Why Cultural Fit Is Critical to Your Success

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By Daryl Zapoticzny

Gallup’s recent State of the Global Workforce analysis states that only 30 percent of professional workers in the U.S. are “engaged” on the job. The other 70 percent range from “checked out” at work to “actively disengaged.” You may relate to these statistics if you find yourself exploring opportunities elsewhere. Although technical skills can help your marketability, they don’t keep you immune from the drain of a company culture that doesn’t fit your values and modus operandi.

As a recruiting professional, I’ve seen first-hand what happens when we hire an individual with exceptional technical skills, but ultimately lacking the passion, agility and curiosity that could make a good engineer great. In the worst cases, they slow team productivity, drain morale and ultimately have to be replaced. As an example, in 2013 we explored why a handful of our newer engineers were rated as underperforming. The reasons provided by managers were all related to a mismatch with our values–not a lack of technical aptitude.

Check out AOL’s culture and open positions here.

Employers are starting to do a lot more homework about prospective candidates. At AOL, this includes a much more focused assessment of each individual’s aptitude to be successful within our culture. You need to do your homework as well. Things like compensation and benefits are important, but the reasons most people love or leave their companies typically have nothing to do with financial rewards. (If you disagree, check out Dan Pink’s TED talk on motivation. You might see things differently.) Consider this: If you perform best in an environment that encourages creativity, taking risks and self-expression, would you thrive in a culture that prioritizes linear thinking, requires multiple layers of approval and demonstrates a low appetite for risk (and failure)?

Of course, assessing cultural fit means doing some digging:

  • Development for Developers: If you see yourself continuing to build your skills as your career unfolds, make sure going in that a prospective employer has a plan (and budget) for employees to continue to pick up or enhance skills through classroom, online and on-the-job learning.
  • Consider the Business: Check out the company’s business model to determine what tomorrow might look like. If it’s a public company, listen to an earnings call or read through recent earnings reports. Scour the company’s website and social media properties and use them to assess the business, products and values–and how they align with you and your interests.
  • Build Connections: Get active on social networks like GitHub and StackOverFlow and use social media platforms to connect with current employees. People love to talk about their jobs–use that engagement to gather intel on where you might be headed.

Having current technical skills can open a wide range of opportunities, especially in the U.S., where the demand doesn’t meet the supply. But even in a competitive market, more employers are recognizing the importance of looking beyond technical competency to values and cultural alignment. You may find employers asking more specific questions to examine how you’ve demonstrated their values or performed in other cultures during interviews.

The fact is, an employer can help a gifted new hire grow their skills, but it is a much larger and likely unsuccessful undertaking to teach someone how to live a company’s values if they don’t come naturally. Asking you to be someone you’re not–or fit in a place where you’re uncomfortable–only brings disengagement.

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Daryl ZapoticznyDaryl Zapoticzny is Vice President of AOL’s Global Talent team.  In his role Daryl leads executive recruiting, global staffing strategy, executive succession planning and people development. Daryl has led the redesign of AOL’s recruiting processes from the ground up, resulting in significant increases in hire quality, candidate end-to-end experience and employee engagement. Daryl has 15 years of experience in technical staffing and process management and recently celebrated his 11-year anniversary with AOL. 


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10 Responses to “Why Cultural Fit Is Critical to Your Success”

  1. Fred Bosick

    It’s not so much a matter of cultural fit than if the company treats its IT staff, and all other non executive employees with fairness and dignity.

    *Many* more workers besides IT staff are disengaged with their job. After the outsourcing, offshoring, union busting, mergers and exorbitant CEO salaries, it’s pretty obvious that the job is disengaged from the worker.

  2. Whatever happened to competence? Cultural fit is nothing more than a euphemism for discrimination based upon age, gender, nationality, etc. It is illegal and even if it were not illegal, it is not wise because it makes a workforce insular.

    • Margaret

      Saying cultural fit is important now is a joke with the huge H1b crowd having displaced people who worked well and understood the how and why of our applications.

  3. The corporate recruitment stay terrible for many years anyway. Now, a good “Cultural Fit” means your technical or business competency, quality, ability to learn and productivity. The cultural alignment means nothing to many shareholders and investors. They’re looking for corporate profits, while corporate flakes are looking for a non-compete team work and “mutual” collaborations. And that alignment leads to unsold products and massive outsourcing.

  4. This article is bull manure, but what do you expect? It was written by an guy who is in H.R. (‘global talent’ by its REAL name).
    For several years now I’ve been watching, with dismay, this kind of ‘barking dawg’ mythology spreading across the internet. The reality is that people are individuals but we are also mostly collaborative by nature. We live in towns and cities and enjoy the company of other people, if only those we pass in the grocery store or at the mall. People like being around other people. But as I said everyone is also an individual with individual desires, motivations, fears, agendas and their own ‘hierarchy of needs’. So how is it possible for people to actually work together on successful teams? Well, people are individuals, but most of them are also followers too. The real problem is that today the naive viewpoints that are labeled ‘agile’ have been repeated so often that people being sheeple are buying into them, the same way that the more reclusive types buy into the fables known as ‘quantum theory’ (google ‘mtheory’ for example). hmmm… I think I’ll continue my rebuttal as a posting on my pmintheqaspace.com blog (it is somewhat ‘under construction’ but I think I can write this post fairly quickly, as I have the afternoon off.)