“Why do you want to work for this company?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” “Why do you want to work in this profession?” Some of these “culture fit”, or simply “fit”, interview questions are so cliché, it can be hard to see why anyone would bother to ask them.
In fact, especially when applying to very technical or cerebral roles, you might not think the interviewer really cares what you say here. You might have already done screening tests and/or solved case studies as part of selection and might not think anyone is taking these questions seriously.
Just trot out the same old platitude and it will all be fine, right?
Wrong. These kinds of culture fit questions – which can be grouped into whole fit interviews – are just as crucial as any other part of the selection process.
Part of giving better answers to fit questions is first understanding why it is that firms care so much about those questions. From there, we’ll also give a few tips on how to ace culture fit questions and land that job!
Examples of culture fit interview questions
Before we go any further, so we’re all on the same page, let’s look at some examples of questions to assess cultural fit:
- Why do you want to work at company x?
- Why do you want to work in industry x?
- Why do you want to work in this specific office of company x?
- Why haven’t you decided to do job y instead of this one?
- Where do you see yourself in x years?
- Tell us about a time where you showed leadership/initiative/good judgement etc
- Tell us about a challenge you have overcome
- Tell us about a project you have worked on which had real impact
- What motivates you?
- How would your friends describe you?
- What is your greatest achievement?
- What is your biggest flaw?
- How do you like to be managed?
- Tell us about hobby/activity x on your resume
- How do you manage work/life balance?
Why do fit questions matter?
A lot of the cultural fit questions listed above are going to sound pretty familiar. So, why do firms actually care about the answers to these same, predictable questions? Surely, these are just a formality and nobody really takes the answers seriously?
Straight off the bat, here are some crucial reasons why firms want to know the real answer to these kinds of questions.
Are you going to stick around?
Especially at top firms, retaining staff can be a real problem. This is for two main reasons:
- A lot of talented recruits turn out not really to be interested in sticking around for the long haul, but just want to get a good company’s name on their resume before leveraging that to get another job elsewhere.
- Also, for industries with particularly gruelling hours and/or conditions (think finance or management consulting), a lot of recruits simply bail out because they don’t love the job enough to put up with the work.
In light of this, you can see why firms have a very real financial interest in asking questions like “why do you want to work for this company/in this industry?”
Have you done your homework?
Related to how much you want to work for the company is the simple question of how much you have really prepared for your interview. Some fit questions simply test whether or not you have been sufficiently industrious and committed to the role to have done your research in advance.
When you are asked why you want to work in a particular industry or for a particular firm or office, the idea is not to trot out the same platitude as every other candidate before you. Rather, you should cite specific, well-researched reasons why you are a good fit for the role in question.
Do you have the required soft skills?
Technical case interviews are increasingly popular across many industries as they allow a direct assessment of a candidate’s analytic skills within the interview itself. Think of the fit interview as an equivalent test of your soft skills.
Fit questions allow the company to get a handle on your social skills, ability to sell yourself and ability to communicate ideas in a concise but compelling manner. All highly valuable skills in most professional workplaces!
Do they want to work with you?
It might sound pretty trivial, but nobody wants to work alongside a team member who they just don’t get along with. For your interviewer’s sanity, they will want their co-workers to be tolerable human beings who fit into the culture in the office.
How do I answer fit questions well?
So, we understand why these questions are important enough to companies that they ask them over again. Just understanding the motives behind such questions is a major help in coming up with better answers.
Start Early and Practice
Do your research on your target company. If possible, network with current or former staff, or at least with individuals from the same industry. All of this can help you to work out how your own experience or interests match up to specific parts of the job.
Once you have established the facts of why you want the job and how you are suited to it, you need to work out the most compelling ways of framing these (we’ll cover how to tell stories below).
Now you can start practising. Do this as early and often as you can – both on your own and with friends. Note that none of this can be done overnight! You need to get started well in advance.
The idea of setting out, learning and practising your responses in advance might suggest that they aren’t truthful. However, this is far from the case. Of course, you should be honest at a moral level, but it is also in your interests to remain within the bounds of the truth.
For one thing, you really should have a good, worked-out reason for wanting to do a job, or you probably won’t enjoy it, do well and/or stick around.
It is also in your pragmatic interests within the interview to stick to the truth. In particular:
- Tougher interviewers will often drill down on your answers, asking follow-up questions to request more detail on the specifics of what you have described
- If you haven’t been truthful from the start, it is more likely that you will end up being inconsistent or be left with nothing to say.
- Given the reasons for asking fit questions, good answers are going to be both personal and specific. It’s simply hard to fabricate something as useful as the truth.
Telling Compelling Stories
Questions like “tell us about your greatest success” or “when have you demonstrated good leadership” require you to tell a story.
Don’t be afraid to use stories from your life outside of work, especially if you have less professional experience. A narrative about how you led your five-a-side football team to local league success can be perfectly useful in demonstrating the traits the employer is looking for.
Generally, stories should be short, to the point and not take tangents into unnecessary detail. Remember that you are not telling your story in the pub or to your grandmother!
A good way to structure your stories in an interview context is with the STAR method:
- Situation – Briefly lay out the story’s setting.
- Task – Describe your role, what your goals were.
- Action – Explain what you did to achieve this goal and/or go beyond what was required.
- Results – Return to the start and explain how your actions eventually impacted the initial situation.
A Final Tip: Beware The Reverse…
So, your job interview has gone great. You aced any technical questions and you followed our advice on the fit segment. However, there is still one final hurdle to clear before you can shake hands and leave the interview room, confident you have put in a good performance.
In the final few minutes of an interview, you will often be asked if you have any of your own questions for the interviewer. This isn’t just a token bit of good manners after having grilled you, but is another assessment for you to pass.
We could probably write a whole article on asking the right questions here. As it is, we’ll just give a few dos and don’ts.
First, when asked for your own questions, do not respond as follows:
- Do not say you have none. This shows a lack of interest and passes up an opportunity to shine.
- Do not ask about bad parts of the job. Do not ask if the hours are bad or the work is stressful. This implies you are ambivalent about wanting the job and generally leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
- As with your answers to standard fit questions, do not ask something cliché or generic.
Rather, you should try to do the following with your questions to the interviewer:
- Demonstrate you have done your research and/or networking. Ask about a specific recent project or perhaps enquire about a specific aspect of office culture you heard about from a contact.
- Establish a rapport with the interviewer by asking something upbeat or fun questions. Perhaps ask about the company football team or jogging club, or company away days or events.
- A good idea is to ask your interviewer about their own best moments with the company or what they have most enjoyed – this helps create a generally positive atmosphere.
- Be memorable! In general, try to come up with something unique but still relevant.
Over to You
Hopefully, this gives you a good start on getting ready for your next job interview. Now you can go off, do your research, figure out your stories, practice and get ready to land a great new job!