An Introduction to Cultural-Fit Interviews
Just like behavioral interviews, the cultural-fit interview is another fundamental building block of the interviewing and recruiting process.
Agnostic of both industry and function, the cultural-fit interview is one that will follow you regardless of which company and job you apply to. You must prepare for it, and in today's guide we will be covering some best practices, tips, and tricks for doing so.
In the cultural fit interview, interviewers are trying to learn three things:
Do you embody the firm’s ‘culture’ (its values, mission, principles)?
Are you pleasant to work with, and will others feel the same?
Would you fit in with your team and the wider organization?
In a nutshell: the key to success in a cultural interview is all about authenticity.
Again, like with behavioral interviews, there aren’t [necessarily] wrong answers.
But cultural fit interviews are really, really tricky. They’re incredibly susceptible to bias (re: interviewers are more likely to favor candidates who resemble them physically, interpersonally, academically, professionally, etc.), and one interview won’t be close to encapsulating the richness of your character, nor will it truly represent your ultimate ‘fit’ in the wider organization and company.
My honest advice is to be true to yourself, and to answer cultural-fit interview questions using your own voice and beliefs. I would not adjust or alter your principles and values just to appease the interviewer and company.
First, more often than not, interviewers tend to really respect candidates who are authentic and keep it candid.
Second, even if they want to hear something different, would you want to work in a firm and a team that so unashamedly wants you to change who you are?
In the long run, you will grow dissatisfied with the firm and position, and you’ll begin counting the days when you get to leave the firm and join something better. If you already get this feeling from an interview and from their company culture, the best thing you can do for yourself is jump ship and find the next best thing.
Obviously, however, I more than understand that this is a luxury the COVID-19 - and likely post COVID-19 - economy wholly lacks. My advice for you is to understand your priorities. Is getting a job your number one priority? And are you willing to bend your values to join a firm that will compensate you fairly for your work? Or is your goal to join a firm that truly resonates with your beliefs, and you are willing to sacrifice short-term employment for long-term fulfillment?
Both are equally valid; nobody can tell you otherwise. The most important thing, however, is to know what you want and why. Once you’ve determined your goals and priorities, the path becomes a bit more clear.
Regardless of which path you take, however, you can always benefit from the following best practices you can deploy to kill ‘cultural-fit’ interview questions.
Types of ‘cultural-fit’ interview questions
Why our firm? Why this job? Why this particular team?
Why you? Be specific.
What are your long-term goals?
What do you do for fun? What are your hobbies, interests?
Values, Beliefs, and Behaviors
Do believe it’s better to work fast or get the job done right?
Do you believe in the adage “the customer is always right?”
How would you deal with an unruly customer? Boss?
How do you deal with stress/pressure?
In what type of work environment are you most happy and productive?
What is the ideal team for you? The ideal leader?
What were the positives and negatives of your previous work environment?
How would your friends + co-workers describe you?
Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a supervisor.
A client asks you to give his daughter an internship in your team. How do you respond to him and handle this situation?
This isn’t an all-encompassing list, but in general firm/candidate specific questions are the most frequently asked.
Consistently acing ‘cultural-fit’ interview questions
You may notice that the latter type of cultural-fit questions are quite similar to behavioral ones. You can employ the STAR framework for questions like these, but what framework can you use when your interviewer asks “why you?”
For more personal questions, using frameworks like STAR can seem pretty stiff. And that’s why these kinds of questions are trickier; there’s no script to follow.
Just be… you.
Okay, I know how that sounds. Let it be known that I am NOT a fan of generic and vague advice, but sadly: it be like that. There’s no formula, no one trick, to these kinds of things.
Company culture is especially nebulous, and what your interviewers value and are looking for is, more often than not, a complete mystery.
With that said, here are my two cents from being interviewed a hundred times plus over the past four years (as well as another few hundred conducting interviews myself): people constantly try to please others. I’ve done it. I’ve seen it.
But in the times I’ve landed amazing offers, and in the times I’ve been incredibly impressed by younger class-mates who absolutely killed the interview, I’ve picked up on one thing that’s always stayed constant: being genuine is 100% key.
Like I mentioned before, if they didn’t like that: good. They didn’t deserve you anyway, and they showed themselves out. You will not be happy at a firm, or in any environment for that matter, that doesn’t value you for who you are.
The next step then, you may be wondering, is how you can express your true authentic self in the interview when answering these sorts of questions.
I could say “speak from your heart” and wrap this section up lickety-split, but I won’t do you like that. Instead, I suggest you orient your answer - in a story-telling format, as you would with behavioral interviews - to be inclusive of the following qualities:
Initiative: are you naturally inclined to solve problems, intellectually curious, and energized when presented with opportunity and challenge?
Passion: are you inspired and energized by your work, and is that energy and happiness for what you do infectious to fellow team-mates? Do you love what you do, and does that interest make you, in turn, an interesting person as well?
Empathy: are you able to read the room and empathetically solve problems? Can you mend team conflicts, bridge the gap between opposing parties, truly understand the customer, and manage conflicting stakeholder interests?
Grit: do you have the energy to move yourself and others around you to do the best you can do, and sustain that for prolonged periods of time? Do you cave in to setbacks, or will you rise to the occasion when it’s your turn to bat?
When asked “why you” or “why this company” or “how would your friends/family describe you” or “what is your ideal team/manager/boss/co-worker look like” or any possible variation thereof, you can’t go wrong with these kinds of qualities.
Most importantly, telling authentic stories that come from your heart (and I oop— looks like I did have to play the ‘vague’ card) and demonstrate these valuable, admirable traits will help you stand out. Many candidates aren’t able to structure their thoughts to these tough questions, and for good reason; there isn’t much of a structure one can rely on in the first place. But if you keep these qualities in the back of your mind as you find stories worth sharing with your interviewer, you will be able to paint a much more compelling, and authentic, case for your candidacy.
Weak example of how to answer ‘cultural-fit’ questions
Question 1: Why consulting? And why Accenture Strategy?
Answer 1: Consulting is a really prestigious job. Everybody I know wants to do it. It pays well, I’d get to travel the world, and advise F100 clients on all things strategy and operations. I know the work is tough, but I’m tougher and know I can do a good job serving clients, team-mates, and MDs and managers who need me at my 100%, 100% of the time. It’s this challenge that will really push me out of my comfort zone, and I definitely want to work in an environment that will challenge my limits.
Question 2: And how about Accenture?
Answer 2: Yes, thanks for reminding me. Accenture is a great company. It’s really gotten more and more popular over the years, and that’s because it keeps raking in great projects and deals. I have a lot of friends in the firm who really love it, and are always excited by the challenges and opportunities the firm provides to its employees.
NOTE: Notice the lack of a story. Besides repeating common talking points about the merits of consulting, the lack of a story makes the candidate seem more impersonal than they really are. I’m sure the candidate is a much more nuanced character than the one we see in the example above. But just as you may have formed opinions of this character - right or wrong - so too is the interviewer doing the exact same thing. Don’t be impersonal; tell your story! The candidate also forgot the second question, and had to be reminded. The interviewer, you may have noticed, intentionally left out the “Strategy” in the “Why Accenture Strategy” question. This was strategic; Accenture Strategy is highly different from Accenture Consulting (and if you’re interested in why and how that’s the case, I’d be more than happy to do a deep dive on Accenture Recruiting and answer this question and more in a future newsletter!), and he/she is testing the candidate to see if they are actually excited about the specific role they’re applying to OR if they see the company and its many teams as a monolith. The candidate FAILED to answer the second question, and by keeping it vague they showed they didn’t really care about the team, or simply were unaware of what team they were applying to in the first case. Either way, both cases are unacceptable.
Strong example of how to answer ‘cultural-fit’ questions
Question: Why consulting? And why Accenture Strategy?
Answer: Ever since I started college, I haven’t had a clue what I wanted to do. I love entrepreneurship; I launched an ed-tech startup with my friends my freshman year advising students and schools on navigating the college application process. But I also love corporate strategy and M&A; I worked with Comcast-NBCU on investing in startups specializing in advertising in AR/VR, and with J.P. Morgan in Technology M&A. I love learning, and I don’t want to be pigeonholed into any one industry or field, and that’s why I’m recruiting for consulting. The work is challenging but highly rewarding and informative, you get to work with the globe’s best and brightest inside the firm and outside with clients, and, best of all, you get to constantly explore all kinds of industries, functions, and roles. Accenture, in particular, has an incredible presence in technology across digital. As someone who grew up in Silicon Valley, I want to work with a firm that truly values innovation. Accenture is at the forefront of this kind of change, that’s evident in not only the projects you carry out - and how you serve your clients - but also in how you have transformed your own company. Within a week of COVID-19 breaking out in NYC, Accenture built from scratch a digital dashboard called ‘People + Connect Plus’, which utilized AI/ML technologies to match displaced workers with opportunities that aligned with their skills and talents. My mentors in the firm also share to me some of their projects in which they’ve done everything from advising F500 on market entry to helping startups achieve breakthrough advances in cloud computing and cyber security operations for large-scale enterprise clients. I find this nothing short of exciting, and Accenture’s tremendous growth over the past decade - and its continued momentum moving forward - is really attractive to me as a college student turned postgrad looking to make a difference in an ever-changing economy.
NOTE: Was I this verbose when I answered this question? Absolutely not. But in general, my story - why I love learning, my seemingly random internship experiences coalescing into the realization that I wanted to work in a job that would allow me to flex my creative and intellectual muscle - and Accenture’s story - a company that found its beat working in the most disruptive spaces in technology and innovation - were elements I heavily stressed when answering “why consulting” and “why Accenture Strategy.” Tying your story to qualities like “initiative” and “passion” are also critical unifying features that will help your true intent shine and make you stand out.
How should you prepare
I definitely recommend practicing rehearsing common questions (re: see above), and on top of running mock interview sessions you can also keep the following best practices and guidelines in mind:
Do your research: to find out what the company values, get that information straight from the source through coffee chats and networking. Check out the Glassdoor and other secondary sources to see employee reviews and thoughts if you are unable to secure a coffee chat, and read news articles about the company if you need further inspiration/data.
Work smart and hard, not hard: Firms can ask you literally millions of variations and types of cultural and behavioral interview questions. Coffee chats and firm connections can help you pinpoint what types of questions are asked, and so can resources like Glassdoor, Wall Street Oasis, and more.
ASK QUESTIONS: at the end of the interview, always ask questions (this demonstrates passion and curiosity for the role and company). Don’t worry: this guide will go into detail just exactly what kind of questions you should ask!
I hope you enjoyed today's guide on cultural-fit interviewing, and if you want more don't worry -- every week we'll be posting popularly asked interview questions, strong (and weak) sample answers, and best practices for going about responding to said questions!