The Key to Interviewing for Cultural Fit


Qualifications and skills may get you to the interview, but they won’t get you hired. During the interview process, you’re often evaluated by more than skills alone, and ranked on cultural fit. Hiring managers are eager to see if you’re a fit for their work environment, and someone they’d actually want to see and work with every day.

Let’s take a look at a common scenario that occurs during the interview process.

A company narrows down its pool of applicants to the top two candidates.

The first candidate has a bachelor’s degree, five years of relevant experience, and interviews well with the team. Her personality is a great fit, she gets along with everyone really well, and has a similar working style to the team she would be joining. She is a bit underqualified for the position, but seems motivated and willing to learn.

The second candidate has a bachelor’s degree and eight years of relevant experience. While his qualifications are superior in terms of experience, most everyone who interviews him thinks he’s a little “off” in terms of personality and views on how teams should be managed. While he could likely hit the ground running, there are concerns he wouldn’t mesh well his peers and wouldn’t be happy within their flat organization.

Not surprisingly, candidate one—the cultural fit—gets picked nearly every time. Interviewers are human, and they want to hire someone who they can work with, day in and day out. Additionally, while you can teach skills through on-the-job training, you can’t expect to teach how to fit well into a company.

Cultural Fit: A Win-Win

Cultural fit is just as important for the job candidate as it is for the organization doing the hiring, since lack of fit is one of the top reasons people leave an organization or end up unhappy in their role. If you’re a good fit, chances are you’ll be more productive and stick around longer.

This is why it’s necessary to find out as much as possible about the company culture before the interview. Places such as Glassdoor and company Websites are great research tools that can tell you a lot about company culture and core values. Make sure you goals are aligned with theirs and the work environment seems like one you could enjoy. During the phone screen, ask questions about the goal of the organization and role.

Second, during the interview, back your answers up (with team fit in mind) by providing specific examples from work experience or past projects. For instance, if you know that a company values team collaboration, make sure to highlight previous examples of how you successfully partnered with colleagues on team projects instead of stressing how you accomplished projects in silos.

Third, recognize what cultural fit is and what it isn’t. Cultural fit doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring your unique perspectives and background to the table during the interview process. Rather, you want to make sure fundamental, core values align with those of the company, and that your behavior meshes well with those already existing in the organization.

In summary, ‘cultural fit’ is considered an important factor for any company during the recruiting and interview process. Each company has its own cultural uniqueness. One of the ways to find a great fit is to think about what your ideal company and ‘cultural fit’ is to you. Then target companies that share these commonalities with you for a win-win outcome.


Angela Stugren is the VP of Career Development at Coding Dojo, a 14-week coding bootcamp in Silicon Valley, Seattle and Los Angeles, and founder of Cloutera Consulting Group, a Seattle-based recruitment consulting firm helping start-ups compete for world-class technical talent.

4 Responses to “The Key to Interviewing for Cultural Fit”

  1. Cultural fit = excuse to discriminate. I was asked in one interview what I did in my private time. I was asked in another interview what was the worst day of my life. What a bunch of c r a p! The company needs to produce profits for its owners. To achieve that supreme goal, the most talented person should be hired. In the hypothetical scenario presented in the article, the company sacrificed productivity for the sake of – what? Simpering, squinting, touchy-feely self-esteem? No wonder the American economy is losing ground!

  2. James Beatty

    Hit the nail on the head with that response. touchy feely crap doesn’t belong in the tech industry. Any wonder people are under employed. I have three bachelors degrees and you ask me how I feel? Not what can I do for your company? yeah something is very very wrong.

  3. polotopo

    If the job is for a “non-governmental social project”, the first candidate fits fine.

    But, in a tech company, the hire managers do not want your willing-to-be-touchy personality. They want results ! They want profits !

    I worked in a Web content company, during a year. Damn ! They were kids playing in sandboxes. The older manager there was 32, the CTO was 29 y/o. The recruiter hires the self-steem touchy young person.

    Also, “cultural fit” is a codeword for “age discrimination”.