Cultural Fit

As much as we donít want to think about it, (or admit it when we do think about it), working is a social activity, not an economic one.  Sure, we expect to be paid for our work, but since we are working with other people, both inside and out side the company, we are engaging in a social activity governed by human needs, wants and proclivities. 

This is why itís so important to understand the organizational culture that you are attempting to gain acceptance into.  Your goal is to package yourself as someone with the same general vocational values as everyone else in the organization.  Itís important for you to build the impression among your potential co-workers that you are a person who they will find very familiar.  That means that you must reflect the behaviors and meta communications that are common within the organization. 

I donít want to give the wrong impression, so I have to emphasize that Iím not suggesting that you be someone that you are not.  Iíve tried it and it just doesnít work.  Even if you are a good enough actor to convince an interview committee that you are just like them, it would be an insurmountable challenge to keep up such an act every day for years.

When people first meet much of their initial social interactions are dedicated to finding interests and actives they have in common.  The goal is to establish a sense of familiarity and predictability.  The more similar you are to a new acquaintance the more likely your behaviors will be predictable.  Predictability lends itself to a sense of security.  If people have an idea of your values they have a much better idea of what you may do in the future and whether you are trustworthy enough to garner more frequent and intimate social contact.  

This means that once you uncover the cultural values and shared beliefs of an organization to which you wish to be accepted that you adopt their modes of meta communication.  For years weíve heard that job applicants should mimic the body language of interviewers, but meta communication is more basic than body language.  Meta communication are those methods of sending messages that go beyond what we usually think of as body language.  It includes things like hair styles, style of dress, the kind of car you drive and related things that tell others something about you.

Arriving at a job interview in an SUV, for instance, sets a certain impression.  Driving a huge Hummer sets a much different impression than arriving in a quiet Honda CR-V.  Depending on the culture in which you are seeking inclusion any of these impressions may be interpreted as positive or negative.  There is no good or bad meta communication package, aside from how that information is interpreted against the values of the people in the target organization.   

And this leads me to the central issue about cultural fit.  Iíve already addressed the futility of trying to be someone you are not, but there is something to be said for highlighting sincere values that are also held by people in the target organization.  If a cultural fit really does exist with a target organization, those values must be shared.  Itís a non-verbal shortcut to let people know that you have things in common and that you will be a known and predictable addition to the organization.

Iím not sure, but I think the process that one would use isnít a matter of doing particular things as much as it is allowing things to happen that would probably happen anyway.  For example, itís a good idea to dress nicely when you go to an interview, but being over dressed is as much a mistake as being underdressed.   As long as you have a sense of the culture to which you are seeking inclusion you shouldnít have to spend much time considering how to dress.  The decision should be something that happens so easily and quickly that you donít even notice that itís been made.

The same thing is true of behavior on the telephone or during the interviews.  Being relaxed and acting naturally will ensure much better results than any alternatives.  If you have to spend very much time or energy thinking about what to say or do to make a good impression, you are probably trying to overcome a bad cultural fit.

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