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The No. 1 reason people leave a job — or lose it — is cultural fit. It’s a topic often overlooked in interviews, perhaps because it can seem amorphous at best. But pairing your talents with a company that will appreciate and develop them is crucial to job satisfaction and performance. I recommend this three-step assessment to make sure you and your potential new employer are a solid match.

Step 1: Evaluate yourself.

It all starts with you — specifically, your ability to be self-aware. Take some time to consider your strengths. Think about the type of environment that will play to those talents. It may help to reflect on a time when you have done your best work, have been the most satisfied or have felt a general sense of well-being in your work. What patterns do you see? Now, repeat the same exercise with your limitations. What conclusions can you make about the type of work environment that will bring out the best (or worst) in you?

Step 2: Assess the company.

Companies often try to attract candidates by including the culture in job descriptions. The key for you as an applicant? Determine if the culture as described is actually present. You can do this without asking a single question. Simply observe. Like any good anthropologist, analyze the available artifacts, behaviors and symbols as they signal cultural values and beliefs. From the minute you pull into the parking lot, look and listen. Take mental notes. Examine people’s behavior toward one another. Notice everything, from the décor to the diversity. Can you visualize yourself working in this office?

Step 2b: Ask questions.

Your own observations should provide more than enough data about authentic corporate culture. But if you still can’t get a good read, ask questions during your interview. Make sure they are open-ended, like these:

  • Describe the type of person who is successful here.
  • What 3–5 adjectives capture the spirit of the office?
  • What 3–5 behaviors will I see around the office on a daily basis?

Step 3: Compare and contrast.

How do your workplace observations match up to your self-assessment? One dynamic of cultural fit is that it can mask other career woes. I have had clients who thought they needed to change careers — but they discovered it wasn’t what they were doing, but where they were doing it, that was the problem. That’s why it’s crucial to find a corporate culture that intersects with and enhances your strengths. In the end, gathering cultural data is only useful if you can match an honest self-assessment with an accurate cultural assessment. When you do, you are positioned to do your best work ever.

Nancy Schreiber is dean of The Bill Munday School of Business at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Human Resource Professionals, and is a licensed psychologist in the state of Texas.