What Does "Cultural Fit" Really Mean?

December 8, 2017

You often hear that cultural fit in the workplace is an important hiring factor for most companies. When HR professionals think of the ideal candidate, they think of someone whose skills and experience match perfectly with a job description. It’s hard to imagine that “perfect match” struggling in the workplace, but it happens all the time. Why? Because companies often fail to look beyond a résumé to consider cultural fit. On the other hand, how often do candidates have the same criteria for the companies to which they apply? Candidates often realize too late that they are in an environment that is inconsistent with their individual values. It is necessary to understand one’s cultural preferences to choose a workplace that will help maximize performance and personal satisfaction.

One of our most recent hires at OneDigital is Matt Shirley, Director of Training & Development. Matt tells us the importance he places on culture and why he decided to call OneDigital home. 

How do you know when a company is a good, personal fit for you while you are interviewing?

Often the signs are subtle, but once you realize the huge impact company culture has on job satisfaction and overall success, you quickly start to recognize the important indicators. Here are a few ways I’ve been able to pick up on the company culture during the interview process. 

Job Description

This is the first sign of whether or not an organization cares about finding the right fit or simply a warm body. Here at OneDigital, the job description had a couple HUGE positive aspects that caught my attention. I liked the focus on people rather than profit, stating that as we empower our people, the profits will follow. I was also drawn to the desire to find someone with a servant leader approach. 

Recruiter Screening

This is your first impression of a company. Something I take note of during this call is the demeanor of the recruiter. Are they rushed or relaxed? Are they positive about the potential opportunity and the company and where it’s headed? If the questions they ask are too formal, it tends to point toward a rigid culture. It’s nice to sense a level of authenticity from the get-go. 


In my opinion, how the following are conducted provides the biggest indicator of a company culture. 

  • How rushed or relaxed the interviewer(s) are
  • Type of questions asked and how they’re asked
  • The demeanor and personality fit of the interviewer(s)
  • Discussion around the job and opportunity

Are there certain questions you suggest our readers ask in order to learn about the culture?

It can be tough to know which questions are appropriate to ask early in the process. In the case of OneDigital, it was clear that what you cared most about was investing in people and seeing the value in each person. In other interviews, I may ask questions about the leadership approach in general or what success looks like in the role, in the company, etc. If I don’t have a good pulse on the culture, I may ask specific questions addressing any potential concerns, but obviously with tact.  

How long did it take you to realize that your last company was not the right fit?

Within the first couple of weeks, the majority of interactions gave me that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I knew it was going to be a challenge. I tried not to dwell on it, but there were numerous experiences I could share that alerted me to this overall culture. As an optimistic and solutions-oriented person, I work to find the silver lining in any situation. I did this for as long as I could and then realized it was time to make a change. 

How did that impact your work performance?

This absolutely had an impact on performance! I’m a very passionate person and tend to be somewhat of a perfectionist. Given this tendency, it caused me to work additional hours to overcome the odds and make things better. Also being a natural “fixer”, I began to look for ways to start solving the uphill challenges of the culture. After exerting all of the mental and emotional energy I had, I started to feel burnt out my first several weeks on the job, which certainly has an impact on performance. 

What advice would you give to others who are looking for a job with the right cultural fit?

Most importantly, I would encourage people to have a good grasp of what their values are and not compromise on them. My personal view on success requires me to be real and authentic and establish trusting relationships with my colleagues. Given that, I would advise others to simply be real and authentic in their interactions during the interview process. I also encourage the individual to focus on the subtle signs that highlight the company’s culture and overall approach. If questions arise, find a tactful way to ask, and ultimately follow your gut when it comes to the “feel” you get about an organization.

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