Interviewing for Fit

September 02, 2014


On campuses everywhere, students are participating or gearing up for the college recruiting season. Many law students have already participated in the on-campus recruiting process and business students will soon follow. Among those who succeed, still more on-site interviews await at firms or corporate headquarters.

Unfortunately, despite everyone’s best efforts, the interview process too often disappoints. According to some research, 49% of new hires “fail” within their first 18 months. Their lack of success at work rarely has anything to do with skills and ability. Instead, new hires flounder because of a lack of “fit” with a particular company, team or supervisor. In response, many employers have begun to incorporate “cultural fit” questions into the interview process.

“Fit” relates to how well a potential new hire syncs with the culture or the core values, behaviors and personalities that make up an organization. Where fit occurs, new hires comfortably slide into positions with a fundamental understanding of the beliefs, attitudes and priorities that drive the organization. Frustration is minimized. Retention improves.

For more on “fit,” view business psychologist Natalie Baumgartner’s Ted Talk. (


Cultural fit questions

To the uninitiated, “fit” questions may sound a bit like the queries James Lipton poses to guests of Inside the Actors Studio: Star Wars or Star Trek? If you were a dog, what kind of dog would you be? What motivates you the most—money, power or fame? List 10 things you could do with a pencil.

However, a blog posted on lists several “fit” questions that on-campus recruiters and job candidates should consider including:

Describe your ideal work environment. What is the single most important factor that will help make you a success?

Years ago, I interviewed for a staff position on Capitol Hill. Although I was well qualified for the job, upon seeing the work environment, I knew I would be challenged to succeed. Legislative staffers frequently work in extremely cramped quarters, sometimes share desk space, and must tune-out a constant cacophony of ongoing background phone calls. For me to thrive, I knew that I needed a quiet work environment in which I could work uninterrupted in my space. Employers and job candidates should understand a position’s unique work environment as well as the people who thrive in it.

How do you feel about working as a member of a team?  If you had complete control of your time, what percentage would you prefer to allocate to teamwork vs. solo performance?

While most jobs require employees to work solo and participate in team activities, most individuals have a preference for one form of work over the other. If you happen to be someone who likes and needs to interact with other people and a prospective job affords limited opportunities for interaction, taking that job will ensure frustration and disappointment. Employers should openly disclose whether teamwork is a critical success factor and job candidates should be prepared to openly express a preference for one type of work over another AND a willingness to be flexible.

What management style brings out your best performance?

Every workplace supports a variety of management styles, including paternalistic, authoritarian, collaborative, agile, etc. While each style can succeed, much depends on the receptiveness of workers to a manager’s particular style. For example, an authoritarian manager is unlikely to sync well with a junior employee who prefers a collaborative management style. Interviewers should know the styles that predominate at their workplace and job candidates should understand how they prefer to be managed.

When working on a team, what relationship do you prefer to develop with other team members?

Some organizations place a high level of importance on the interpersonal connections employees develop and maintain. Others expect employees to come to work, do their job, and go home. The job candidate who seeks a clear separation between their professional and personal lives is unlikely to feel comfortable in a work atmosphere in which employees are expected to work and play together.


Research for fit

As you approach the interview seasons, every student should keep in mind that there is no right or wrong answer to a cultural fit question. However, to the extent you do the following, you can help ensure “fit” with a prospective employer:

Long before you head to an interview, go on-line and research prospective employers to discern their values. Incorporate references to specific values in your answers to interview questions.

Prepare questions that elicit information regarding an employer’s ability to sync with your own core values and needs. If you genuinely value time-off on weekends to spend with family and friends, a high-pressure position on Wall Street may not be a good fit.

Ask questions that help you understand how people work together within the organization. If you are a collaborative team builder and the prospective employer only rewards individual performance, you may wish to look for a better fit.


Thing You Need To Know

Job candidates who naturally "fit" into a particular culture generally thrive. Employers should interview for fit, and job candidates should know the work environments and management styles that Help them thrive.




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Interviewing for Fit

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Throught this year's interview season be prepared for "cultural fit" questions.

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