what does “culture fit” really mean?

A reader writes:

What on earth does “fit” actually mean? At the beginning of my career, I was let go from a job after a few months because I just “wasn’t the right fit.” At that point I had only received positive feedback about my performance and was still learning how everything worked. I asked for more information, but got nowhere aside from something vague about “not taking initiative and thinking up new projects by [myself],” which to this day makes no sense to me as I was there for less than four months and was still being trained.

It’s been years and I’ve done my best to move on professionally, but it still really bugs me. How can I prevent it from happening again if I still don’t know what fit means? I know you can’t read their mind and there’s a decent possibility “fit” was just a cover for political problems or organizational restructuring (my boss was fired herself shortly after I left), but still, I’d like to know what fit means to try to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

When used correctly, “fit” is supposed to describe how well you fit with the way the organization operates. For example, sometimes fit means “we move really fast here and you have a slower pace.” Sometimes it means “we’re highly structured and hierarchical and you’re more free-wheeling.” Sometimes it means “to succeed here, you have to be really entrepreneurial and you’re uncomfortable without a lot of direction.” Sometimes it means “we’re all about making life easy for our clients (or our coworkers) and you don’t share that orientation.”

Those are all legitimate things that it makes sense to screen for, based on who does and doesn’t thrive in a particular organization’s culture or the culture they’re working to build.

But sometimes “fit” gets used in seriously problematic ways. Sometimes it means “we’re highly dysfunctional, and people who fit in either don’t realize that or won’t comment on it.” Sometimes it means “we prefer to hire people who are around our age/who look like us/who remind us of ourselves.” (Sometimes this one gets phrased as “we want to hire people we’d want to have a beer with,” and those people just happen to end up being all the same age, race, sex, economic background, etc.)

So it’s a term that really, really depends on how it’s used.

In your case, it’s hard to tell from here what happened. It’s definitely possible that “not the right fit” was a cover for all sorts of other things, from “we want to reorg your department but we’re not being forthright about it” to “we just aren’t clicking with you.” But it’s also possible that what they told you was the truth — that you were in a role where you really did need to take more initiative, even at only four months in. It’s easy to think that’s silly since you were only there four months, but there are jobs where you could legitimately spot a mismatch in that area, even that early on. And it wouldn’t necessarily mean that you don’t take enough initiative in general; it could just mean that you didn’t take the right kind of initiative for that particular job in that particular culture.

As for how to make sure it doesn’t happen again … I don’t think you can always guard against it 100%, but the more you can learn during the hiring process about the organization’s culture and what kind of person succeeds in the role, the better. The magic question is good here. So is “what kind of person wouldn’t do as well as this role?” These tips will help too. But most importantly, it’s crucial to remember that you need to be interviewing and assessing employers right back, not just waiting to be picked — because you need to do the work of figuring out whether an organization is a fit for you, not just the other way around.

{ 277 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Jaguar

    Somewhat incidental, but it’s really weird to me that workplaces that talk about cultural diversity / inclusiveness often turn around and talk about “cultural fit.” It’s becoming a euphemism for, “I don’t want to get in trouble for saying why we don’t want you here.”

    Reply
    1. Karenina

      This. My last employer (a tech company) insisted on stating in every job posting that they looked for a “culture fit” above all else. When I spoke to a guy I knew who 1) worked in the tech industry and 2) was black, I told him what the job ads said and he instantly winced, then laughed. In his experience in the industry, that sort of phrasing was a red flag that the company was not diverse (but probably liked to think of itself as diverse).

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      1. Karenina

        (Addendum: the same company once interviewed a guy in his 60s about 4 times before finally rejecting him… because they didn’t think he would be a good ‘culture fit’ with a group of 20-somethings. It was such a blatant example of ageism that I have distrusted that term ever since.)

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        1. the gold digger

          Whoa! I work for an engineering company and one of my favorite things about it is that they will announce a new hire and say, happily, “X has over 30 years’ experience in the industry!”

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            1. the gold digger

              Wrong assumption. Lots of software and a research team led by two Stanford PhDs. :)

              I think the company would be thrilled to find someone who learned to code in 1987 and who would know the old platforms that some of our customers have. New software people don’t want to code in the old languages – it’s actually a pretty big problem in my company because we still have to support old stuff.

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              1. Tiger Snake

                Eh, depends on the kind of software company. Its definitely true _overall_, but there’s definitely a subset that, in my experience, way overuse the word ‘fit’ and ‘culture’, and they tend to be the players who _don’t_ have anything older than Java in their codebase.

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          1. Bolt

            That would be for the show of it… I know some jobs have funding that is dependent on considering minorities. I remember one job where I spotted a document stating they had to interview at least 5 women for the position and at least 50% of the final candidates had to be women.

            So they basically interviewed as many women as possible whether or not they were remotely qualified; then they put a strong male up against a less qualified female as the final candidates and it is an easy excuse for why they didn’t hire the woman.

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        2. Geoffrey B

          My wife worked helpdesk for a telco. She got several “employee of the month” type awards, temp team leader postings etc, and got along well with co-workers. Even the curmudgeonly backroom IT folk had time for her. Eventually we had to move, so she had to quit, and they gave her glowing references.

          A couple of years later the same company was hiring, for the same role, in our new town. She interviewed and was told “not a good fit for our culture”. Hard to see that as anything but ageism/sexism.

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            1. The Supreme Troll

              Possibly, I know that sometimes that is the pat “official” reason. But what Geoffrey B is saying makes a lot more sense, especially since his wife was an outstanding employee previously and left on good terms. That “not a good fit” excuse can be an umbrella to disguise a whole bunch of unethical reasons.

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          1. MashaKasha

            This is insane. Good Tier 1 helpdesk is so valuable and so hard to find. I worked tier 2 for six years. We lost our best Tier Ones when the Tier 1 helpdesk was outsourced and the new employer told them, We can only keep you on if you relocate to (another city 4 hours away). Everyone who could easily find another job, said no… I still miss working with them, even though I left that place years ago.

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      2. Jaguar

        Yeah. My rule is to not trust anything someone says if it’s vague or euphemistic. Best case scenario is they don’t really know what’s going on in their own head. Worst case scenario is they know exactly what’s going on.

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        1. Kathleen Adams

          LOL – it’s funny because it’s true.

          I remember reading a promotional piece about a particular party’s slate of candidates for county office, and since it’s a pretty rural county in the Midwest, it’s a fairly homogeneous county racially (although that’s changing pretty fast, by the way. But I digress.)

          This piece kept talking about how “diverse” the slate of candidates was, and it turned out that by “diverse,” they meant “OK, yes, we’re all middle-class, Christian Caucasians, but some of us are Methodists, some Mennonites, some Baptists and some Catholics! How’s that for diversity?”

          Cracked. Me. Up!

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          1. Matilda Jefferies

            I once worked for an organization in Switzerland that has the word “International” in its name. During the interview process, they made a Very Big Deal about how diverse their office was, and how it was important that I be comfortable with diversity, and so on. I’m from Toronto, which is a pretty diverse city by any measure, so of course I said I would be fine.

            Turns out their definition of “diversity” includes white people from all over Western Europe, Australia, Canada, the United States, and South Africa. Almost every person I met was white and (afik) Christian, and their first languages were English, French, German, Spanish, or Italian. Apart from that one person who spoke Norweigian, it was pretty much the least diverse workplace I have ever encountered.

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            1. EE

              >Almost every person I met was white and (afik) Christian

              Switzerland? Including people from all over Western Europe? I would be very surprised if the majority of those European workers believed in God.

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              1. Stardust

                They were probably still Christian on paper, though (which does seem to be something that’s hard for Americans to understand or at least unusual – I’m from an area where almost everyone is Catholic but most people aren’t particularly religious; what you “are” mostly means how you were baptised, not what you actually believe inside yourself).

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                1. Matilda Jefferies

                  Yes, that’s what I was getting at. Not so much the strength of their beliefs, but that they were nominally Christian as opposed to nominally Jewish, Hindu, etc.

          2. Hellanon

            I sat in on a compliance hearing and heard the president of a small college insist that all the white men on his board came from different states.

            Yeah, not what the concept means.

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      3. Optimistic Prime

        I’m a black woman and I work in tech and my hackles are raised every time a team/company talks about “cultural fit.” Unfortunately, that usually means “…not people who look like you.”

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        1. Chinook

          ” my hackles are raised every time a team/company talks about “cultural fit.” Unfortunately, that usually means “…not people who look like you.””

          While I can understand why this is the case for you, it isn’t always the case everywhere. I currently work in an office where “cultural fit” means everyone is willing to pitch in and do what needs to be done and work well together. The managers look very hard to make sure that happens. It has also resulted in colleague from 5 continents (we are missing an Aussie or Kiwi to complete the set), multiple first languages and equally split between both genders. Our only negative is no one with First Nations background works here (though we do hire vendors in the field owned and operated by local tribes).

          Considering we are in a field known for being predominantly filled with white males, I don’t know how they do it, but hiring for cultural fit while still being diverse can, and should, be done.

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          1. Liet-Kynes

            Of course that’s the ideal and I trust that’s your office’s lived experience, but….do you not see how you’re negating and litigating what she said? Okay, okay, #notalltechfirms, but I’ve heard this from so many minorities that clearly there’s a major issue with the use of cultural fit as a sorting hat for people from your tribe that it’s worth talking about and taking seriously.

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            1. ancolie

              And though I know Chinook meant it playfully, talking about “missing an Aussie or Kiwi to complete the set” is an attitude I have seen people have completely seriously.

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          2. MashaKasha

            “everyone is willing to pitch in and do what needs to be done and work well together” is a job requirement, not some kind of an obscure company culture that people may or may not fit into through no fault of their own.

            My guess would be that OP is spot on, and that your company doesn’t turn people down for “not being a cultural fit”.

            Anecdotally, only place that turned me down for “not being a good fit” was a smallish company filled entirely with young, male, white brogrammers. I was an immigrant woman then in my forties. Not a fit.

            Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I have sadly found this to be true in my (unscientific, anecdotal) experience.

        Reply
      2. Optimistic Prime

        My mother explicitly told me that she chose a “white-sounding” name for me because of this issue (which people from minority races have known about since time immemorial, but has only recently started poking up in research articles). She had originally told my father he could name me, but his first two suggestions were far more explicitly “black-sounding” and she vetoed both of them. My sister and I both have names that are relatively uncommon for black women but very common for white women.

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        1. M_Lynn

          I have no real comment on the racial politics of naming children, but you naming yourself Optimistic Prime is sheer brilliance and I love it.

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        2. OldJules

          My husband was very opposed to naming our children non vanilla names. I never understood it until we are back in the US.

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    2. all aboard the anon train

      I had a recruiter contact me for a job once and he went on and on about cultural diversity and inclusiveness. I was encouraged to look at the company website, which listed pictures and bios of all the employees. They were all white men. I declined for several reasons, but the talk about cultural diversity and only having white male employees was a big red flag.

      A former coworker, who is black, said she was contacted a couple months after I was and the recruiter’s spiel made it seem like they were mostly looking for employees who weren’t white men for the sake of diversity and nothing else.

      I’m always wary of companies that talk big about inclusiveness but don’t have a diverse workplace.

      Reply
      1. the gold digger

        Yes. Although I am happy with many things about my employer, it is not a diverse workplace. I rolled my eyes at a company publication that had several woman and two African-American men in the photos and wondered why they hadn’t thrown the purple unicorn in the shots as well.

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        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Slightly off-topic, but I have a colleague who is plastered over literally all of her firm’s PR materials and website, and another who still appears in 7 out of 10 rotating header photos for our law school’s website (she graduated 8 years ago). Purple unicorns would be more plausible than racial diversity in both of those cases.

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          1. all aboard the anon train

            This is honestly one of the reasons why I don’t talk about my sexuality at work. I may work in a liberal environment, but I still don’t want to be the token queer for the company or department. It’s happened before and it’s gross.

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            1. Junior Dev

              I wore a gay pride shirt for reasons that were more about “I ran out of clean laundry” than “I am Officially Coming Out to my co-workers.” One co-worker has gotten really excited about showing me every new rainbow branded product that comes out anywhere. It’s certainly better than overt homophobia buy still awkward.

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              1. all aboard the anon train

                I know those types of people are well-meaning, but I find it so off-putting. It’s often one of those, “oh, you’re queer, I love X queer person/movie/thing” situations.

                Honestly, I find the well-meaning but awkward people more exhausting. At least with homophobes, I know their stance. With the well-meaning people, it’s usually a landmine of appropriation or stereotypes or casual borderline homophobic things that they get defensive if called out on because they say they’re allies. And that’s always tricky at work.

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                1. Frozen Ginger

                  Oh god yes.

                  My current job put up an “Ally Banner” for pride month for people who want to “show their support” for their LGBTQA peers. I know they mean well, but it’s such a “Praise me for not being overtly discriminatory!” thing. Meanwhile, is there anything specifically for the LGBTQA employees? Nope…

                2. all aboard the anon train

                  @Frozen Ginger: Yeah, that’s why I do the strained smile and nod at a lot of the “LGBTQA+ equality” campaigns out there. A lot of them have gone from being for queer people to being for straight people who want to show they’re not a bigot. It’s like most depictions of queer people in media. It’s for straight audiences, not queer audiences.

                  My company improved on it’s “we support you!” mantra this year, but their email clearly had no input from an actual queer person and it had a lot of resources pointing to Dan Savage and it made me want to throw a chair through a conference room window. Straight people telling me I should look up Dan Savage’s advice makes me go from calm to enraged in less than a second.

                3. MHR

                  This is my mom and it can be frustrating. Hard to explain to her when shes from a generation more prone to bigotry and she is instead being awkward. Like my daughter has a friend who is the child of a married gay couple. One of the dads shows up for school events and my mom is so tickled and acts like a celebrity just showed up! “OH! Look at his shoes. They are so fashionable!” With ‘they’ being ‘gay people’ of course… And of course loud enough for him to hear.

                4. Annabelle

                  Ugh, yeah this is frustrating. I got a talking to at my last job for laughing when a new hire told me how much she loved Ellen DeGeneres. I wasn’t trying to be dismissive, but I couldn’t help laughing because:

                  1) That was literally the only recognizable queer lady she could think of.
                  2) This was in response to me saying “my girlfriend is a pastry chef.”

                5. Sam

                  My coworker recently went to her wife’s high school reunion (4o years, I think?), and met someone who asked “How long have you been married?” immediately followed by, “You know, my stepbrother died from AIDS in the ’80s.” Coworker told us about this at lunch as a funny anecdote from her weekend, but we all cringed as much as laughed.

            2. Always Nervous

              This is very helpful to read. I’m about one characteristic shy of majority and I have found tokenism so grating… to the point that I’m internally screaming “these are people not props! If your current group doesn’t look as diverse as you want, fix that not the picture!” But I didn’t know if that was an offensive thing to say so I just did nothing. Not my finest moment but I trip over my tongue in the least sensitive situations that I was terrified I’d make it worse.

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            3. Jadelyn

              My grandboss (VP) and I are the token queers for our entire organization. Although it turns out someone we hired last December is also bi! So there’s three of us now. *streamers fall from the ceiling and trumpets sound*

              This has meant that I got included in executive-level meetings about LGBT diversity initiatives last year, despite being a junior staff person, literally as one of the token queer ppl. Points for trying to include our voices I guess? Still felt really weird because I knew the only reason I was in that room was because of my sexual orientation, which isn’t really something I wanted to feel like was a point of interest for our entire executive team lol.

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              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                This is one of the things I find most grating about efforts to appear diverse without actually investing meaningfully in diversity.

                First, that there’s a lack of actual diversity and instead an investment in tokenizing people and using them like human props or scenery in promotional materials. That’s just dehumanizing and frustrating for all the reasons Always Nervous mentions.

                The second is the amount of extra work assigned to “diverse” hires because of the overall lack of diversity. Like the time my (supposedly progressive, antiracist) employer made me go to all recruiting events across the state as a first-year attorney, when I had no input or decision-making authority re: hiring, because I was the only attorney of color… and then tried to penalize me for not being “early” on deadlines during recruiting months. And of course did not make opportunities available that would have actually helped me advance/improve. I have so many other examples, but the overall point is that this “approach” to diversity—if it can even be called that—is bullshit.

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          2. blackcat

            I am all over my department’s website (I’m a PhD student). I’m in the lab, doing experiments! I’m meeting with students! Working with colleagues!

            At the time those pictures were taken, I was not teaching. I am also a theorist, therefore I do not work in a lab.

            I am, however, one of only 3 women, and the only one of those who was willing to spend 15 minutes staging photos.

            In my private high school’s promotional materials, there is still a picture of a bunch of my friends (we are all around 30 now). One white student, one asian student, one hispanic student, one Persian student, one filipino student, and one black student. It was a gender-balanced group, too. They *were* sitting together, but the picture itself was staged. What gets me is that the school is actually really diverse! I’m sure they could recreate that picture with students who born in the 00s, rather than the 80s….

            Reply
        2. Turtle Candle

          My husband’s university (an engineering school) was quite small. It had not bad numbers of women for the time (25-30%), a reasonable percentage of Asians and Hispanic people, and a tiny number of black people, including one outgoing guy named Jake. One year, a classmate observed wryly that the brochures were “50% women and 25% Jake.”

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        3. Optimistic Prime

          I joke about that at my job. I’m a black woman in a tech company (and a specific, even more male- and white-dominated arm of the tech industry). And I am in ALL the pictures and ALL the videos.

          Quite frankly, though, I don’t mind. I realize that there’s an astroturfing effect, but I know that when I was looking for a company to work for I KNEW I would be in the minority and I just wanted evidence of maybe a few other people who shared my identities existing in the same vicinity. If I’m the welcoming black face that makes other people think about working here, well, that makes me happy.

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      2. Liet-Kynes

        “they were mostly looking for employees who weren’t white men for the sake of diversity and nothing else. ”

        And once hired, do you think those employees got plum projects, offices with windows, and good parking spots as often as the bros?

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    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      If it’s any consolation, courts are pretty savvy about people using “cultural fit” as a euphemism for racial/gender/age discrimination. There’s been several relatively high-profile race discrimination lawsuits in which non-white workers have won against employers (in super-majority white workplaces) that terminated those workers for “fit” without evidence of performance or business-related concerns.

      Of course, it would be much better if people didn’t have to go through these experiences and file a lawsuit before workplaces made meaningful efforts to recruit, hire, and retain a diverse workforce.

      Reply
    4. L.

      DING DING DING. “Culture fit” is notoriously Silicon Valley-speak for “I don’t want to make the most basic effort accommodate for anyone even slightly different than I am, so I’m just going to hire more 20 something white Stanford bros like me. And it’s your fault cause you should have tried harder to be a 20 something white bro.”

      Reply
    5. Jesca

      After reading a lot of comments on this one, I am going to have to agree to assume this. It sounds to me like a lot of the assumptions and reasons given for terminating employment based on “fit” really are just aspects about a persons work or habits that should have been addressed with them when those behaviors started. Thats management. As in, if an employee is fired citing cultural fit and doesn’t understand the specific failings in not reaching said “fitness” one would just have to assume that they were let go due to this. And boo on managers who don’t give feedback sooner! Its still a managers responsibility to try to coach and no should ever be let go on vagueness!

      Reply
      1. Magenta Sky

        Definitely. One management training course I went to summed it up with “No should *ever* be surprised they’re being fired.”

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    6. Justin

      Yes. Not to shame this group of people, but I used to work at a well-heeled nonprofit that was really really obsessed with “fit” and saying the word “fit.” So they had vacancies for months and months until they, inevitably, found a person willing to work for little pay (note: they had plenty of money, it was spent on making the building shiny for donors – a choice one can make! – but low salaries) and yet required an MA for entry-level admin work. (Not that it’s easy!)

      So everyone at the job was a very very nice Caucasian lady around the same age from the same socioeconomic background. We actually had 4 Laurens (a lovely name! just making the point of everyone being similar) on the same floor of 20 people.

      I liked working there for the most part. And I’m not sure they were conscious of this. But it’s not a great look in NYC…

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      1. RVA Cat

        They obviously work in the fictional NYC of 90s sitcoms, where everybody’s white and a waitress can afford a yuuuge apartment.

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    7. Super Anon for This

      The really truly good places I have worked at, the ones that also don’t describe themselves as a “family”, don’t really care if you are a “culture fit”. They don’t care if you have the same working style (lots of meetings, no meetings) or if you like sports or come from the same background or whatever. They only care if you get your work done, and if you can work in a team.

      I have never seen culture if used in a beneficial way. Even when it isn’t used to discriminate (age, race, gender) I have seen it used to exclude people with different personalities or hobbies, as though that matters at all to whether someone has the skills and ability to do the job.

      Maybe there is a job out there where it really matters that every single employee is laidback or a huge soccer fan (sports reporter?) but I haven’t heard of one yet!

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      1. Elfie

        My last place was a terrible cultural fit for me. I knew it and they knew it. Notwithstanding the work-related fit issues, it was also a large employer in a smallish town, so most people lived nearby, and after-work drinking sessions were how people advanced. I lived 60 miles away, and had a two-hour commute, so the last thing I wanted to be doing was spending yet more time with coworkers, not drinking, and then driving home for another two hours. They were also really into healthy living, healthy eating, exercise stuff, with a massive side dose of doing it for charity (they were also a charity, but not the type you donate to). I’m a fat, lazy, couch potato who DGAF about it. Yes, they did hire minorities. Yes, those minorities did advance to board level. Yes, those minorities that advanced to board level did participate in the extra-curricular activities (even if they didn’t partake, if you see what I mean). Yes, the company was incredibly one-dimensional and really irritating most of the time. And yes, people either stayed a long time or hardly any time at all. I’m so glad I self-selected out, because I hated it there.

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      2. Sunshine on a cloudy day

        +1000 to this! In my experience – good, functional workplaces don’t need to shout about “our culture!!!”. Good, functional workplaces have good, functional hiring practices that are pretty good at screening out “poor fit” and therefore don’t need to shout about it. Good, functional workplaces also are thoughful and upfront about the needs of the role and attract quality candidates, both of which allow the candidates to also be pretty good about self-selecting out.

        That Marget Thatcher quote comes: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” If a company just goes on and on about X being their culture, I’m pretty skeptical. However, if they say “we offer A, program B and perk C”, then I think “oh wow, this company really values X and I believe it”.

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      3. CM

        I think “culture” and “fit” can be used effectively if there are objective criteria. My company has a very strong culture which is summed up in a list of values that are based on behavior, not identity. So I’m sure there are times that somebody is rejected for not fitting in with the culture — for example, in their interview they talk about how they can’t deal with rules and process, which we have a lot of. But, I think having such a well-defined culture is difficult to do, and it’s much more common to have the kinds of problems with the concept of “fit” that people are discussing here.

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        1. Blue

          My office is very similar, but I think you’re right. I should also give kudos to our HR person, who won’t let people be lazy and say, “They’re not a a good fit;” you have to give specific examples from their behavior-based responses that indicate that they would struggle with e.g. the bureaucratic necessities of the job.

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    8. Biff

      That was my experience as well — that it was a way to exclude people who were highly qualified for not being the right look/race/age/gender/political orientation/etc. I found that in the Bay Area, looking the part and sounding the part was so much more important than skills. It was crushing.

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  2. EA

    AAM answer was great.

    ‘Fit’ can mean everything, or nothing. It can mean you don’t operate in a way that works in your org, or it can mean we only want to hire 20 somethings upper-middle class people.

    I wouldn’t focus so much on what happened to you, especially if it has not happened again. People like to pretend they have 100% control over their job situation, but realistically you don’t. You can try and do the best you can to screen jobs, but its not 100% guaranteed you won’t fall into a bad situation.

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    1. Allypopx

      Hm….”What qualities do you envision would make someone successful or unsuccesful in this role?” ??

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        1. fposte

          And I would think a reasonably savvy HM would be able to extrapolate to the unit where necessary, too, since a lot of times culture fit is about relationship with colleagues anyway.

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      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        That’s a fine question, but I don’t think it does what the magic question (TM) does, which is to get at what distinguishes good from great.

        For that, I think you’d need to just ask, “What would you say would be the difference between doing perfectly fine in this role and really excelling at it?” But it’s not going to be as useful as when they have a history of people in the role who they can think back to.

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    2. That Would Be a Good Band Name

      I was just thinking about this and I think I’d go with something like, “I know this role has only been held by one person, but what would make a person great in this role as opposed to just good at the role?”

      Reply
  3. Quaggaquagga

    As a young-ish person who works and has friends who work in start-up and incubator-like environments, I have never seen “culture fit” be meant in the way Allison defines it, only in the “let’s hang out and drink beer (what do you mean you don’t drink/don’t like beer)” type of way. It’s really unfortunate.

    Reply
    1. CaliCali

      I would agree. It’s indicating that there’s a specific, singular type of social culture being sought out. In my experience, healthy workplaces may have a certain overall social culture, but not every employee needs to adhere to it. (Example: my current workplace has a lot of teetotalers, but it’s never been an issue when I’ve had a drink at a client event)

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    2. Question

      I mean, if a company has a culture in which the employees like to go to happy hour after work, why is that illegitimate? Teetotalers/social introverts aren’t a protected class, and I doubt they can be used as a proxy for a protected class.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s fine if they like to do that, but it’s a bad idea to screen for that in your hiring, since you will probably end up screening out people who are older, have families, have religious prohibitions on drinking, or just plain aren’t into doing that, which can be legally sketchy in some situations and will leave you with a pretty homogenous workforce, which can weaken your work overall.

        Reply
        1. KHB

          Doesn’t the “religious prohibitions on drinking” part make the whole thing a no-go? If you’re explicitly screening in a way that means that you’d NEVER hire, say, a Muslim or a Mormon, isn’t that a legal problem?

          Reply
          1. SarahTheEntwife

            If you phrase it as “needs to literally drink actual beers with us”, that’s probably going to run into several protected classes. But if it’s more “wants to kick back with us after work in a beer-like atmosphere”…that’s still super problematic but probably not actually illegal.

            (Disclaimer: not a lawyer)

            Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              In general, it’s a little strange to hire for “wants to kick back with us after work in a beer-drinking environment.” There are lots of non-alcohol-drinking people who will come out to happy hours, etc., but Quaggaquagga is describing a really specific kind of “affluent, young, college-educated, bro-y male in a startup” culture that is pretty exclusive. Regardless whether it’s phrased as “must do X” or “wants to do X,” it runs the risk of violating the disparate impact provisions of antidiscrimination laws.

              Reply
            2. Nicotene

              Agree, it’s not like this is in the job description. But if your company values garrulous extroverts and has a culture of happy hours after work / liquid lunch meetings / whatever, it just comes across that Bob isn’t the right “fit” if he doesn’t participate.

              Reply
            3. Sara without an H

              I think it’s often an attempt to recreate the camaraderie of graduate school. Unfortunately, if the new company is at all successful, trying to keep that grad school beer & buddy atmosphere will do more harm than good.

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              1. Anon E. Mouse

                “Unfortunately, if the new company is at all successful, trying to keep that grad school beer & buddy atmosphere will do more harm than good.”

                Do you have any evidence for this (“I wouldn’t thrive in that environment” not being evidence)? Lots of companies like Facebook and Twitter have this atmosphere. I’m at one of them and I love it. I’m not at Uber, but if we could get “Uber minus the sexism” I think that would be great!

                Reply
                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  There’s a lot of literature on this issue—particularly regarding the buddy atmosphere in tech. Honestly, a simple Google search will turn up all sorts of case studies from B-schools and associated business reviews.

                  It doesn’t mean the company isn’t making profit or isn’t “successful” by external (shareholder) metrics, but a number of case studies have indicated that the “buddy/bro” framework impedes long-term growth and innovation, and can give rise to a culture that tries to undermine legal protections and regulatory compliance. Uber is actually a great example of a company engaged in all sorts of shady and often illegal shit, independent of its also illegal sexual harassment problems.

                2. Biff

                  I worked for a company that was trying to create that environment for a specific group within an established company. (Essentially, we were a mini-company within the company.) At first it was really cool, but there were serious problems that happy hours introduced. The biggest issues stemmed from the fact that a lot of work-unfriendly topics cropped up in conversation and weren’t shut down.

                  3 people weren’t political aligned with the group, and one person was ever-so-easily offended by anything that deviated from their version of liberalism. While the three unaligned people tried to avoid politics, it was easy to ostracize them by what seemed like innocent chatter about the news.

                  People with families, obligations outside of work, longer commutes and introverts were essentially kept out of the loop due to a lack of being able to attend constant happy hours. This meant that the bosses tended to see the younger, unattached part of the group, and they got to listen to them, and make plans. Older, more experienced people weren’t given avenues of advancement because they lacked the personal connection that happy hours permitted. This also created a sort of “young people” club within our group, and happy hour behaviors spilled over to the office. Lots of chit chat and ‘brainstorming’, not a lot of working. Major issues cropped up in the final product because the work was rushed and slipshod. Senior members of the group cleaned it up, but it went unnoticed.

                  Happy hour got sloppier, and sloppier as the years went by. Towards the end, people were regularly driving home drunk, or getting cabs/public transit. We had a lot of sick days after happy hour nights. It was depressing to see 50 and 60 year old directors set a standard of driving drunk/stoned, and calling in sick the next day. Happy hours were reliably disruptive to our work, so they started scheduling them during our downtime. I think that should have been their clue to stop them. One lady in the group got the idea to start scheduling events that were oriented towards the middle-aged adults in our group who had other obligations. I think this was another clue that happy hour wasn’t working — we had a happy hour alternative. While I really appreciate what she tried to do, the effect was that we accidentally had two groups of power/influence in our workforce. You had the day lunch crowd, and the night bar crowd. This created office politics problems, because someone who was high up the political influence ladder in one group could be perceived as a total nebbisch to the other group.

                  I mentioned above that there were issues with conversations that would have been and should have been never brought up or shut down. We had one woman who was a walking, talking future HR problem. She insisted on calling a particular class of young women “future pole twirlers” and was very, open about her type, preferences, and some aspects of her sexuality. She was so ‘tolerant’ and racially aware that she forced people into conversations about race and gender that just don’t belong in the workplace. Oversharing, in general, was rampant.

                  Kinda unrelated here, but Facebook and Apple and Google are known to pump-and-dump their new hires. Pump them for all they are worth, dump them as fast as you can. I think it’s really telling that these companies that are successful have massive, cattle-call interviews, and most people who are doing the heavy lifting only stay there for 2 years. I think in 10 years, FB will HAVE to change, because they will run out of the prestige necessary to maintain that kind of worker influx.

                3. Liet-Kynes

                  “a number of case studies have indicated that the “buddy/bro” framework impedes long-term growth and innovation,”

                  Because you’re not gonna tell your bro his idea is crap, and if you have an idea and all your bros shut it down you’re not going to press them, and so on and so on.

            4. JamieS

              Having a “kick back and have a beer after work” atmosphere isn’t inherently illegal. However approaching hiring from the stance of “do I see myself having a beer with this person?” creates a strong possibility a company will discriminate against a protected class since people tend to want to hang out socially with people like them. Birds of a feather flock together and all.

              Reply
        2. a Gen X manager

          Yes! We’re trying to break out of our very own “homogenous workforce” and we intentionally hired a qualified candidate who has different views / perspectives / experiences, but she is driving us all crazy. Totally crazy. It’s really made me second guess my hiring decision and our plan to reduce the homogenization of our team.

          Reply
          1. M

            Could it also be possible that she’s just one individual and having any token person is likely to be a problem because maybe having more individuals with different perspectives on your team would diffuse issues

            Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I was going to say this. It could be a critical mass problem, or it could be a communication styles problem. The problem isn’t the candidate, it’s what criteria you’re selecting when you try to “de-homogenize” your team. If your only criterion is “has different views,” you’re likely going to have a difficult time connecting the value of that criterion to your work together.

              Reply
              1. paul

                Or they could have grabbed the first person that dehomogenized the workplace, and gotten someone abrasive because they were too focused on ticking a checkbox too. *shrug*. Hard to know.

                Reply
                1. RVA Cat

                  Sounds like it could be a vicious circle where that one person’s views were constantly challenged, leading her to become more defensive, which then alienated people further.

          2. Jessica

            Well, someone can be a good hire for business and still have a conflicting personality.

            That being said, hiring people with different perspectives and experiences greatly increases your business’s reach to its audience. I would say that having someone who drives everyone crazy, because everyone but her is the same, is a good reason to hire MORE diverse people, not to regret hiring the one token hire you have.

            Reply
            1. Jaguar

              Yeah, besides ending discrimination in hiring practices, the point of diversity in the workforce is to increase perspectives. If you’re hiring minority Jane for your white guy office only if she already thinks the way everyone in the office does, you’re just wallpapering the same room you’re already in.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Yeah, I call this Gap ad diversity. Everyone is racially diverse, but they’re all wearing chinos.

                Reply
            2. Government Worker

              Yeah, if adding someone with different views drives everyone crazy, maybe it’s a sign that your culture needs to change. I find it clearest to think about with gender: plenty of all-male organizations struggle to adapt to a world in which they had senior-level female employees and couldn’t do business at strip clubs all the time. The struggle to change is a sign that the culture was problematic before, though, not that the change was bad.

              Most workplaces now aren’t quite that toxic, but struggling with diversity is a sign that your team dynamic may be problematic in some unexamined ways.

              Reply
        3. Alton

          Not to mention people who have a history of alcoholism or who can’t drink for health reasons.

          I think any workplace where people bond a lot over one particular interest or type of activity can fall into that trap if they’re not careful. Workplaces that put a lot of emphasis on sports/physical activity as a form of team building are probably one of the best examples.

          Reply
      2. Nicotene

        Yeah, but do you want to work somewhere that hires this way? I’m not saying it’s illegal, I’m just saying it CAN signal a dysfunctional workplace. Unfortunately like Alison says it doesn’t always. My work uses it to mean that they want people who live to work and are super career oriented, rather than complacent put-in-your hours types. (Still not great haha).

        Reply
        1. Junior Dev

          Sometimes you don’t have a choice if you want to pay the bills.

          I mean, to some extent there’s legitimate variation on how workplaces operate and people should pick companies better suited to their needs, but I remember being really scared after I was laid off from my last company that I would never find a tech job that wouldn’t involve some degree of sexual harassment or bigotry being lobbed at me on a fairly regular basis. And sometimes it’s not as clear cut as people saying “I hate [x group],” in my case I’ve had two different jobs with a frat boy atmosphere in which it was assumed I should enjoy hanging out and drinking with a bunch of men I didn’t like all that much at best and felt actively attacked by at worst.

          Reply
        2. Optimistic Prime

          Yes, if they pay really well, or allow you to break into an industry you work into, or do work that you really want to do or build something awesome.

          I mean, the “but you didn’t really want to work there anyway” argument just allows toxic and dysfunctional cultures to continue to be toxic and dysfunctional, since some people can tolerate them.

          Reply
          1. Junior Dev

            Yes, and the ability to tolerate those workplaces is one of the drivers of various disparities in unequal industries.

            I’m a woman in a technical role that pays below industry average. However, I would not move on to a higher paying role unless I could somehow be assured the new place was as welcoming as my current job is. I think a lot about how my co-workers (all men in my department) have the option to go work in a more sexist environment for more money, but I don’t unless I want to be miserable and probably get cut in the next round of layoffs for being “not a team player.”

            Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        If a company’s identity is tied up with or defined by its drinking culture, it should reexamine what it’s trying to convey to the world.

        Reply
        1. Nicotene

          In my experience it’s surprisingly common. It’s not a stated thing, it’s just … everybody here likes to go for happy hours after work. That’s where a lot of people network / talk shop. Not doing this may make you seem not invested in the work. It’s unfortunate and should be reexamined but it’s very common.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            There’s a difference between happy hours and drinking culture, though. Going out for business drinks is common in many fields, but it’s a bit of a known problem in fields where the ability to advance is related to your participation in heavy, social drinking (finance, parts of tech).

            Reply
      1. Quaggaquagga

        Yes, absolutely! I was really glad to read this post and learn that there is a legitimate way to discuss culture in the workplace.

        Reply
  4. zora

    Sometimes is means “we are basically a cult and you didn’t drink the kool-aid fast enough.” (No, I have no experience with this, why would you ask that?)

    But also I have seen this in practice very honestly, and seen people who really didn’t understand why they were let go when it was similar to Alison’s examples above. These are the open-ended questions I’ve learned to ask in interviews, and spend time at your current job being really self-aware and noticing what comes easier to you and how you work best, in what kind of environment. So you know what you are looking for in future jobs!

    Reply
  5. Dan

    I once interviewed with a company for what I thought was my “dream” job. I had a background in the field, and then went on to grad school to get more technical expertise to enable me to do the things I wanted… and that they were hiring for. The job description was like a copy/paste job from my resume. When they called me, I was ecstatic.

    When I got on site, everybody I talked to gave off the vibe that they would rather be elsewhere. I mean, they were downright cold, and nobody showed any interest in me personally. (I’m not kidding, their interview process was done off a script, and I was only asked one question about stuff on my resume… when a good chunk of my resume was relevant to the job I was interviewing for.) I’m sitting there thinking, “damn, this is supposed to be my dream job, and it would probably suck to work with these people.” If everybody always puts on their best face during the interview process? Working with them would be miserable.

    That’s when I learned that fit is a two way street. That was about 10 years ago, and I’ve been employed elsewhere in the industry ever since. To this day, I don’t think my read was all that off. Their interview process did suck, and I’ve interviewed with much more personable people. That job ultimately rejected me two months later; I would have rejected them outright if I had other offers in hand.

    Reply
  6. MuseumChick

    Fit really can mean so many things it can be hard to pin down an exact definition. I view it as “are you willing to follow the unspoken/unofficial rules of this office?” This can spiral into dysfunction when you don’t have good management in place.

    The recent letter about the company that was using a printer room as a changing room/lactation room is a good example. There the culture was that if you put up a do not enter sign on the door, no one was to enter, but we learned in the comments that not everyone is willing to honor a system like that.

    Reply
    1. Fictional Butt

      Yeah, whenever I hear about someone being a “bad culture fit” I think of this one former coworker. She was not good at her job, which didn’t help matters, but she also just didn’t seem to understand how our organization worked and what her role in that was, how clients were supposed to be treated, just the basics of how things happened in our organization. It became a pretty big problem because there was such a gulf between what she was doing and what everyone else was doing.

      That being said, I think there are ways to address that that are more straightforward than “culture fit.”

      Reply
      1. The Supreme Troll

        And being straightforward here is crucial, and is a sign of a fair employer, even if you might like the words you’re about to hear. Your former coworker was bad at her job for the reasons that you mentioned. And these reasons are actually tangible enough that they should have been addressed with her, given an action plan to work on making corrections, and then managing her out when these changes were not made.

        Reply
    2. Squeeble

      Yeah, it can be really subtle sometimes!

      When I worked at a university, we hired a temp for a while with a corporate background. She wasn’t necessarily a bad worker, but there was just something about the way she approached tasks or used certain jargon-y phrases that didn’t meld with the way we operated.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        I’ve noticed this even with changing departments within the same university. When I worked in one department, the culture regarding university bureaucracy was, “What are the work-arounds?” They were’t looking to break the rules, but they wanted to know the full extent of what they could get away with while still remaining plausibly within the rules. My current department is completely opposite; they take great pride in remaining well within the boundaries and have even added checks and balances above and beyond what is required by the university. They want to avoid the appearance of even approaching a boundary.

        Reply
        1. PM Jesper Berg

          “They were’t looking to break the rules, but they wanted to know the full extent of what they could get away with while still remaining plausibly within the rules.”

          What’s wrong with that? Someone mentioned Uber earlier. Would Uber really have made any inroads against the yellow cab industry if it hadn’t dared to color outside the lines? And (from a customer perspective) we are a lot better off with Uber than when the yellow cabs had a monopoly.

          Reply
          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            Nothing wrong with it as far as I’m concerned. I was a much better fit in that department than I am in my new, rules-proud department. All my knowledge of how to sidle along the edge of the rules is wasted and unappreciated now :-)

            Reply
          2. J Bird

            I don’t know that Mallory Janis Ian is saying there’s anything wrong with the “working around rules as much as possible” approach. I took the point of her comment solely to be that what constitutes a good ‘culture fit’s can vary widely (which: it’s super interesting there was such a marked difference in those departments in the same university) — not that she was making a value judgement about either culture.

            Reply
            1. Mallory Janis Ian

              That’s what I meant, that culture can vary widely, sometimes even between different units at the same organization.

              Reply
          3. Junior Dev

            Not sure a company that is now in trouble for pervasive sexual harassment and systemic fraud against regulators is a good example of how to be.

            Reply
            1. KellyK

              Yeah, that was the first thing I thought of as far as Uber “coloring outside the lines.” Some lines are more important than others, and some of them are there for a reason.

              Reply
        2. Chinook

          I work for a department like that. Our number one job is to work within regulations but deal with the exceptions that crop up in such a way that we follow the spirit of the rules even if we push the boundary of the letter of them. There is a certain mindset that is required to walk that line that not everyone can pick up on it.

          Ex: New engineer gave me list for repairs that I saw would include having to dig in a major river. That is expensive and a major regulatory headache, so I wanted her to verify that the data was as close to correct as it can be. She asked if my request meant she should change the tolerances for error. I quickly said no, just to make sure that, if we go in there, that there is definitely a repair that needs to be made (since we had had a bunch of false positives recently). But, if the repair was going to cost millions, then so be it because the alternative (an oil spill) was catastrophic. Turns out that, when she went back to confirm some data we had been sent, it was full of false positive and we didn’t need to do the repair.

          She came from a culture where sweeping something that expensive under the rug was considered a possibility, I came from one where something that expensive needed to be triple verified before going ahead and doing it, but ignoring it was not an acceptable response (which is also our managers’ and director’s point of view). She quickly learned to adapt (and embrace) this cultural perspective but, if she hadn’t and it was discovered, she could easily have been fired for lack of “cultural fit” because her suggestion was not technically wrong (because what she was doing is as much an art as a science) but definitely not as conservative as everyone else. Does that make sense?

          Reply
    3. Nervous Accountant

      Yeah, I think of it this way. In my company, I’d say “cultural fit” means someone who’s easy to talk to and have a conversation with, not to be besties or have a beer with, but just generally easygoing? Like it’s common here for us to greet each other in the AM/PM, strike up a conversation in the kitchen etc; and we are a very diverse group too, across age and ethnicities/race. I know this sounds so vague but this is what I think of wen I think of “fit.”

      It’s an open plan office, and a lot of the work is collaborative. So if there’s someone who hates the open office structure, craves privacy and doesn’t see the need to make small talk and/or is terrified of talking to others wouldn’t fit well here.

      Reply
  7. Bend & Snap

    I kind of aged out of my last job (at 35) and my boss had a chat with me about my “fit” which he decided meant “Bend & Snap, nobody likes you.”

    He really meant he didn’t like me and I quit about a month later. Message received!

    I’ve mostly seen cultural fit used as a reason to push people out than a really useful screening and hiring tool.

    Reply
  8. fposte

    I think for a lot of employers culture is like the taste of water to fish. All they know is when it isn’t right. That makes it a lot harder on employees who are struggling with fit, since they often aren’t getting specific feedback that relates to it. I’d therefore really encourage employers and HMs to have true and helpful answers ready for “What kind of person would do well in this job and what kind of person would struggle?” And I’d encourage candidates to listen carefully to those answers and not dismiss the significance of descriptions that really aren’t them.

    Reply
    1. Nicotene

      I guess you could also ask something like, ‘who at this company really embodies fit to you?’ (Besides the CEO who probably creates fit haha). If you can get two names that’s even better, as it will help you figure out what those two people have in common.

      Reply
      1. Nicotene

        Sorry I meant for someone who’s already working somewhere and worrying about fit. Obviously in an interview my question wouldn’t help.

        Reply
    2. K.

      Yeah, sometimes fit is clear and sometimes it’s not, but if it’s not there, no one is happy. I was miserable at a previous job because it was very heavy on binge drinking (and it was not limited to the young – my team’s VP was 50 and used to get so drunk at team dinners that we had to confiscate her keys) and I was the only person of color there, and I suspect the only person of color that people on the team had ever spoken to. The micro-aggressions were off the charts at that place. The job I was hired into was a good fit – but we restructured twice and it became a job I didn’t recognize and wouldn’t have applied for. I just didn’t fit in there, so when they laid off my team it was a relief.

      At my current job, there’s MUCH MUCH MUCH more diversity, no one gets drunk, and it just feels better than that one. It’s not something I can put my finger on other than that I have common interests with my coworkers that I didn’t have at that previous workplace.

      Reply
      1. Junior Dev

        Your comment reminds me of a thought I have about this, I wonder if you’d agree. I think a culture of drinking at work can exacerbate hostility or discrimination towards anyone who’s not in the majority in their workplace, not just someone whose status specifically prohibits them from drinking (eg religious minorities or recovering alcoholics). I experienced as the only woman in multiple tech teams where drinking was part of the culture; I felt less safe, not more relaxed, when alcohol was present. I think if you’re living with the awareness that in any given group of people, there are probably at least a few who have bigoted views against you due to your skin color, gender, or whatever else (as opposed to not liking you for some more mundane reason) the idea of people being uninhibited or emotionally intimate with one another is scary, not relaxing or fun.

        I don’t want to know most of my co-workers’ innermost thoughts about me–that’s just good boundaries, and there’s no perfect group of people I can work around that will change that fact.

        Reply
        1. K.

          That’s interesting. I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe when they were all drinking; just more removed from the group. (I’m not a teetotaler. I enjoy social drinking, but I stopped binge drinking long ago and keep drinking at work functions to a minimum. I was the only person on the team who viewed drinking that way, except for the time when there were two pregnant women on the team – they abstained during their pregnancies.) It heightened my “otherness.” I didn’t necessarily worry that someone would drop an n-bomb while drunk (although frankly, with a couple of people I wouldn’t have been surprised); I just knew that at the team dinner, I was going to fit in even less than I already did so I had to steel myself for that.

          You make an interesting point though. I do think I felt like I had to keep my wits about me in those settings, so maybe I subconsciously identified with what you’re saying.

          Reply
          1. Junior Dev

            ” I didn’t necessarily worry that someone would drop an n-bomb while drunk (although frankly, with a couple of people I wouldn’t have been surprised); I just knew that at the team dinner, I was going to fit in even less than I already did so I had to steel myself for that.”

            Yeah, and I don’t necessarily mean only that you’re on guard for some specific attack (though it’s possible)–but also that alcohol can complicate an already tense social situation, in a way that tends to be worse for people in a minority group.

            Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

            Reply
    3. Ann O'Nemity

      I’d therefore really encourage employers and HMs to have true and helpful answers ready for “What kind of person would do well in this job and what kind of person would struggle?”

      Totally agree. And consider that question for both the company culture and the hiring manager’s preferences, especially if those two things are dissimilar.

      Reply
    4. The RO-Cat

      Right. I struggled in two of my jobs to pinpoint what exactly was that was driving my bosses / owners bonkers, since numbers were on my side and they were unable to explain (and they struggled with that, too). It took me several years to understand. In my case, my formative years (professionally) were in multinationals. Those two companies were local (albeit on the big side, but still local, and run by owners). I was accustomed to a certain degree of autonomy and I granted it to my underlings, also. The lack of “reporting” and “supervision” (as seen by both bosses) meant simply that I refused to call them 3 – 5 times a day with irellevant details and that I refused to police my sales agents as long as numbers were OK. What I saw as “autonomy” they saw as “lack of dedication and discipline”.

      But it took some soul-searching to understand that.

      Reply
      1. Turquoise Cow

        That’s been an issue for me with regard to supervisors and bosses. I like having a boss who is available to help me or answer questions, but who is not a micromanager. My first corporate boss was like that – he’d check in every day or every other day or so, and I could use that time to ask questions. He was replaced by a guy who somehow managed to micromanage while being unavailable – he was always in meetings and then when he made time for you he’d go into excruciating detail.

        If I was to have a job that required that much on-hand supervision (after an initial training phase), and everyone else seemed fine with it, or even enthusiastic, and wondered what my problem was, that would definitely be an issue of “fit.” In that case, it wouldn’t just be the supervision vs. independence, it would be the reaction to it that would make it be a bad fit. We clearly have different values and priorities and working styles.

        Reply
    5. Roscoe

      I totally agree with this. I actually work in a fairly diverse office. Not totally, but far better than many places I’ve been. And there is a definite “culture” here that I couldn’t necessarily put my finger on. People have a lot of personalities. Hell, there are only a handful of people I really would ever associate with outside of work. But for the most part, we work well as a group. I’ve sat in on interviews and there was just “something” there that I couldn’t identify, but I just didn’t feel that person would really work in our office.

      Reply
  9. AndersonDarling

    I’ve seen people fired for “culture fit” because they were jerks and HR didn’t want to get into the details and risk the jerk getting enraged.
    But true “fit” is huge at non-profits and other organizations that are mission driven. If you aren’t dedicated to the mission and dedicated to everyone else supporting the mission, then you won’t fit.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Yeah, I think that would be big for us; in my specific unit I’d have a few others involving working independently, foregrounding communication, and considering the team to be more important than the individual (similar but not identical to the mission thing).

      Reply
    2. Government Worker

      Yes to the fit at nonprofits. At Exjob the org went through a transition where the new CEO started hiring more for being mission-driven than for skills and experience than his predecessor. As someone who was happy in my job and good at the work, but wasn’t devoted heart and soul to the mission, it was a noticeable shift. I liked a lot of things about that CEO, but I wasn’t heartbroken when it was time to move on.

      Reply
    3. SQL Coder Cat

      I’ve seen both kinds. I was glad to be weeded out as a ‘bad fit’ for a job that said I was too serious for their culture. Currently I work for a private non-profit university that is religiously affiliated, and when we say ‘culture fit’ around here we mainly mean ‘doesn’t freak out about that fact that a third of employees go to the service from 10:30-11:30 every day and so no meetings can be scheduled during that time ever.’

      Reply
  10. De Minimis

    It can mean a lot of things. My guess is for the OP might have been in an environment where they were expected to hit the ground running and also to market themselves to find projects. This can be a tough adjustment and I wish these type of workplaces would be more clear about that expectation to allow people to self-select out. The way I’ve seen it, they’ll go on and on about how great their training is, but then they expect people to almost immediately work at the same level as experienced staff.

    I’ve also seen it where the culture is one where staying late, working weekends, is the norm and it’s frowned upon when an employee wants that situation to be the exception rather than the rule.

    I totally get where the OP is coming from, I was let go from a “poor fit” situation years ago and am still bitter, though part of the blame is on me because I had a feeling it wasn’t going to work out.

    Reply
    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      Honestly, companies being more honest up-front, while awesome, probably wouldn’t help that much. In our system (where employers have much more power than workers) people are often willing to sort of will themselves into being a fit wherever. Like, there’s tons of applicants who will think “heck yes, I’d love to hit the ground running, I could be so entrepreneurial” etc regardless of how much they’re actually like that, or how much they actually thrive in that environment. Not to mention that if you’re relatively new to the workforce or have only had a small number of jobs, you probably have no idea what kind of environment you thrive in. And, finally, the stuff we’re willing to do when we’re freaking out trying to get a job are often much different that what we’re willing to do when we’ve been on the job for 2 years.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        Ugh. When I asked the ‘magic question’ at my current job, they flat-out told me that the best people in this position are task-oriented. I have learned from much discussion of the topic here at AAM that I am more relationship oriented, but I told myself, “Heck yeah, I can just will myself into being task oriented; consider it done!” And, yeah, it takes way too much will-power for me to fake being task-oriented. I feel like my work is just a bunch of dry boring tasks that I don’t care about. I did the same work in a more relationship-oriented department, and the same work felt more meaningful to me in a way that’s hard to explain.

        Reply
        1. Kimberlee, Esq.

          Yes! As hard as it is for companies to articulate culture fit (and they could def be doing it better), it’s perhaps equally as hard to figure out for yourself what a culture fit would mean for you!

          Reply
          1. kab

            Unfortunately, a lot of people do not know how to define culture fit. I’m lucky in that I had to take an Organizational Leadership and Culture class, where I had to study, define, and explain my organization’s culture to others. It was illuminating.

            Reply
            1. Trix

              Rereading this was so helpful today, says the incredibly task oriented person who just got feedback from a very relationship focused person and all I kept thinking was “please stop trying to be nice, just tell me what I did wrong so I can fix it!”

              Not that I mind her being nice, or felt it was wasting my time to hear what she had to say. Just that, as someone who seriously struggles with not being amazing even though I’ve literally been here a month and it’s okay that I’m still learning, when I know there’s a problem, I just really need to fix it, like now.

              Reply
              1. Chaordic One

                In the past I’ve sometimes felt that I was pushed into being a task-oriented person, because that was what the job called for.

                Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      It’s so annoying when no one tells you what the group is doing and then holds it against you that you aren’t doing it.
      Everyone comes in on Saturdays? Then say so in the interview. Don’t tell me I am bad cultural fit six months later because it took me three months to realize everyone, with no exception, was working on Saturday.

      OP, in your case, I suspect somehow your training fell short. You were supposed to figure out on your own to go ahead and do X unprompted or whatever. I don’t get this stuff. If an employee is supposed to make certain decisions then tell the employee this is what is expected. Years ago, I decided I would point blank ask, “Do I need permission to do X or can I just do it when I see it needs to be done.”

      When I first started working I took a job waitressing in a very busy restaurant in the mall. It was slow so I filled the ice buckets. (These were refrigerated units that were fairly small.) The supervisor “caught” me doing this and made me put the ice back where I originally found it. (???) She said, “I did not tell YOU to fill the ice buckets!”
      It was not long after, I decided I could not dumb down enough to work there. My so-called training mostly consisted of listening to stories of how management made everyone pool tips, then skimmed half off the top and dispersed the remainder in a random manner to the employees.

      Many times my response to “a bad fit” is to ask, “Well, did you TELL the person what is expected from them?” Many times the answer is, “Well it was so obvious they should have figure it out on their own.”

      Reply
      1. Super Anon for This

        This! I worked at one store (a small business) where customers were expected to help themselves, staff were meant to only restock as quickly as possible and not interact with customers.

        I had been working at a big box store, my second big box, and I had no idea we *weren’t* supposed to help customers. Well I wasn’t ignoring the customers, and of course I was the slowest stocker there. I was let go not long after starting.

        Not only was I never told about the customer policy (and the store was just big enough and built so that stockists couldn’t see what the others were doing) I also wasn’t told I needed to speed up, really. I was always told, “you are still in training, this is normal, you will get faster”.

        Reply
  11. Wannabe Disney Princess

    I don’t know how I’d define “fit”. It’s really more of a feeling. Chemistry, I suppose. I mean, if I’m spending 40+ hours with these people, I need to not feel like I’m constantly going to smash my face in with a shovel. (There might be times when I do, but that’s normal.) The work itself can be miserable…but if the fit/coworkers/culture/etc are great it can definitely be bearable, if not outright make up for it. Conversely, the opposite is true.

    Reply
  12. MuseumChick

    Just wanted to add a story about cultural fit. I have a good friend who’s father was interviewing at a company, my friend’s brother happens to be gay and this company their father was interviewing at was known to be run by people who are of a religion that typically isn’t very open/welcoming to the LGBT community. During the interview he basically said “I always have pictures of my family on my desk, including my son and his husband, will that be a problem here?” They told him it would be no problem at all and he went on to work for them for several years without any issues.

    Reply
    1. RVA Cat

      Bravo to your friend’s dad! It reminds me of the heartwarming Captain Awkward letter today about a child coming out to his (awesomely supportive) mom.

      Reply
  13. Jesmlet

    One company I had a long interview with spent almost 6 hours assessing cultural fit. They were also 99% white and maybe 80% male. The culture I would’ve needed to fit into was an ego-stroking, hyper-critical, make people cry and have 50% of new hires leave within a year culture. No thank you.

    I think it can matter as far as very lax people working with type A’s or vice versa but if you’re adaptable and can read a room, it shouldn’t matter too much.

    Reply
    1. Shadow

      Do they really not see their biases in their hiring decisions? I don’t think this happens so much with minorities, but do some whites/males just think an all white/male workforce is a coincidence?

      Reply
      1. gwal

        nope, they explicitly do not recognize coincidence.

        just “we hire the most qualified” or “our people are the best”.

        Reply
      2. Jesmlet

        It was an investment management company, I’m sure they think males are better with numbers and that explains it all. They truly don’t realize “these people are just better candidates/cultural fits” really equals “we just like hanging out with other white dudes.”

        Reply
        1. K.

          Yep. If you were to suggest that they reach out to, say, Howard University or other HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities) to do recruiting, they’d probably look at you like you were crazy. I’ve seen that before.

          Reply
          1. KHB

            I think the reply would go, “You want us to hire Black people just because they’re Black? What are you, racist?”

            Reply
          2. gwal

            I once saw this kind of recruiting approach at a state university with a diverse state populace but no local HBCU…smacked of “seeking out-of-state-tuition” with the convenient side effect of diversity…but in the context of workplace recruiting, should definitely happen more!!

            Reply
  14. Just another voice in the echo chamber

    Great answer from AAM. I’m personally thankful that you answered this letter – I’ve been drafting a similar question since I’ve been thinking about it frequently as I re-enter the job market. Thanks!

    Reply
  15. Amber Rose

    Sometimes it’s harder to define. We let go of a guy who was a bad fit, but it wasn’t that he did or didn’t do a particular thing, he just had an aura that made people really uncomfortable. I also felt like the best adjective for him was greasy, even though he never said or did anything specific I could put my finger on. Some co-workers I talked to felt the same.

    He didn’t click with the group and was gone in four months, anyway. And while we may be rather dysfunctional, we are very diverse, so it wasn’t that.

    I hear he’s doing well in his current position so that’s not an objective thing either. He wasn’t right for our group but that doesn’t mean he had some fundamental, career destroying flaw. The point is, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

    Reply
      1. Nicotene

        Usually this means a schmoozer, someone trying to get something they want in an inauthentic way. It’s commonly used to describe salesmen, either used car or snake oil.

        Reply
        1. Amber Rose

          Yes, this. It was like everything he said was an attempt to sell me something, even if he was just saying good morning. It was unsettling.

          Reply
  16. FormerLW

    “Cultural fit” is an important thing in my workplace and it has nothing to do with drinking/socializing culture or race/religion/age. My office has a very particular focus on realistic, actionable results and cutting through b.s. We have a sister office within our larger organization that does similar work, but we are flummoxed in dealing with them. They have a very different culture of big ideas, making connections and meeting with outside organizations to pursue initiatives that are feel-good but impractical, and endless meetings and discussion that go nowhere. We recently hired a new person that would have been a much better fit for our sister organization. From their perspective, we are do-nothing naysayers. From our perspective, they are useless blowhards chasing projects that will ultimately never be implemented.

    Reply
    1. Princess Carolyn

      To me, this is the most legit use of the term “culture” in a professional setting. It’s more about how you work: the types of projects you prioritize, the qualities you value, communication styles, what kind of environment you like, how you handle things like recognition, hierarchy, the dress code… those things vary so much from one office to another.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        And it’s also articulated and fairly specific; the broader it is, the likelier it to be “people not like us but we don’t realize we’re thinking that way.”

        I loved the comment in the article Jubilance pointed to by a college senior: “People … want to have like an awesome black worker but they want one who they feel like fits within a certain box and like very much will conform and like lay low and just kind of do what’s expected of them, and they’re not necessarily looking for the outspoken like political radical person,” a black college senior said. “I feel like race is just one of the many aspects where you try to just like buff the surface smooth … and pretend like there’s nothing sticking out.”

        Reply
      2. Turquoise Cow

        Yes. The best example of poor cultural fit that I’ve experienced is the way that people attack the job. At my old job, my bosses were often throwing us all into crisis mode at the smallest suggestion, and rushing us to finish tasks quickly. Other departments whose work was needed might have worked as quickly, but they didn’t run around worrying about it first.

        One of my coworkers who could be described as not fitting was this sort of person. She would nod along to the urgent pep talk and then proceed to work at her usual comparatively glacial pace, pausing to ask questions about things that were concerns, but could be ignored in the case of a crisis. She also took several explanations to comprehend the task assigned, and would ask valid but unrelated questions. The sense of urgency exhibited was definitely not aligned.

        Reply
        1. paul

          To be fair to your old coworker that department sounds kind of dysfunctional based on your description. If you’re usually in crisis mode that’s a *bad* sign!

          Reply
          1. Turquoise Cow

            It was a little bit of culture and a little bit dysfunctional. Some of the work did require urgency, and some of that urgency was because of upper management changing their minds at the last second, or expecting us to give them the soonest possible turnaround.

            Reply
    2. paul

      Feel good but impractical…..there’s days I think you just described 99% of non profit initiatives, but maybe I’m cynical.

      Reply
    3. UnderpaidinSeattle

      That is very much how “culture fit” works in my current job as well. We’re radically anti-hierarchical for example, so when we had a new employee who only wanted to deal with the people at her “level” in the org chart, that was a real problem with fit. Similarly, we value straight talk and clarity so it’s clear really fast in an interview that someone who fills every sentence with jargon is going to struggle to fit in. The place where talk of culture bothers me though is when companies have a culture but it’s not actually defined or talked about or the culture they advertise isn’t at all how they actually operate. The infamous example from the Netflix culture deck for example of how Enron claimed their culture valued “integrity”. We recently did a lot of work on defining our culture to make hiring easier and it actually is representative of how we operate and has really made a difference in getting people who fit in well. It’s definitely not coded for race or class or anything else.

      Reply
      1. MyFakenameisLaura

        I really love your comment but paused at the final sentence because Seattle is well-known for the kind of defensiveness that has people espousing how XYZ is “definitely not coded for race or class or anything else” when it definitely is -they just don’t realize it because they only know how to see very specific types of overt racism/sexism etc. For example, an acquaintance of mine put together the About Us page for the startup he worked for and felt it really showed how fun the workplace was. But showing pictures of coworkers wearing racist Halloween costumes most definitely tells candidates you’re gonna have a bad time with racist microaggressions promoted as “diversity”.

        Reply
        1. UnderpaidinSeattle

          I completely know what you mean. But in my case I work for a nonprofit doing progressive social justice focused work. We actually have a very diverse staff. In our case, it’s really not. But I wouldn’t assume it isn’t in many other offices.

          Reply
    4. TheTallestOneEver

      Cultural fit is important in my workplace too. We’re a group of dedicated, self driven workers that just get work done with minimal oversight. I recently hired a manager who’d spent his career in an environment where the culture was driven by micromanagement and CYA, which he tried to bring to our group. For example, he’d send his staff an email requesting something, then show up in their cubicle 30 seconds later expecting them to drop everything and produce information that wasn’t critical or time sensitive. His style created two issues. As a micromanager, he was killing team morale. As a performer, he was afraid to make decisions. He was also never able to get things done because I wasn’t standing over his shoulder watching him complete his tasks. In his past job, that’s how his work was prioritized. He was actually having a negative impact on our team.

      He was receptive to feedback and we spent time trying to understand why he thought this was an effective way to manage. We worked through ways for him to feel comfortable that work was getting done without crushing the spirit of his direct reports. We’ve essentially been able to deprogram him from old habits to be a better cultural fit for us. But honestly, if he hadn’t changed, I would’ve been comfortable letting him go to maintain the vibe of our team.

      Reply
      1. Jaguar

        See, this is problem I have with the idea of “cultural fit”: it equivocates on culture so much that it becomes this broad brush to describe almost anything you want, and I think that’s by design. I think the intent of “cultural fit” is to disqualify people for reasons the conscience would argue with if you were being specific. So, if someone is very social and extroverted and your whole workplace is serious introverts, it could be understandable if you don’t want to introduce that to your office. However, if someone is coming from a bad workplace and has picked up bad habits as a result, what ethical person would disqualify a candidate on that basis? Much easier to just say “bad cultural fit.”

        Reply
  17. Temperance

    This word is HUGE in law firms and big corporations. My org is big on cultural fit for interns and summer associates. We’re also hardcore into diversity and promote diverse hiring practices and have a very active Diversity Committee.

    What it means at my org is that you fit in. I’m socially awkward, an open nerd, and I mostly wear pink clothes. I fit in just fine even though I do not fit the attorney stereotype. People who are overly quiet and shy don’t fit in. White dudes who think that they’re better than everyone REALLY do not fit in. We work as a team, and we were founded on a principle of diversity and inclusiveness, so maybe we’re really out there? IDK. Either way, “cultural fit” doesn’t mean white bros being white bros.

    Reply
  18. Uhdrea

    I’ve also seen fit defined as how well you contribute or don’t contribute to a team getting along. I had one coworker who was fired for fit reasons because she would not stop talking when people were on deadlines and it soured relationships until nobody liked her and people were going out of their way to avoid her. She was coached on it several times, but she could not seem to get that people needed her to not talk to them as much as she was.

    Reply
  19. Katie the Fed

    It really is hard to define, and frustrating to find out you’re not a good culture fit. But I can tell you from a manager’s side that I have a really good idea within a couple weeks whether or not someone is going to be successful, and I’m usually pretty spot on. It has a lot to do with the kinds of questions they ask (or don’t ask) – do they know what they SHOULD know, what they should look up, and what they should ask. Do they ask the wrong people the wrong things (like, do you go two levels above me to ask where office supplies are?). Do you monopolize meetings or talk about things as though you’re expert when you’ve been here two weeks?

    It’s hard to put your finger on, but when it’s a bad fit it’s really glaringly obvious.

    Reply
    1. Malibu Stacey

      Yes! Are you the only person at your level checking your phone at meetings? Are you the only person who works with headphones on? Are you in a really collaborative role but seem annoyed when coworkers ask you for your input?

      Reply
      1. Geoffrey B

        FWIW, autistic folk often use headphones to screen out distracting background noise. I work in an open-plan office where people are often talking to one another, which can make it hard for me to focus on my own work.

        Playing soft music on headphones seems like the *least* obnoxious option for dealing with this situation, so it’s concerning to hear that this might flag me as “not a good culture fit”. What should I be doing instead here?

        Reply
        1. Fictional Butt

          I would just keep wearing the headphones, unless someone asks you not to. A bad culture fit is a pattern of behavior– it’s not just one quirk.

          Reply
          1. Geoffrey B

            It’s not just about one quirk, though. Autism *is* a pattern. The headphone thing is a convenient example, but there are plenty of other situations where autism marks me out as different. I’m uncomfortable with eye contact, I hyperfocus on certain subjects, etc. etc.

            If people are willing to put things like that together to form a pattern of “bad culture fit”, even when it’s not impairing my work or anybody else’s, then that’s a problem for me.

            Reply
            1. Zathras

              I think the quirks you want to worry most about are the ones that could be perceived as deliberate violations of the norms you see around you. There’s nothing objectively wrong with wearing headphones if it really doesn’t interfere with your work. But in an office where nobody else is wearing them, a brand new person choosing to just put on headphones without consulting anyone is going to read as either oblivious or arrogant. (Although, this will depend somewhat on your role – the more senior you are, the more capital you have for this kind of stuff up front.)

              Things like eye contact don’t read the same way, that’s more of a mannerism than a deliberate choice. I’m not sure if that difference is easy to spot for you, but maybe a trusted friend could help.

              Reply
              1. Geoffrey B

                Eye contact is a big thing for some people. One of my teachers was so uncomfortable with it that he complained to my parents about it; to him it meant that I didn’t respect him and he couldn’t trust me. I’ve had similar issues with others, even people I considered good friends.

                So I’ve learned to fake eye contact for the sake of other people’s comfort, and similarly with some other aspects of body language. But it’s a tradeoff. If I’m concentrating on simulating neurotypical body language and making feel like I’m paying attention to them, then it’s harder for me to *actually* pay attention to them. So I wish people didn’t make a big deal out of it, and it’s such a relief when I’m dealing with somebody who doesn’t expect it.

                Reply
            2. KellyK

              Yeah, I think when people think about “cultural fit” it’s really important that you not define your culture so that “is neurotypical” is part of that fit. Thank you for bringing that up!

              Reply
        2. Junior Dev

          I don’t necessarily have advice for how to deal at your current job but I sympathize. I have pretty bad anxiety and buying noise cancelling headphones made a radical difference in my ability to focus at work. I’m glad I work in a place where that’s not considered unusual.

          Reply
        3. KellyK

          If you’re the only one who wears headphones, it might be worth checking in with your boss about it, just to verify that it’s not a concern for them. That also lets them know that you’re doing it to concentrate on your work, not being anti-social or shutting out coworkers who might need something from you.

          It’s probably fine. I think most people view working with headphones on as “needs to concentrate” rather than “blowing us off” or “out of touch” *especially* in an open office. Cube farms and open offices are concentration killers, and an awful lot of people need to drown out the conversation to get anything done.

          Reply
          1. Geoffrey B

            FWIW, my workplace is really good about this sort of stuff. (Aside from the open-plan-hot-desking part, anyway.) We have an autism support group, my manager knows I’m autistic and is supportive, and I’ve been here long enough to build relationships. Also, everybody else in my immediate team is located ~ 800 km away, so they wouldn’t know if I came to work in a badger onesie unless somebody mentioned it to them :-)

            But I have had issues in previous positions, not headphones but other autism-related stuff, so I try to encourage people to think about the difference between “this is bad for the organisation” and “this is not what I’m used to”.

            Reply
    2. fposte

      I think this is kind of like the discussions we have about teaching writing–articulating what needs to be done is its own special skill, and even people who know the work is lacking won’t necessarily know how to coach people to fix it.

      I think the good versions of fit generally are something that could be articulated, but it’s rare that an org thinks fit through enough to be explicit about what it means. Which is too bad for both sides, and I think that might be something we could all get better at.

      Reply
      1. Jillociraptor

        That’s a really apt comparison. I think often a big part of “culture fit” is self-awareness and environmental awareness: how willing/able you are to control your behavior and adjust it to the environment around you. Very similar to writing in that regard too: good readers often become good writers because they take in lots of data and then are able to apply it in their own contexts. I suspect that making these connections comes naturally for some folks, and others need to work at it a bit more.

        Reply
    3. Fictional Butt

      I think a bad cultural fit can look similar to the mistakes people make when they first enter the workforce–not understanding how to act in certain situations, not knowing what they don’t know, not picking up the social cues of the workplace, etc. At internships or entry-level jobs, those things get forgiven more because it’s assumed you’re still learning and will get it eventually. But once you’ve been in the workforce for a few years, you’re expected to be able to adapt on your own (or it’s assumed that you are choosing not to adapt).

      Reply
    4. Lison

      I get what you are saying bit would like you to consider that sometimes people coming from a toxic environment have been trained wrong by the disfunction. For me I was an enthusiastic person ready to learn when I started my job but the person I was put in an office with who was defacto my trainer was a person who hated her job and if I asked her anything would roll her eyes and say “I can’t believe you don’t know *thing that either hadn’t been explained or was briefly mentioned at induction*. So I went from being able to ask questions to someone who wasted time (And wandering around buildings looking for locations that any reasonable person would just have given me directions to). Couple this with a supervisor who refused to raise this with her and in fact if there was something he didn’t want to say to her would come to me when she was not there and tell me to pass it on. Yep toxic as all that. But my point is if I’d moved on to a new job after a year and a half I’d be exhibiting behaviours that were not who I am but how I’d learned to minimise the bad reactions. As it is she left and the supervisor left and I got to get back to being me, but had I got a new job before she did people at new job would have thought I was someone I’m not just while I was trying to reset my brain.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Sometimes companies have no idea how bad a job their trainer is doing. The place becomes a hot mess because no one knows what they are supposed to be doing.

        Reply
    5. Super Anon for This

      See, to me your examples, and all the others here of “culture fit” just sound like “can you do your job?” and “can you get along with people? aka don’t be a jerk”.

      Reply
  20. Widgeon

    I work in an organization with a very strong inclusive cultural-fit motto. In the interview, you’re told that you’ll be working with a number of ESL speakers, there is a faith room for mid-day prayers (it says multi-faith but it’s obviously for the Salat) and openly-LGBT staff: “If that is a problem for you, then this may not be the best fit”. Funny enough, many staff will not entirely agree with each other’s way of being yet they know to keep their mouth shut and never let it influence how they perform their job with other staff.

    Reply
  21. Ferris

    Honestly, it’s probably most likely in this case that your manager didn’t have the backbone to give you real feedback and there was some other reason they wanted to let you go. Could be some performance issue, could be downsizing, … I wouldn’t worry about it.

    Reply
    1. Government Worker

      Or it was a case like Katie the Fed describes above, where a bunch of little things make the manager think that this employee just isn’t going to be successful, or would take an inordinate amount of coaching and feedback to get there. A manager may feel it’s easier for everyone to offer a vague “fit” explanation and let the person go than to put someone who’s only been there a couple of months on a performance plan that has little chance of turning the person into a stellar employee.

      In OP’s case, I’m reminded of some people I’ve worked with who execute the tasks they’re given just fine, but they don’t seem curious about how all the components of the work fit together and they don’t seem to have the perspective necessary to understand what comes next. A lot of jobs need someone who’s able to see the big picture and be proactive about issues that may crop up. That could easily be described to someone as “initiative” when giving feedback, but it’s incredibly hard to coach.

      Reply
      1. Turquoise Cow

        That’s a good one, too. Someone who doesn’t seem to see the big picture or won’t take initiative to do thing they’re not directly assigned might be a bad cultural fit in a place where people are very aggressively ambitious. They also might not halt potential issues before they happen, causing constant clean up after the fact. And it’s definitely not something you can teach someone. Some of that is experience and some of it is, if they’re not seeing certain patterns when they’re pointed out, they’re not going to.

        Reply
  22. Shadow

    Fit is the ability to assimilate into the role, the team’s personality, your managers management style, the practices, the expectations, the values, that allows you bring something to the table that’s needed while giving you the opportunity to add value to your ksa’s as they relate you where you want to go in your career.

    Or its just code for I like/don’t like you

    Reply
  23. (Mr.) Cajun2core

    One example here. “Cultural fit” can mean “we like yes people”. I am not a “yes person” so I did not fit in with that job. If people ask my opinion, I give it. If someone is doing something and I think there is a better way to do it, I will speak up. If I believe something is against policy or illegal, I will question it. Not everyplace wants someone like that.
    Though I don’t think that this was the case in the LW’s case based upon what I read.

    More specific example, if you are going to be working primarily with/for faculty at a university, you pretty much have to be a “yes person”.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I think it’s more complicated than that; in general, support staff has less latitude for “no,” and most non-faculty at universities can be broadly construed as support. But I also don’t agree with your overall characterization–people say no around my university department all the time, and in fact some of our most powerful staffers knew both how to get around a higher no and how to give a no to higher-ups.

      Reply
      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core

        I wish I could work at your department. Maybe I was being a bit over-generalizing but I can say that at the university I work for, staff are second class citizens, unless you are pretty high up in administration.

        Reply
  24. TCO

    My job isn’t a good cultural fit for me, despite my best attempts to screen for that. It’s obvious to me and those around me that I won’t be here forever because the work style is just challenging and unenjoyable for me to comply with. There are so many aspects of culture, but here are some areas in which culture really influences my feelings about my work:

    – How are decisions made and who has the authority to make them? Are decisions made quickly or slowly? What ‘level’ of position is authorized to make decisions independently? On what criteria are decisions evaluated?
    – What’s the pace of work? When things get stressful and a worker gets overwhelmed, what happens (overtime, quiet drowning, manager intervenes to lighten the load, deadlines get moved, etc.)?
    – Do people learn and grow within their job title? Do they take on new tasks, and if so, how high or far outside of their normal realm are they permitted to go? How do people work together within and across teams?
    – Does the team have the resources (staff, training, funds) to do everything they’d like to do? If not, how does that scarcity affect the team’s outcomes, morale, growth, etc.?
    – What’s the expectation around quality vs. quantity of work produced? Does perfection matter, and how is ‘quality’ defined?

    The upside of the struggle is that I’ve still had some good accomplishments in my years here, I’ve learned some great skills about working with people whose style is very different from mine, and I’ll be even better at spotting culture mismatches the next time around.

    Reply
    1. TCO

      I should note, too, that my workplace cares a lot about its culture but really struggles with diversity. Anyone (like me) coming in with a different work style and personality type struggles enough, and I can’t imagine that a culture like that would be easy for someone with visible differences (we are diverse in terms of age, but not gender, race, cultural background/upbringing, sexual or gender identity…). Conformity is valued, even when we claim it’s not.

      My office tends to hire people into my team who are so similar (professional background, age, gender, appearance, demeanor) that some of our clients literally can’t tell us apart.

      Reply
        1. TCO

          I don’t plan to for much longer. The workplace has its perks including some great coworkers, but it’s not perfect, and the imperfections are ones that happen to be really challenging for me. Not everyone’s deal-breakers are the same and I can see why this workplace works well for some people even though it doesn’t for me.

          Reply
          1. Shadow

            Most reasonable people understand diversity needs to improve but it’s interesting to hear affects how much you’re willing to sacrifice for it and whether your race affects that

            Reply
    2. Pickfair

      This list is so helpful. I’m looking to possibly move on from my first career-oriented job (where I fit in really well) and am pretty worried about deciding to move to a workplace I’m not going to be happy at just due to lack of experience to compare it to. This really helps coalesce those kind of intangible things to try to look for in a new company.

      Reply
    3. Sunshine on a cloudy day

      Oh wow – I’m copying this list of questions to save for future interviews. This is SO helpful.

      Reply
  25. Malibu Stacey

    The most glaring example of “bad fit” I can think of is my former coworker. Let’s say we were both admin assistants at a car dealership supporting the salespeople. After her hire, her husband decided that our cars were a great deal and he wanted to trade in all of the family vehicles for ours. She tells me her husband is coming in to do the trade-in with one of our sales guys. I say, “Oh, I can cover for you while you & your husband meet with Pat [one of the sales people]” & she said it was unnecessary, she wasn’t sitting in on the meeting. Her: “I think cars are boring.” Me: “Why do you work here??”

    Reply
    1. Callalily

      That was so me.

      I got a bookkeeping job at a motorized sporting vehicle store. EVERYONE there loved going boating or biking and I hated it. I wouldn’t go to any company events and took no interest in what we sold. It eventually got to the point I was purposefully excluded from regular company events because I was the odd one out. Then some of my coworkers turned on me and made life difficult because they didn’t like me.

      I imagine if would’ve been vastly different if I was actually interested in the same thing that everyone else was… but ultimately we all need a job and you can’t just pick where you work based on your personal preferences.

      Reply
      1. Malibu Stacey

        I think there’s a difference between not showing interest and openly saying you dislike it, though. Especially because since our roles were customer-facing.

        Reply
        1. Zathras

          Yeah, you do need some minimal ability to engage with customers who *are* really interested in your product. Some people can manage that without actually sharing the interest, but it’s easier if you genuinely do think cars (or whatever) are interesting.

          Reply
  26. Mazzy

    It can mean that if you make a mistake, there will be a punishment or write up, or there will be an encouraging talking to. It can mean that there is structure over who makes decisions, or it can mean that anyone can rattle off any sort of decision. It can mean lots of emails, or no emails and lots of in person contact. It can mean an adherence to traditional office norms – such as attendance and wearing earphones – or not. It can mean the environment is sort of egalitarian or hierarchy is respected (having this now as a problem now because my employer is trying to treat everyone the same by taking all of our feedback with the same weight, even though some people have alot more experience and technical expertise and their input should weigh more).

    Reply
  27. Teach

    How would a new hire (me) best go about being a good fit once hired? Moving from a small, dis functional org to a large, successful one. I am very skilled and knowledgable, just nervous about being the newbie.

    Reply
    1. Jaguar

      Try to do like the Romans do. If the company makes a point of talking about cultural fit, I would take it as a signal that they want you to act similarly to how everyone else does. If they don’t seem to make a point of “fit,” I wouldn’t spend any serious time thinking about it or trying to address it.

      One note is that companies often have “core values” which can sound like office culture but isn’t the same thing. So if you don’t hear “fit” at all but you hear core values, assume there’s no fit.

      Reply
      1. Jaguar

        Just to be clear, since the other replies have focused heavily on the “try to fit in,” I would emphasize that my point is more:

        1) Try to avoid doing anything ostentatious.
        2) Only make a deliberate and concerted effort to “fit” if it’s clear that’s what is expected in the workplace. In many (most?) cases, it isn’t. Don’t make this a thing that worries you if you don’t need to.

        Reply
    2. Turquoise Cow

      I think that if you’re trying to fit in, then you look at the things your coworkers are doing and try to mimic that. Do they come in early and/or stay late, or leave on the dot? Do they focus on work, or have lots of personal conversations? Do they dress casually, or all in suits? How do they respond to emergencies? Is there an emergency every day? Do people seem laid back?

      If you don’t do anything remarkably different, I think the fit is a match.

      Reply
    3. Fictional Butt

      I’m training someone right now, and I think she has done a great job of trying to fit in with our culture. She’s asked a lot of questions about how the organization works, what her priorities should be, how her role interacts with other roles in the organization, etc. She’s also proactively asked about some social stuff, like where people eat lunch. That shows that she’s mindful of the fact that she’s coming into an established culture and is proactively taking responsibility for educating herself about it, instead of just learning by making mistakes. (Learning by mistakes is necessary, but it’s good to avoid it when possible!)

      Reply
      1. Fictional Butt

        To be more specific: she’s asking questions like:
        “How long does it usually take to complete a project?”
        “Who else in the company uses this software? Can I use them as a resource when I have questions?”
        “If I need information from [person], what’s the best way to go about asking them? Should I send an email or call? Should I set up a face-to-face meeting or will that be unnecessary?”
        “Can you tell me a little bit about how the department’s projects are prioritized?”

        So these are normal work questions, but I think a lot of people (…or just me) would not really think to ask them and would just go with the flow, or would only think to ask when it came up (not during training). They’re also things that I didn’t really think to include in training, so it’s really good that she is asking and not just trial-and-erroring.

        Reply
        1. CMart

          After an internship experience where people HATED being dropped in on, but didn’t find IMs to be too informal and I didn’t figure this out until I only had two weeks left, I was very mindful of the differences in “hey, quick question/favor” style of communication.

          I’m three months into my first professional job and I still can’t for the life of me suss out what’s what here. I point-blank asked my manager about the preferred method of communication for these sorts of small tasks and she seemed bewildered. After some thought she told me what *she* preferred to do (walk over to someone’s desk and ask) but had no insight into “the right way” to do things.

          Reply
    4. MuseumChick

      Observe those around you. Do most people take exactly a one hour lunch away from their desks? Or are desk-eaters more common? Do most people show up early? Leave late? If there is no, or a very vague dress code, what are most people wearing: Casual, business casual, full suite and tie?

      There is a great documentary called The September Issue, it’s about the woman who runs Vogue, she has an either daily or weekly (cannot remember) group meeting with a various representative from different departments. It never lasts longer than 15 minutes because she get’s to the point. In this kind of culture, a long-winded talker who dominates meetings is not going to last, while someone who is good at being concise with fit well.

      So, observe, and as Jaguar said, do as the Romans do.

      Reply
    5. Not So NewReader

      Until you know who is who, copy what you see most of the people around you doing. After a bit you will figure out who is role modeling good professionalism and you can watch them for closer tips.

      Read everything they give you.

      Plan on getting extra rest for at least a week or two. New jobs can be draining, as we have to have our ON switches on all the time. Things will feel more like normal shortly, so extra rest until then will help you stay on your toes.

      Reply
    6. Chinook

      I would also recommend that, after following the advice of doing what everyone else is doing, checking with your gut to see a) if you are comfortable with what/how they are doing it and b) if you aren’t, asking yourself if that is a hill you are willing to die on/willing to spend what little political capital you have as a newbie (and if it is, be willing to ask why it is happening before raising a stink about it)

      I say this because sometimes “the Romans” (even in the most successful orgs) do/say things that may make you uncomfortable and you need to know for yourself if you are willing to go along with it for the sake of having a job. Everyone’s line is different and it will shift with age and experience. Being willing to fit in does not mean you have to accept jerk behavior.

      Reply
  28. DCompliance

    In my experience, I have heard this happening more to people in entry level jobs in small businesses. I have heard of people in law offices or small research companies being let go for not being a good fit. I don’t often hear about this happening in larger corporations. Not sure if this means anything…

    Reply
    1. JulieBulie

      It sometimes takes longer in a larger corporate setting simply because there is a more formalized process in place, but it does happen.

      Sometimes at a big company, the “bad fits” are tolerated (with eyerolls) until the next “big layoff,” and then the “bad fits” are purged en masse.

      Reply
  29. Tammy

    My current company is pretty (unusually, in my experience) explicit about what we mean when we say “culture fit”. We publish our core values on our website/walls/etc. and we actually do a pretty good job of living those values as a company. So when we say “good culture fit”, we mean “resonates with and aligns with those core values”. Tangible example: One of the teams I was on interviewed a guy who came across as hugely arrogant and had an “I’m the superstar, and everyone should just stay out of my way and bask in my awesomeness.” We ended up not hiring him in part because of concerns about how that attitude would fare in a culture that places a premium on teamwork and humility.

    On the other hand, I also have spent most of my career in IT/Engineering/Development at software and tech companies, and “not a good culture fit” too often means “not a 20 something Stanford white cisgender heterosexual male dudebro”, so the fact that my current company does well here doesn’t mean I don’t cringe when I hear the words. I am a white woman, but I don’t fit into ANY of the other boxes in that definition, and I’ve had a number of pretty terrible experiences in my career because of it.

    Reply
    1. The social one

      I currently work for a similar company, though they say one thing about their culture and valued but in reality are a totally different way. I am 4 months into my 6 month probation and I realised pretty quickly I was not a good cultural fit for this company. For starters I have a life outside work, like a proper one. I’m an elite athlete (think Olympic standard) and was very upfront about my training commitments during the hiring process. My training sessions are before and after work hours so working regular hours isn’t a massive issue. One of the directors of the company bragged in my final interview before being offered the job that they prided themselves on being a supportive and flexible environment. When I started the job I accepted that for a couple of months I would need to work whatever hours my direct manager worked. This was 8.30 – 5pm with 1 hour for lunch, these aren’t ideal hours for me as I’m more a morning person and still have a training session after work but I was happy to work with it for a bit until I have the hang of things am more independent. Fast forward 3 months and I’ve easily picked up the database so am in charge of generating the overnight results from the surveys (we do social research) and then printing them for the account managers and the directors to have their daily meeting. They like to have said meeting at 8.45, but it takes 20 minutes to run the database and then generate the reports and then print. So I offer to start at 8am so that everything is ready to go by the meeting time and so I can finish earlier and train with my squad and by myself as the afternoon session starts at 5pm. My manager and the director I work under agree that me starting earlier would help them be so much more organised and stay on track in the morning. So I start the next day at 8am and everything is printed and everyone is happy. Right up until I go to leave at 4.30 – since I started 30minutes earlier it’s not unreasonable to think because I’m only paid for 7.5 hours work as per my contract that I would expect to finish at 4.30 right? No apparently when it was assumed that I was happily offering to come in and work for free everyday because apparently my manager generally leaves the office around 7pm. Well I’m not happy to work for free, so the next day I go back to the normal hours and everyone is unhappy. The directors decided to make a special allowance for me to start earlier and finish earlier – which they like to remind me of at every chance they get. You know that the funniest thing is? Our area of speciality in social research is organisational culture and since I’ve worked there 4 people have resigned and have not been replaced leaving one department down to one person.

      Reply
  30. Bolt

    I’ll never forget the time my manager gave a reference of ‘it just wasn’t a good fit’ for our fired coworker Jane.

    Jane apparently needed a workplace where it was acceptable to steal client’s money; we were not such a workplace – hence why it was ‘not a good fit’.

    Reply
    1. The Supreme Troll

      And the right answer would NOT be “not the right/good fit”. It would be that, under the circumstances that you are very well aware of, I cannot give you a positive reference, Jane. You are not eligible for rehire, and it would be in your best interest not to put my name down as a reference.

      Reply
  31. MG

    Honestly, I left a previous job mostly because of what I would call “culture fit.” It was a grassroots-style nonprofit – casual but hardworking – until a new director came in, who was making a career change from a more professional/stuffy industry. He changed all the things you might call “culture” to suit his preference – more formal dress code and interior decorating, no more flex scheduling, etc… But the real issue was that what may have seemed like just an aesthetic shift actually led to what I felt was a big shift in the tone of the organization as a whole, and how we interacted with others. We worked almost exclusively with other grassroots orgs, and it went from feeling like we were teammates and collaborators to feeling like we were “above” them in some way because we were so much more formal. Like they were being called into the principal’s office or something, when they came in to meet with us and they were all in jeans while we were wearing suits.

    I hated it, and was ready to leave within just a few months of working with him, though it took me a bit longer to actually find a new job and move on.

    So, I don’t know, maybe that’s more of an anecdote. But I’m not sure how obvious my dissatisfaction was. If I had stayed there longer, it’s entirely possible that I may have been let go for “culture fit” and I would have kind of understood.

    Reply
    1. Queen of the File

      For me, these anecdotes are helpful in figuring out what ‘fit’ can mean. I never thought about one’s fit changing based on a change in leadership but of course now that I’ve read this I suppose it happens all the time.

      Reply
    2. Cedrus Libani

      I heard of a small chemistry company that hired a new executive from a finance background. He was outraged that his employees were not dressed like professionals, and strictly enforced a dress code that included shirts and ties for all male employees. In a chemistry lab, wearing a tie is a death wish; there are lots of spinning machines for it to get stuck in. So rather than risk their literal necks for this guy’s vanity, everyone quit, and the company folded.

      Reply
      1. MG

        That’s a great example. There can be really tangible reasons for not having a formal dress code, like physical dangers! And then there can be the more nebulous ones like the “optics” (I know that word was discussed at length in the jargon post recently, ha!) of only one or two people wearing suits in what’s supposed to be a collaborative group.

        A “more professional” culture isn’t always better! And that’s why “culture fit” can be a good consideration in some cases, not just a euphemism for filtering out “others.”* In fact, the office I left because of “culture fit” was the most diverse place I’ve ever worked, and I’ve missed that in other companies.

        (*Though I agree that it’s a HUGE concern when people use it that way.)

        Reply
  32. Queen of the File

    This is a really interesting post. The possibilities for “fit” seem almost endless to me. One office’s proactive is another office’s disrespectful; one office’s easy-going is another office’s unprofessional. Competitiveness can be an energizing or disruptive thing depending on the team dynamic.

    I was let go once for not being a good fit for a job. Part of my job was reception, and I think my socially awkward attempt at “friendly” came off as a bit odd-ball. I also really, really needed the money but was very bored and I’m sure it showed. These were issues that would have been really hard for either the employer or I to fix without completely redefining the role.

    When they let me go, there was nothing specific they could point to to say “you did not do x or you did x when you shouldn’t have”, it’s just that we both recognized a different kind of person would be much better at the job than I was. It reminds me of ending a romantic relationship where nothing specifically was “wrong” but the relationship just feels like way more effort than it should.

    Reply
  33. Lora

    To some extent it’s management’s job to teach culture fit – they’re the ones who set the culture and communicate it, it’s their obligation to communicate the cultural expectations. If they can’t do that, well…

    One of the dudes I work with complains that some people can’t be promoted because they don’t have “leadership,” by which he means they aren’t particularly outgoing or assertive in the face of someone shouting at them. Turns out those people are indeed extremely competent, but it’s his mismanagement that makes them doubt themselves and retreat from discussions, because they don’t get anything but shouting when they try to contribute ideas so why bother. And that’s a culture fit thing.

    That said, lazy managers hate diversity because it’s harder to manage. You can’t run on autopilot nearly as much, you really have to take your time to consider people as individuals in a way that you don’t have to do when everyone is a clone of everyone else. You have to change gears for the one who will come tell you right away when something goes pear-shaped, the one who is quiet and tries to handle things himself too long before asking for help, the one who thinks she knows everything until it gets her in trouble, the one who wants more responsibility, the one who wants more training. You also have to shuffle people around to see what they are good at and make sure they aren’t getting pigeonholed, which means more training and career development that has to be planned and worked around. You have to really, really follow up on what kind of opportunities people are getting to make sure they are getting a fair shot. You have to be a GREAT listener and super-approachable, you have to earn and keep their trust. None of that is trivial.

    Reply
    1. paul

      I think that’s a pretty good take, *particularly* where he talks about it being easier to go out and actively recruit various people because it doesn’t involve a huge rework of your culture if you keep it more purely business.

      Reply
    2. Subsriba

      Wow, this puts into words something I’ve been mulling over for a few months. Thank you for this, will be sharing!

      Reply
  34. Annie

    Thank you for this post! Having been let go in part because I “didn’t fit in,” it’s helpful to hear someone break down what that could mean. It’s also an incredibly frustrating thing to hear because it sounds a bit like the mean girls’ club.

    Reply
  35. JC Denton

    Culture fit is such a weird thing. At my current employer, they frame it to have someone who “thrives in ambiguity.” Read: someone who won’t get frustrated and quit at the dysfunction. They also want someone who’s “uncomfortably excited to tackle the unknown.” I have to wonder where these people go to get some of these buzz words. The last time I went looking for the Well of Corp Speak, I got lost in The Sands of Reality.

    I prefer to hire people who can do the job, do it well, and tend not to piss off the existing staff.

    Reply
    1. Annie

      “They also want someone who’s “uncomfortably excited to tackle the unknown.””

      Indiana Jones??

      Reply
  36. Huddled over tea

    I know this varies hugely from industry to industry and job to job, but I also wanted to pick up on the other part of OP’s post – you can definitely tell if someone’s right in that amount of time.

    I’ve been in my new job for just over four months now and both the cultural fit and the work has been a fantastic match. Which means that I’ve been working my best, but also that I hit the ground running and have good relationships with a lot of people (I interact with almost every other department in the business). I expressed my interest in four projects and joined working groups for all of them, one of which I’m now leading a really critical part of.

    Obviously, this might be completely different for OP’s industry, but if at four months in, I still considered myself to be ‘in training’ and I was relying on people to give me work… I would not have passed my probation.

    Reply
  37. Audiophile

    I guess I must have imagined that I commented in this post.

    Anyway, I’ve had about 2-3 jobs end “fit” issues and I’m not 100% convinced that those fit issues rest squarely on my shoulders.

    In the first instance, I was barely in the role a month, hadn’t been properly trained, and was suddenly told I wasn’t a good fit. I was already having “buyer’s remorse” very quickly after accepting the role.

    The last two roles I has, which were similar to the first role, in both cases I didn’t have a direct supervisor and this has an impact on not only reporting structure but also training as well.

    Fit can be such a vague term that without some concrete examples of how the employee is a poor fit, I think it often becomes the catch-all phrase.

    Reply
  38. BananaPants

    Most of the time I hear about “not a culture fit”, it’s code for “this person is not like me/us”, in a discriminatory sense.

    That said, I have a coworker who after nearly 2 years just isn’t fitting into the culture AT ALL. It’s not entirely his fault; the job description stated and the hiring manager led him to believe that as an experienced individual contributor, he’d have leeway to run his own projects, would have some budget discretion, would be given the tools and equipment that he said he’d need to do the job, etc. Now, those of us who have been around for a while know that there was NO WAY that would happen, but in the hiring process this guy didn’t know any better.

    He complains all the time that our senior management won’t let him do what he was hired to do. He keeps saying very loudly, “At OldCompany, I could do this!” – which only enrages senior leaders who point out that he isn’t working for OldCompany anymore. He implies that our suppliers are stupid or willfully misleading (note: he’s not WRONG, but isn’t in a role where he can tell them to cut out the crap or we’ll walk). Literally all of our other senior individual contributors have been with the company for 20, 30, 40 years and have political capitol that they can throw around; he doesn’t, but tries to anyways and it keeps blowing up. Senior management has him working from home 90% of the time to keep him away from our abrasive, micromanaging boss and to keep him from sticking his foot in his mouth in major meetings.

    I’ll be shocked if he lasts another year – he won’t be let go, he’ll quit in disgust. I get why he’s frustrated, since our boss basically lured him here (halfway across the country) with a promised job that ended up being very different and with much less autonomy than he expected and was used to. But kicking against the pricks is only making things worse.

    Reply
  39. Delta Delta

    I once worked somewhere with a fellow who was probably nice and maybe he was smart. But he was SO WEIRD. An outside vendor was at the workplace once and came over to my colleague and me and said, “what’s with the new guy? Is he an alien? He’s so weird.” Unfortunately, the utter weirdness of this guy caused colleagues to exclude him from group lunches and other activities. I felt badly for him, but he just plain didn’t fit in. So, you know, sometimes it’s bro culture, and sometimes someone just doesn’t fit in.

    Reply
  40. Jbelly

    Two comments: at old job, my office mate put in her 8 hours and did what was asked. Everyone liked her. But the culture called for initiative and taking on tasks without being asked. Clients found her lacking.

    At new job, most offices’ senior managers are white (multiple positions in each office), but a few offices have only black senior managers. With two exceptions out of 25, where the senior managers in each program come from different racial or ethnic backgrounds, senior management is either all white or all black.

    Reply
  41. Clairels

    Did the original OP’s letter even mention the phrase “culture fit?” The headline says “culture,” but unless I’m missing something, the letter does not. She’s just asking about “fit” in general, and that could refer to any number of work-related issues. To me, that makes this more complex than just an issue of “culture,” or the manager wanting “brogrammers” or something–if that were the case, why would they have bothered hiring her to begin with? Nor does she mention her own or anyone else’s race or gender (I’m using “she” because that’s the convention here). Not saying this isn’t an issue elsewhere, but it just seems unlikely to be the case in this letter.

    Also, it seems unfair to criticize the OP for not doing her due diligence beforehand. In this situation, I don’t really understand what she could have asked beforehand, as Allison recommends, to figure out whether this position was right for her. She’s writing because she was blindsided. She didn’t KNOW anything was wrong. And they gave her a nonsensical answer when she asked. What initiatives could she possibly have enacted after four months of training? I don’t have a good answer for the OP, but I sympathize with her frustration. Everybody (including Allison) talks about “fit” (and sometimes “match”) all the time, and most of the time it seems like a euphemism for something nebulous managers can’t or don’t want to put their fingers on.

    Reply
  42. RebeccaNoraBunch

    I had this happen not to me directly but to a friend of mine who I tried to refer to my current company. One of the departments in my company (not the one I work in) is notorious for only hiring young, white, blonde women. It’s seriously so common that we’ve been called out on it on Glassdoor several times. A couple of years ago, I tried to refer a friend of mine, a brunette woman in her early 40s who had a decade of relevant experience, for a position in that department and she got turned down. We never talked specifics but it’s so glaringly obvious as to why.

    Then last year I referred a 25-year-old to my current department and she got hired. She’s doing well but she’s very green and requires a lot of attention from her manager. She really tries and fits in well with her team, so that’s great, but I’m still sad for my other friend. Cultural fit, folks, it’s a bugger. I’m terrified because I’m in my mid-30s and work in tech…thankfully I look younger and I purposefully leave my graduation dates off my LinkedIn. (And I’m very aware that I have an advantage because I’m not a minority!)

    Reply
  43. Jady

    I’ve done a handful of interviewing. Everyone relevant interviews and then we talk and vote on the candidate. Every applicant I voted no for had one of two problems for me: lying on their resume, or bad cultural fit.

    Lying on the resume is obvious, you say you have X skill, and then we ask you about that skill and discover you don’t know anything about it.

    Cultural fit means in our environment:

    Are you flexible / adaptable?
    Can you work without specific elements that the job would usually expect?
    Can you change directions on a dime?
    Can you work well under pressure to meet deliverable?
    Are you comfortable pushing back on coworkers and managers?
    Can you work independently as well as with groups?
    Can you handle responsibilities outside of the typical job description for this job?
    Are you okay with having to do X instead of Y for long periods of time?

    In my field, there are typically two extremes. People who can do anything and handle pressure well, or people who have done nothing but work in large, organized and structured environments that follow procedures to the letter.

    We had to be convinced they were the first kind, because the second kind tends to drown here. I voted yes on one poor man who was the second type. He would leave work sweating and shaking some days, was having trouble sleeping, etc. I felt so awful for that guy, he was a really good co-worker, but just couldn’t handle the environment.

    Reply
  44. The Supreme Troll

    The phrase “not a good fit” is one that I will never stop loathing, despising, and detesting.

    Reply
  45. emma2

    What’s really fishy about the letter writer’s story is that the company didn’t seem to go into detail as to why they got fired and what, specifically, didn’t make them a good “fit”. I do think there is a right way to use “fit”, but you have to be able to define it. Otherwise it sounds like you’re grasping at straws.

    Reply
  46. HR Bee

    I have seen “bad fit” result from:
    ~ Being hired for expertise in certain areas that weren’t what was ACTUALLY necessary in the position (that was on the hiring managers, and boy did it mess things up.)
    ~ Not having the same sense of humor as the majority of the department, or at least be able to play along with and participate in the good-natured ribbing,
    ~ Being able to do the basic functions of the job, but not thrive within the job duties, and resenting several aspects of the job, and
    ~ Not being the same race/age/culture as the person who decided the fit was bad.

    It really could be ANYTHING. There have been times when I recognized that I am not a perfect fit for the culture (right now, for example!) or that someone else isn’t. There have also been times when a hiring manager has told me to my face that the qualified, articulate and personable candidate we just interviewed wouldn’t be a good “culture fit” because of how she dressed and spoke, which meant “she’s black but I don’t want to say that,” or maybe even “she’s black but I don’t recognize that this ‘off’ feeling I’m getting is internalized subconscious racism.”

    Sometimes “culture fit” is an actual thing which should be screened for so that you find someone who won’t rage-quit on you after thirty days. Sometimes, though, it’s an excuse.

    Reply

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