Another blind date. It started with a call from a recruiter. One of my former employers gave me name to colleague who was looking for a department head with women’s health experience. And like match.com (at least, how I imagine Match.com to be), we started the engagement with questionnaires, phone conversations and even a video chat.
And then off on that first date in a Pumpkin Coach. No! Wait! I am getting carried away. Off and away, but in coach class for a day chockablock with interviews, at least 6. Some sessions more formal, some less so, pleasant lunch, etc, etc, etc. And at the end of the day, from an aggregation of subtle and not so subtle cues, you intuit, you feel, you know, that it isn’t going to work.
Ultimately, the call comes from the head hunter. They like you. You have the perfect background, the contacts, the experience. Blah blah blah. And then something you were totally unprepared to hear: “They are not sure if you are a good cultural fit.”
“Cultural fit?” What does that mean? Does everyone at this company need to speak Portuguese? Does everyone need to be Mormon or Greek Orthodox or Catholic? Does everyone need to know the secret handshake? Well, sort of. And in some ways, this highly subjective requirement, which verges on the edge of discrimination, is like pornography – you know it when you see it.
You just feel it. I was more puzzled than stunned when I heard this repudiation. I was perfectly, painfully, pointedly aware that I had little rapport with the two most senior people I met. I already knew there was no “love connection.” But usually a rejection comes with a reasoned disclaimer: they have a better candidate, with better skills, better credentials, better experience. One I have heard a lot recently is “local candidates are getting preference.” That means the company does not want to pay for relocation, and has a candidate with “better geography.” (Come to think of it, match.com does geographic profiling, too.)
Alan Henry writing on Hackerlife.com:
A job is more than just a place you go and a thing you do for 8+ hours a day—you also have to deal with coworkers, bosses, office politics, and a top-down corporate culture that we too often forget about until it rubs us the wrong way. If you don’t thrive in that culture, the job can get toxic pretty quickly. Here’s how you can tell what a company’s internal culture is like before you apply, or before you take the job and it’s too late.
We’ve talked about how cultural fit can even trump skills from an interviewer’s perspective, and how important it is to make sure you take culture into account before accepting a job offer.
Most of us spend close to 50 hours a week at work. Some companies have a very hands-off approach to corporate culture and do little or nothing to encourage their employees professional relationships. Others are really aggressive and offer all the perks you’ve come to know and love from startups and Silicon Valley tech companies: free snack, social events, mixers, weekend retreats, family barbecues, things like that.
Some people love those things, some people hate them. The worst thing that can happen is for you to be someone who hates them stuck in a company that essentially requires them to get ahead. I used to work at a company where the only way to get promoted (unofficially, of course) was to make sure you went away on the weekend rocks-and-ropes retreats as often as possible. If you didn’t, you’d certainly be overlooked because you were interested in “leadership training.” Many of us looked at it a different way: we were more interested in working to live, not living to work. With luck and a little research, you won’t have to get stuck in that position in the first place. Here’s how you can learn from my mistake.
Hacker.com advises poking around the company’s website to see their values, by looking at bios, work life stories and such. Check out the company on Glassdoor or Salary.com to get some idea of the demands and rewards inherent in working for this company. Check profiles of prospective interviewers on Facebook or LinkedIn, getting to know them before they meet you. I love sneaking a peek at Cafepharma boards, to read the rants and raves about past, present and future employers. The exchanges on these boards are brutal, funny, obscene, and occasionally informative. Some boards are better than watching a sit com on TV! The material could be lifted straight off the page and put right into a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Pippa Holland, writing at firebrandtalent.com, advises working on your soft skills, skills that cushion you from bumping up against a cultural blockade.
“Soft skills are the things like emotional intelligence, attitude, communication skills, time management, and proactivity. These skills are the ones that make you a good employee, not just a skill set. Wikipedia defines them as “Personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which are about a person’s skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with co-workers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.”
She offers recommendations on how to present yourself, how to evidence a work ethic, how to demonstrate that you are a team player, and how to assure your prospective employer that you are reliable.
True confessions…. This recent rejection was not the first time, since entering industry, that I have been told that I don’t fit in. Actually, as a confirmed, unrepentant geek, there are a lot of places I don’t fit. But out there somewhere, in a land not far away, there is that perfect job, that perfect place, where I will be free to be me… and get paid for it.