Set the groundwork in executive job search to land a job that’s the right culture fit for you:
If you’ve read even a few of my blog posts about executive job search best practices, you know that the first steps to land an executive job that will be a mutual good fit are:
Identify companies that will meet your career goals, and whose business goals you will help meet.
Learn about each of those companies and determine current pain points or problems of theirs that you’re uniquely qualified to help them with. Your research will help you with due diligence, and to position yourself as a good hiring choice.
3. Personal Branding
Define and differentiate the personal qualities, skill sets and qualifications that make you the best problem solver for your target companies.
That last piece – personal branding – takes your preparation to a higher level. It gets you closer to understanding what kind of work culture will work for you, and what won’t work for you.
You have to know yourself . . . including your values, the way you work best on the job, and your professional goals.
Personal branding helps you access these things within yourself because it requires digging deep and being introspective about yourself, and how you’re perceived by others.
If you DON’T work on all 3 of the steps above:
- You’ll land fewer job interviews with companies that may meet your work culture requirements.
- You won’t be well enough prepared to speak to your target employers about your potential value to their company.
- You won’t be able to align your values with theirs, one of the cornerstones of good culture fit.
Why culture fit is so important, to you AND the employer
The reasons why YOU need to know whether or not a potential new employer will be a good culture fit are probably obvious:
- You want to find a job that keeps you happy.
- You want to work with people whose values are aligned with yours.
- You want to work for an employer who will meet your needs for career fulfillment.
- You want to take as little risk as possible leaving your current job to move to a new one.
- You don’t want to subject yourself to another job search early in the game because you’ve picked the wrong employer.
Mariah Flores, news reporter at LinkedIn, discusses why good culture fit is critical:
“We yearn for a sense of belonging while at work, where we spend a large portion of our adult lives. We all want to be able to show up as our authentic selves and contribute to a company that will embrace such authenticity with open arms.”
In the same article, Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill, a 2022 LinkedIn Top Voice and founder of Avenir Careers says:
“It’s important to get grounded in what the most important values you currently hold are. From there, you can generate values-based questions in order to ask employers, to screen them and see whether or not they match your values.”
Employers want a good culture fit too
A company’s need for employees with good culture fit is similar, but driven by different factors.
A Harvard Business Review article by leading executive recruitment professional Katie Bouton notes:
“Culture fit is the glue that holds an organization together. That’s why it’s a key trait to look for when recruiting. The result of poor culture fit due to turnover can cost an organization between 50-60% of the person’s annual salary”.
The hiring process is a costly one.
The better hiring professionals are at determining through the interview process who will or won’t be a good culture fit, the less turnover the company experiences, and the less costly the hiring process will be.
The types of workplace culture
According to O.C.Tanner, a provider of employee recognition solutions, these are the 8 most common types of workplace cultures:
- Adhocracy Culture
- Clan Culture
- Customer-Focused Culture
- Hierarchy Culture
- Market-Driven Culture
- Purpose-Driven Culture
- Innovative Culture
- Creative Culture
How to find out about company culture before a job interview
According to an Ivy Exec article:
“Knowing whether an organization will be a good fit should start well before the first interview. You wouldn’t move to countries without researching before-hand, and a work place should be no different. When you are researching companies to apply to, or those with open jobs, be sure to find out what your contacts say about the organization and its work environment. How does the website represent the organization?”
As noted above, you’ll find some information about company culture on their website.
But the way the culture is described on the website may not be in sync with what you may actually experience once you’re on the job.
You need to look at both interpretations of the culture: what the company says and what actual employees say.
Conduct informational interviews
So talk to people who work at the company. That’s what informational interviews are all about.
They’re not those excruciating “I want a job at your company” conversations.
Instead, they’re informal conversations with employees or those in their circles, to gather information for your due diligence and to determine whether that company, the role(s) and you will be a mutual good fit.
Actually asking for a job is never part of the conversation.
Andrew Seaman, managing Editor for Jobs & Career Development at LinkedIn News, advises asking employees questions like these:
“What do they think about day-to-day life at the company? If they’re former employees, why did they leave? What were their biggest pain points? Use conversations with current and former employees as a way to interview the company.
You can also explore what people are sharing unprompted on social media about the company’s culture. For example, what are the employees posting on LinkedIn or Instagram? What does the work environment look like? Do people look like they’re enjoying themselves?”
In the same article, AbbVie’s Chief Human Resources Officer Tim Richmond suggests:
“Think about the mission. Am I attracted to the mission of what this company does? And what do I think I know about their culture and their people and their people leadership? I know for me, it really matters who I work for. It really matters the kind of culture that I operate in. Is it positive? Is it engaging? Is it collaborative? Is there a team orientation? And do we all win together?”
Culture fit questions employers typically ask in job interviews
Once you’ve done the prep work (targeting, research and personal branding) and you start getting job interviews, culture fit, of course, comes into play in a more compelling way.
You’ll need to be prepared to answer interviewers’ questions designed to help them determine whether you’re a good culture fit.
The Harvard Business Review article above goes on to outline some questions hiring professionals may ask you to help them assess culture fit:
- What type of culture do you thrive in? (Does the response reflect your organizational culture?)
- What values are you drawn to and what’s your ideal workplace?
- Why do you want to work here?
- How would you describe our culture based on what you’ve seen? Is this something that works for you?
- What best practices would you bring with you from another organization? Do you see yourself being able to implement these best practices in our environment?
- Tell me about a time when you worked with/for an organization where you felt you were not a strong culture fit. Why was it a bad fit?
Things about company culture you may learn in a job interview
According to Art Markman, PhD, professor of Psychology and Marketing:
The quicker you can pick up on the culture — particularly if you can suss out some of it from the interview — the more likely you are to save yourself heartache down the line.
He offered a few ways to get a feel for the culture in the interview:
Pay attention to people’s values
“You can get a sense of what people value from how they talk about the importance of what they’re doing. Starting with the interview process, pay attention to more than just what the job entails and how much you’ll get paid to do it. From hiring managers on down, you’ll hear statements about what your future colleagues think is crucial for success at the company. People will talk about the elements of their work that are dear to them.”
Watch how people interact
“Take a look at how the people interviewing you are interacting with each other. For example, some organizations are very hierarchical. People give deference to those above them on the ladder and expect those below them to defer. Other organizations are flat. Anyone can — and should — say anything to anyone.”
Heed that spidey-sense
“Sometimes when you engage with people at a new organization, something just feels off. That fast intuitive system is picking up on something that is not a good match to what you have encountered before. By analogy to Marvel comic books, I sometimes call this the ‘Spidey-Sense’ . . . Tread carefully until you have a more explicit sense of what you’re reacting to. Use that nagging feeling as an excuse to have more conversations with people that address their values and to observe more of the interactions between people.”
Things YOU should say and ask in job interviews to demonstrate your good culture fit
In an article on The Muse, Anne Shaw suggests demonstrating your good culture fit in job interviews by coming “prepared with anecdotes that showcase how your experience and passions align with [their] values.”
4 universal values to show your culture fit in executive job interviews
The article goes further to say there are some characteristics that all employers look for when assessing culture fit:
1. You’re willing to learn
2. You’re motivated
3. You see the big picture
4. You’re a team player
To demonstrate that you possess these 4 characteristics, prepare stories using the Challenge – Action – Results (C-A-Rs) method built around those characteristics.
Questions you should ask
You’ll also need to be prepared to ask the kinds of questions that will help you get a better handle on culture fit, such as these in my article Executive Interview: What Questions Do YOU Ask?
- What responsibilities in this job are really going to define success for this person?
- What skills and qualities will be most important in this position?
- How can I demonstrate that I’m a good fit for this position?
- What do you (the interviewer) like and not like about working here?
And some more questions from Bentsi-Enchill in the same article as above:
- What’s your track record regarding handling situations of bias, fair pay, or DEI?” “If a compensation complaint arises, what will happen?
- Can I work collaboratively with other team members in this role?
- How did your company support employees during the pandemic?
- Do you host any virtual happy-hours or all-hands for remote access?
- What does diversity look like at your company?
- How are people welcomed and celebrated?
- In what ways are you ensuring people feel safe within your workspace?
- What is your company’s appetite for risk and/or innovation?
- How much will I travel?” or “How often am I expected to travel?
- What’s the experience of employees with families within the company?