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Careers Insight: Having a cultural fit is essential

It is not enough to tick all the boxes on the job description – your ethos must match, too

As a prospective new employee, you will have to adapt to the culture of a new employer, rather than the culture adapting to you. It is, therefore, critical that you look beyond a job brief to understand how well you will fit the ethos and working rhythm of a new organisation.

The environment in a workplace defines its culture and is made up of the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and experiences of the employees. Culture is especially influenced by the firm’s executives and leaders because they are the decision makers, the people who set the strategic direction and it is they who use various rewards and recognition systems to reinforce what is valued and what is expected.

The candidate selection process adopted by a firm does not always enable you to peel back the layers of what working for that business is really like. Of course, you get a chance to ask the hiring manager questions, but you must go further. I am a massive advocate of ensuring that you get to speak to current or recent employees, especially co-workers with whom you’ll form key working relationships.

Moreover, job satisfaction can hinge on your relationship with your boss, so you ought to find a way to know how they operate and what expectations they have of the people who work for them.

Career progression

It is also important to consider opportunities at the organisation beyond the role.

Talk to the hiring manager about potential paths. Ask if you are able to move into other functions and roles as your career flourishes and enquire about opportunities for training and development. Request examples of employees who have been promoted and what, in particular, led to them being highlighted for progression.

I know the same opportunity means different things to each person I target. I ensure I spend time understanding what kind of people do well in this firm. Therefore, it is also worth finding out about what kind of people have left.

It is a good sign if there are talented, motivated individuals who have been at the organisation for a long time. Employees who do not fit into their workplace generally leave to find a culture that is more congruent with their own values and beliefs, or are so misaligned that the firm takes steps to manage those behaviours out of the business. This in itself is a massive indicator of the importance of culture – namely that firms take the decision to remove people in order for the culture they have created to flourish.

Of course, assessing cultural fit is a two-way street and one of the main purposes of a job interview is to enable the interview team to assess the potential cultural fit of a candidate. The firms that inherently understand the essential qualities and attitudes required for their business to run effectively can gain a lot from questioning candidates about their approach to a variety of work situations, which helps inform them whether the candidate’s style is in line with the firm’s philosophy.

In the same boat

The challenge for employers is to consciously shape a work culture that will ensure the success of the organisation. The employees hired are expected to “row the boat in the same direction”.

Therefore, when candidates ask me: “what type of firm would suit me?”, my response is to get them to try and pinpoint what helps them do their best work (and also their worst).

People who have worked in a place they loved, which encouraged them to perform, benefit from examining what exactly made them happy at work – although it does beg the question of why they left in the first place and what they were hoping to find in a new position. For others, it might help to work backwards and consider what they have been dissatisfied with in the past.

Finally, there is another consideration which should underpin more than just an employment decision – how much of a fit is this for the beliefs and needs of a candidate? You cannot only consider what keeps somebody happy in the workplace – what keeps them happy at home is just as important.

Peter Gwilliam is director of Virtus Search

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