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Cultural fit: How to match your skills and personality to a job

Source: Tatinauk

This blog post, written by Pippa Holland, was originally run on our Australian Firebrand blog. Hope you enjoy!

Do you know the worst thing about being a recruiter? Telling talent they didn’t get the job. It sucks. If I’ve done my job properly, the short listed candidates are all very qualified, smart and have the correct skills for the role at hand; BUT that isn’t where it ends – personality and cultural fit are also key criteria that we have to match up. More often than you realise, a talent doesn’t get the job based on the elusive category: likability – also known in the industry as “cultural fit”.

It is by far the hardest part of the job, telling a talent that they didn’t get the position because the client either didn’t like them or didn’t believe they would mesh well with current employees. Think about it, how often do you get general feedback that has no specific relation to your application or skills and you walk away thinking, “why didn’t I get the job?” Well, in my experience, clients are sometimes averse to giving direct feedback relating to “cultural fit” because it sits on that fine line of employee discrimination. It is hard to explain why someone doesn’t fit in, or that gut feeling you have that the talent doesn’t suit the team.

Question: How do you make sure you’re not declined a job because of your “cultural fit?”

Answer: Soft skills.

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.”


PRESENTATION: Belief in yourself and your abilities is important but it’s not all about what you say. Soft skills place just as much emphasis on what you do, how you dress and how you articulate a story. Shake hands on arrival, dress smart, think before you speak. These small aspects can make all the difference. For instance, if you tend to be shy and avoid being the centre of attention, make a concerted effort to project friendliness; smile when you shake hands, make an extra effort to give positive eye contact and expression to your responses. This instils more confidence from the outset.

WORK ETHIC: Clients also have to think about the bottom line, so demonstrating a positive attitude to hard work is great. Don’t be a doormat, but weave in your thoughts on putting in the hard yards to hit the deadline. Explain why you’re willing to go the extra mile by giving examples from previous roles where did more than was required to get a job done. These subtle cues give the client confidence that you will deliver results.

TEAM PLAYER: There is no ‘I’ in “Team”. Ok, it’s an annoying saying, but I guarantee you most employers don’t want to hire someone precious who sits atop an ivory tower and doesn’t work for the greater good. So, by demonstrating how you’re a team player, giving examples of how you improved and worked well in a team in a past position, or how your positive attitude helped motivate your colleagues will show that you’re not only in it for yourself. This is a key one as clients will always think of how you will fit into their current team when they’re interviewing you. You need to make sure they feel confident that no matter what your personality (loud, tame, quiet, boisterous) you are going to mesh well with the team because you’re a team player.

RELIABLE: Every job brief I get includes the same soft skills desirable in a future employee: “Time management, reliable, proactive, hardworking”. So, my recommendation is to drop these keywords into your interview somehow. Find an example of a project you’ve done that demonstrates these skills, or when asked what your strengths are, take this as an opportunity to mention a few of them. Be prepared to explain how you multitask, manage a heavy workload, and prioritise. These are important soft skills because they confirm or deny any latent suspicions in the interviewer that you might be lazy, or slow, or unreliable. I often recommend that you include an example where a previous manager pointed out a particular strong point of yours ie; “My previous manager used to say that I was very proactive, and that I made it so much easier for her to manage me. She never had to ask me what I was doing, because I told her first.”

These points above are not rocket science, but sometimes all it takes is a brief reminder about how important these soft skills are for you to make sure you drop them into your next interview. You might find the dreaded cultural fit argument becomes less likely.

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