September 23, 2015

Reverse Cultural Fit? How to Find a Company With Values That Match Your Own

BranchesTom Borgerding, CEO of college-marketing agency Campus Media Group and creator and founder of college-recruiting database Mytasca, was recently speaking with a college student who was baffled by her experiences working with a well-known company.

The student told Borgerding she was confused. This was supposed to be a great company to work for. Its reputation and employer brand are both stellar. But, in her opinion, that wasn’t the case.

What was going on?

“In hearing her talk about it, [I realized] that some of her values were different from the company’s values,” Borgerding says.

In other words, there was a cultural mismatch — and it was really taking its toll on this student.

This sort of thing — an excited job seeker landing a job with a supposedly great company only to end up miserable at said company — is not terribly uncommon, according to Borgerding.

Partially, we can blame the rise of employer branding for this state of affairs. To win the war for talent, companies are pouring a ton of effort and money into sending out positive employer branding messages. Often, these messages sweep candidates off of their feet and draw them in — even if those candidates don’t necessarily fit the company culture.

But we at — and other websites like us — should also shoulder some of the responsibility. We write a lot about how employers can hire for cultural fit, how they can find employees whose values align with their own corporate values. What we don’t spend much time on, however, is helping employees find the companies that align with their values.

Cultural fit, in reality, is a two-way street: while employers are looking for employees who share their values, job seekers should also be scrutinizing these companies to see if their corporate values match their personal values.

Today, then, we’re going to take a step toward correcting our failure by sharing Borgerding’s tips on how talent can turn the interview process on its head. Here are four ways that job seekers can “interview” potential employers for cultural fit:

1. Know Your Own Values

FlagThe first step to applying for cultural fit — as opposed to hiring for cultural fit — is to know exactly what your own values are. You can’t find an employer that matches your values unless you know what it is you’re looking for.

Borgerding suggests that job seekers use self-assessments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to help uncover their strengths and values.

“Then, based on your values you can decide: Do I want to work for [this company]? Do we align? Or should I steer clear?” Borgerding says.

2. Network!

“Don’t just take a company’s employer branding materials at face value,” Borgerding says. “Find people you know and admire at the organization, and ask them questions. Find out what it’s really like to work for the company.”

Borgerding says job seekers should use LinkedIn and other social media platforms, as well as their own personal networks of friends, family members, professors, and so on, to find people who work for a potential employer. Then, it’s a simple matter of taking these current employees out for a cup of coffee.

“To get real value from these meetings, make sure you know what kinds of questions to ask,” Borgerding adds.

What he means is that you need to know your values (see above), and then you need to ask questions about how the company may or may not align with said values.

3. Expand Your Focus

The big-name, well-known companies do a great job of communicating their employer branding messages. As a result, a lot of job seekers are drawn to these companies — but there are plenty of other organizations out there that may be better fits.

“Those medium and small companies are where the majority of people in the U.S. are actually employed,” Borgerding says. “Expand your focus: these smaller companies may actually offer exactly what you’re looking for.”

4. Interview the Company

When you go into an interview, the employer is trying to figure out if you’re a good fit for the organization. You should be doing the exact same thing.

“You should have questions for the company,” Borgerding says. “When a candidate says they have no questions, I’m like, ‘Really? Are you really that Beachdesperate for a job?'”

Consider asking the interviewer about the team you’ll be working on, education opportunities at the company, the company’s stance on innovation, the leadership and management styles of the company, and anything else that may be relevant to your values.

Watch Out for Sales Pitches

While searching for an employer that aligns with their values, a job seeker may come across a recruiter who is a particularly adept salesperson. Such a recruiter may do an excellent job of presenting a given company in a great light in an attempt to woo a candidate into accepting a role with the company.

Borgerding says job seekers should be wary of these pitchmen and -women. They’re trying to sell a job, and they likely have no concern for wether or not the job is a good fit for you as an employee.

“Recruiters are people people,” Borgerding Says. “They are meant to be relationship developers. They put a great face on the organization in order to get people in the door to fill roles.”

The best way to avoid being swayed by such a recruiter is to ask if you can talk to some representatives from the company.

“Say something like, ‘Instead of you just offering me a job, I would like to talk to somebody on the team,'” Borgerding says. “Turn the interview around. And once you get to the hiring manager, you may find it’s a completely different scenario than what the recruiter is selling.”

As a job seeker, you want to make sure you’re working in the right place.

“You want to make sure that you’re in the corporate culture that makes the most sense for you, values-wise,” Borgerding says.

And, funnily enough, in doing so, you’re actually helping the employers themselves, too. Why would they want to hire someone who will end up miserable and jump ship in three months?

Read more in Interview Process

Matthew Kosinski is the managing editor of