Cultural fit and job interviews

I have had a couple of interviews recently that I thought went well. A few days later, they told me I wasn’t a good cultural fit. What does this mean, and how can I avoid it in the future?

It’s hard to say what they mean with that phrase alone, but there are companies now that talk about their ‘work culture’ as opposed to some other culture at large. I don’t like the idea myself, it sounds like exclusivity of the kind that leads to groupthink mistakes. If that’s it then the only way to know how to fit in that culture is to find out what it is. It will either be something the company publicizes somehow or you’ll need to find someone who works there to find out.

It could also simply be code for you are too old, or too young, or too male or too female. It could be about anything from your skin color to the type of clothes you wear. There’s no way to know without more info, but you probably would have picked up on such obvious ways you were different from everyone else.

^ This. It is a chicken-shit explanation of why they won’t hire you, without having to admit it, or have to explain harder stuff like you are over/under qualified.

What types are you applying for? How old are you?

In some companies, the employees act a lot more like friends than co-workers. They will hang out together, do stuff on the weekends, etc. It’s like a group of people in college working on a project. In that type of environment, being able to fit in is an important part of working there. Sure, you may have all the skills they need, but so does that other person who also would fit better with the existing employees.

Imagine a workplace where everyone there shared similar political beliefs opposite to yours. At that workplace, the employees regularly chat together about politics and they are all in agreement. If you have opposite beliefs, you may feel like an outsider since you don’t agree with them and don’t want to engage in those casual chats. Because you don’t casually chat with them, it’s harder to form personal relationships and the other employees won’t get to know you as well. To keep things going smoothly, they may prefer to hire people who will fit in rather than go for more diversity.

Just keep looking around. Think about what type of person you are and what types of companies would be a good fit. If you’re a rocker with tattoos, a music store would be a better choice than a lawyer’s office. If you are clean cut and wear a suit, a lawyer’s office is better than a music store.

Surely, if a candidate genuinely wasnt a “cultural fit” (and im skeptical of the very concept), they shoild come away from the interview thinking “im not going to fit there” not “well that went well”.

Usually something like above, where they measure you on how well they think you’ll fit in their little social circle, sometimes have heard it in the context of the company being slave drivers with a corporate ‘culture’ of working your damned ass off for little reward or recognition ‘just because’ and they don’t see you as that kind of exploitable resource.

When I heard it after one interview in that context, I laughed and moved on. I had no interest in being part of that serfdom culture, so was pretty happy they as much as told me so.

I’m 21 and the positions were IT at a small beverage company, and service tech for a copier dealer. I thought both went well because I nailed all the technical questions.

I say it all the time. It means I didn’t like the person for some reason - skills, personality, anything. It’s no benefit to explain the reason and that is a legally viable one. Usually I don’t even give a reason because there is no point. Cultural fit only comes out if pressed.

Is “Cultural Fit” the business version of the romantic “It’s not You, it’s Me”?

Romantically, it often means the dumper has already found someone else–but does’t want to tell the truth. In Employment, perhaps someone in-house already has the fast track–but HR decrees that outsiders be interviewed.

In consulting, we call it the “Detroit airport test”. Basically the concept is “can I tolerate having a beer with this person for 3 hours while waiting for a delayed flight in a shitty airport”.

While the whole concept of “cultural fit” can often have racist, classist, ageist, and other negative overtones, the fact is that people aren’t robots and want to work with people they will like (or at least tolerate) working with.

Like if you are a young go-getter, you might not fit in a culture of stodgy old IT guys counting the days until retirement. If you are a suit guy, you might not fit in at a T-shirt and jeans startup.

Why does anyone feel the need to “explain” why they aren’t hiring someone?

I’ve hired. After interviewing 10 people, I chose one. Nine were not chosen. Why? Because I needed and chose one.

Sometimes “cultural fit” is just a catchall excuse, but sometimes it is true.

Fifteen years ago, when I was in my late forties, I had a six month contract doing software development at Abercrombie & Fitch. It was an open floor plan office with polished concrete floors. People played catch with balls and frisbees, and skateboarded and roller-bladed around the office. The same music that plays in A & F stores played all day in the office.

I was not a good cultural fit for that workplace. :slight_smile:

It sounds like everything went well on the technical side. That’s good.

At 21 you’re still pretty young. I bet those positions had a lot of college graduates applying for them. There’s a lot more uncertainty hiring a 21-year-old than a 25 or 30-year-old.

If your age is an issue, try to make yourself look and act as mature as possible in the interview. Think of some 30-year-olds you know and emulate them.

Keep applying at those types of companies for any type of job even if you think it’s beneath you. If you prove yourself, you’ll quickly move up. So if the beverage company needs someone to shred documents and wash out kegs, do it. It’s not like you’ll do that for life. They will gradually give you more responsibilities and you can move into IT or sales or whatever.

I was told I didn’t get a job because they hired someone else to fill a “personality gap.”

So, basically, chickenshit.

Do you not contact the other 9 to let them know they were not chosen? Not even a rejection letter?

I think my office manager does, but when I’ve spoken to an applicant (like running into them at the grocery store) I’ll just say, “I’m pretty sure we hired someone else”.

I haven’t had to hire someone in years, it’s a small business with two of my employees having been there from the start (15-ish years!).

I work in a small public defender’s office. We have 11 attorneys. Quite frankly, we hire almost exclusively on personality. You MUST have a wry sense of humor. You MUST be willing to cover someone else’s case on a moment’s notice, and do so with vigor and no expectation of pay-backs (although with our caseloads, frankly, you are going to need help one day too). You MUST be able to have a person look you in the face and tell you that you are horrible, and still walk into court and defend them like they are your beloved grandma.

It’s not a job for everyone. Passing the bar may make you minimally qualified. But you have to have the right personality for the job.

That’s what slays me. I have what I think is an excellent interview, then radio silence. Is there no such thing as common courtesy or a timely response? I took the time to prepare for the interview and you took the time to talk to me.

It’s why I’m reticent to start looking again. I take it too personally and I do not want to go down that road again.

Culture fit is the “It’s not you, it’s me” of failed interviews.

What it’s intended meaning is is that there’s nothing wrong with your technical or soft skills and that you would potentially do great at another firm that had a different culture (for example, you are fastidious and like things to proceed in an orderly fashion and the company is far more about charging ahead in a more slapdash fashion and patching things up as they go along. Neither is wrong, both have their pros and cons, but there is a clash).

What it’s actually become is the vague catchall phrase that reveals exactly nothing while giving you the feeling that you’ve been let down easy.

For a small place you’ll never really know. Maybe they just didn’t like you, maybe you sounded too good at the technical matters, maybe you’re too young. It’s probably nothing you can do anything about for your next interview, stick to the basics and get some more interviews. If you have the technical skills someone will want you.