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4 Ways To Look For Culture Fit During Your Job Interview

by Chad Strickland

There is no worse feeling than starting a new job and realizing almost immediately that it was a mistake. Accepting a role that isn’t exactly what you expected is one thing, but even worse is realizing there’s a poor culture fit, resulting from the company “faking it” from a culture standpoint. Job descriptions can change, but culture sticks.

It all really starts with the recruitment and interview process — job seekers can learn to look for signs to avoid going to work for an organization that is not a good fit for them culturally. Here are four things to look for when interviewing.

They should be selling you as much as you selling them

Think of a job interview in the same context as a first date. You go on a date to get to know each other — it should be a two-way conversation. Many hiring managers approach job interviews with the assumption that you already “want” the job they have available, so there’s no need to sell you on it.

Date Scenario: You make yourself vulnerable by sharing about yourself, while the other person gives little to no response when you ask them about themselves. You start to feel that the person doesn’t want to be there, that they think they are better than you, or that they are hiding something.  It doesn’t feel right to share so much and get so little in return.  At the end of the night you walk away confused as to where you stand and know little to nothing about your date outside of his or her Instagram feed.

So why do many hiring managers approach interviews this way? There’s multiple reasons, but typically it’s lack of training.  Worst case scenario, it’s plain ol’ arrogance. Either way, when the organization doesn’t make it a priority to convince top talent to join the team, then you don’t want to work there.

Always go with your gut

A very smart business leader had one rule that trumped all others: “Always go with your gut.” Think about how many times you have said to yourself, “Man, I knew I shouldn’t have done that.”  That’s your intuition speaking, and there’s solid scientific research supporting why you should listen to it. It’s your subconscious experiences telling you, “Hey, we have seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well.”

If you don’t quite feel right about taking a job or role being offered, then don’t.

This is too good to be true — You’re right, it is

What’s happening in the startup ecosystem right now is really intriguing. It’s approaching late 1990’s dot-com status as a desirable, admired space to work. In the ’90’s, many of those that first landed jobs at Silicon Valley startups seemed to really “luck out”. With high salaries, fancy dinners and other perks, they seemed to good to be true.

Fast forward a year later and those employees had realized these companies didn’t actually have a product (vaporware before there was a name for it). They had wasted their time and gained no real experience for future opportunities.

A seemingly-“boring” company with a great culture can allow you to do great work. They can provide experience and even change the trajectory of your career.

Authenticity is what you want, not kombucha on tap

When most companies think about their value proposition for recruiting talent the list typically goes something like this: compensation, benefits, and perks.  While these things are certainly important, they should only be a threshold of consideration. Competitive pay and benefits, check. Free lunch and kombucha on tap, great.

Now what about who you will be working for and with every single day? How do they work? Are they happy and do they believe in what they do? Do the leaders care?

How do you figure this out? Simply ask. A great go-to question for business leaders is to simply ask how they want their employees to “feel” when they drive home each day. The answer speaks volumes.

It’s hard to go through the interviewing and hiring process — it can be a painfully intense whirlwind of emotions. This is because this is a really important decision, one of the top decisions of your lifetime. So considering the magnitude and stakes involved, be sure to take a moment and reflect on these points.

A bit of self-awareness and inquiry can go a long way toward avoiding a bad culture fit for both sides.


Chad Strickland is a human capital executive, attorney, speaker, author, and thought leader. With a 20 year career which transitioned into a senior business executive with one of the most successful and highest growth specialty retailers in the country, Chad was responsible for the most valued aspect of the business model: people and culture.

Since leaving large enterprise in 2016, Chad has been embedded in the startup world, where he could study its unique culture, and use this research to develop The Tifosi Workforce Design Studio, a new kind of human services agency aimed at assisting organizations design, innovate, scale, and be relevant to the next generation workforce.

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