SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, answers questions from Human Resources as part of a series for USA today.
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I am currently looking for a job after 11 years with the same company. I hear a lot about “cultural fit”. What’s a good way to rate employers based on how I would fit in? –Giselle
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. : I’m glad you brought this up, because you’re one of many people who struggle with the concept of “fit” or cultural alignment. When researching a suitable culture, you want to see how your work style and values align with a potential employer.
It’s conceivable that you have the skills and experience required for a position, but you don’t fit the organizational culture. In these situations, the job can be particularly taxing and create a bad experience and possibly lead to poor performance. There may not be good or bad cultures per se – excluding illegal, immoral or unethical cultures – but there certainly can be good and bad cultures for you and your unique working style.
From an employer’s perspective, workplace culture defines who they are and how they do their jobs. Ideally, once the workplace culture is clearly defined, the organization will recruit based on these characteristics. Likewise, you can assess employers to ensure that you will work in an environment that meets your personal preferences. It can be helpful to think about questions like the ones below and write down your answers to help clarify your opinions.
- How do you like to make decisions? Are you careful? Or are you a risk taker?
- How do you deal with ambiguity? How willing are you to accept unclear or new situations in the workplace?
- How do you react to the various degrees of structuring within a company?
- How do you react to different managerial styles?
- Do you prefer to work alone or in a team?
- How adaptable are you?
Going further, you will want to clarify your own values. What ideals or core beliefs do you live by, both personally and professionally? What motivates you? What qualities do you admire in your role models?
Even before an interview, you can start compiling information about an employer’s unique culture. Review their website to better understand who they are; their mission, vision and values; and their history. If possible, talk to current or former employees about their experiences and check employee reviews online to get a better sense of the company culture. During interviews, try to have a clear understanding of the culture. Even within a smaller group or department, there may be a subculture to consider. Your interview is an opportunity to identify what it means to work for the potential company, in a specific department and for your potential people manager.
Otherwise, don’t underestimate the value of being a “cultural misfit.” It is important to think or work differently from your peers! New perspectives drive tremendous innovation in the workplace.
By knowing both who you are and who a potential employer is, you will be able to make an informed decision that works for both parties. I hope your next post will suit you well!
During a recent interview as a camp counselor candidate, I was asked about my sexual orientation. Is it legal for a potential employer to ask about sexual orientation? –Neal
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Surprisingly, asking a candidate about their sexual orientation isn’t against the law, even though how an employer uses that information might be. However, asking such a question could also put an employer in an extremely precarious position.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of certain protected characteristics, such as race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for enforcing this law, interprets the protected status of “sex” to include an individual’s sexual orientation as well as their gender identity. gender. Under this distinction, hiring someone because of their sexual orientation is discriminatory and illegal.
Federal law is not the only protection individuals have against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia also have laws in place that explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In extremely rare cases, an employer may be permitted to refuse employment based on an applicant’s protected status. For such discrimination to be legal, protected status should be a bona fide requirement for employment. For example, a church might require candidates for the priesthood to be of the Catholic faith.
While it’s not illegal to ask about a job applicant’s sexual orientation, that certainly doesn’t mean an employer should. An employer would find it difficult to tie a legitimate professional qualification to a person’s sexual orientation. If an employer inquires about an applicant’s sexual orientation and later refuses employment, even on legitimate grounds, the applicant may conclude that the decision is based on their sexual orientation. If the candidate then files a complaint of discrimination, the employer will have the burden of demonstrating that his decision is not discriminatory.
I leave you with this: in any interview, you can always ask for a reasoning behind a series of questions to find out how it relates to the job function. If you think a question is unwarranted or irrelevant, you can always decline to answer it. I would also advise you to provide feedback to the HR professional facilitating your recruitment process, as they may not always be aware of the details of each interview. Good luck in your job search.