interview experience are all important aspects of your culture-fit assessment. Specifically, ask yourself:
- Is the Environment More Formal or Casual? How are the workspaces set up? Cubicles vs. open workstations indicate more privacy but less collaboration, and vice versa. What is hung up on the walls—humorous photos, or minimalist artwork? How are others dressed—suit and tie, or jeans and a T-shirt? Do you notice a lot of chatter/laughter, or are silence and focus setting the tone? Such observations can reveal qualities, such as, whether a company’s culture is more creative, relaxed, professional, and/or fast-paced.
- How Are You Being Interviewed? Do your interviewers encourage you to address them by first name? What kind of demeanor do they maintain during the interview: formal and composed, or more casual and friendly? Do any themes or keywords emerge in their questions? Your interviewers reflect the types of people currently working at the company and the brand/image the company portrays.
As an Employer: People are the primary contributors to a company’s culture, so it’s important that you assess details about your interviewee that will reveal what kind of person he or she is. This does not mean you should only hire people who exhibit certain personalities or characteristics, but you should consider how well the tech pro is getting along with you and with other interviewers. The more people you can expose a candidate to, the better. If an IT candidate gets along well with others on your tech team, they’re likely to compliment your company culture. There are two other key “checklist” items you should consider throughout the interview:
- Does He or She Seem Confident, or Hesitant? People can take time to warm up, or get nervous during an interview. But if an interviewee is consistently struggling or hesitating to come up with good stories about their previous experiences, this may indicate a lack of preparation, which in turn signals a lack of passion about your company. Alternatively, someone who has done his or her research—even going so far as to know a bit about your company culture—shows enthusiasm and initiative and is worth considering further.
- What is the Interviewee’s Body Language Telling You? Does his or her face light up when answering a particular question? Do their hand gestures become more pronounced as they detail a specific story? Noticing these details during the interview may help you recognize more genuine feelings about particular values that are important to your company.
Everyday behavior is ultimately what determines if goals are met, sales are made, or if projects are completed. But culture fit is not about sameness. Diversity in tech teams has been proven to increase creativity and productivity. Therefore, finding culture fit when hiring is not about maintaining a team with the same hobbies, movie tastes, and personality; it’s about creating and maintaining a diverse team of individuals who share common professional and personal values. This shared set of values, transcend differences and give people a common ground, contributing to an individual’s success and a company’s growth.
At ESP IT, we’re firm believers in culture fit. In fact, we’ve been recognized as a Minnesota Business Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Work five years in a row, largely due to the strong emphasis we place on our company values – No Gossip, Be The Best, Be For Each Other, and Wag Your Tail. Let us help you find your next best fit.