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Finding Cultural Fit

culture fit

I moved back to the United States a few years ago after having lived abroad for some time, and immediately started a new job.

I thought adjusting to my new work environment would be easy—after all, I’d learned to live in a place with vastly different cultural norms. But to my shock, acclimating to my new office was as big an adjustment as finding myself in a foreign country. That was how I learned that a work place is its own nation, complete with language, culture, and ruling body.

When choosing a new job, you can’t just hope and pray that the environment will be stimulating and the people great. You need to proactively choose the work culture that fits your style. To do this, you have to know yourself, the environment and values that work for you and, more importantly, those that don’t.

Knowing whether an organization will be a good fit should start well before the first interview. You wouldn’t move 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?

Make sure you feel comfortable with the answers to those questions, and that it is the type of company that shares your own values and professional goals.

During interviews, be alert. Making a good impression on the hiring manager or the person you will be working for is the main focus of your job interview. But try to pay attention to the environment and pick up clues about the culture of the company. Here are a few things to notice:

  • Who has office space, who sits in cubicles, or is everyone on equal footing?
  • What is the dress code?
  • Is the energy tensely competitive, or casually team-oriented?

The interview process is also a chance to ask a couple direct questions regarding organizational hierarchy, and team versus individual spirit. Likewise, when negotiating, notice the level of flexibility you encounter. Will this organization support you when times get difficult or you need to work from home? Or are you just another cog in the wheel?

Don’t overlook the aspects of a job or company that are less tangible than salaries and titles. they may actually be more important to your happiness once you are on the job. You wouldn’t move countries without researching before-hand, and a work place should be no different.

About the Author

Lilly-Marie Lamar is a career advisor for Ivy Exec. She provided career advice to college students and professionals in the U.S. and abroad, and was a Fulbright scholar. Lilly-Marie has a degree in education from Columbia University.