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The Fit or Hiring Chemistry

I have talked to many people and no one can really give me a good idea of how to determine a company's culture to see if I "fit". This is a very perplexing issue for me as I do not know how to determine corporate culture in advance. Corporate websites rarely give you an honest description of their corporate culture.


Any good recruiter knows that getting a candidate hired is mostly about chemistry or as you refer to it, the “fit”. I say that provided the candidate has the skill sets and record of accomplishment. That is the easy part of this column. The rest is much more nebulous and is not as much a science as it is an art.

There are certain predictors (things we can tell a candidate) but for most recruiters it boils down to their personal experience, the right questions, intuition and feel. For a candidate that statement makes it about as easy as figuring out Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity”. So here are some of the things we do and ask that any candidate can do and ask.

I am going to insert this next statement first, and repeat it later on. You are who you are. Don’t take acting lessons and try to radically shift your personality for an interview. That will only prove disaster. I will repeat this statement at the end so that means it must be important.

Find out as much as you can about the hiring manager (and any other interviewers). That means first asking the HR person about their personality, style, etc. They should be happy to share that with you. Next, head for the Internet. There is tons of information out there, probably more than you will ever be able to consume. Look for past employers, professional affiliations, articles they have written, etc. Even if you are not a member go to places like LinkedIn. This will tell you if they are a networker, but many times also give you extensive professional background. Finally look for common associates, or ones you could be introduced to quickly. If you can’t find either of those determine someone who might have worked with them and simply pick up the telephone and make a call. Many times to find these associates all you have to do is go to LinkedIn and put the name of the company in the search bar. My suggestion is to start with previous companies.

The next thing you should do is spend some time looking at the company as a whole. You should do several things around this one. Visit the company, if it is convenient. Sit in the parking lot, or lobby, and watch the people going in or coming out at “start” or “quit” times. Look at their dress, demeanor, age, etc. I say age (and this is not necessarily age discrimination) because if the company is all 20 or early 30 somethings you probably are not going to be comfortable or happy in that environment. If you are in your 50’s, been through the “mature” corporate scene and work for experienced, proven executives today’s version of the “Wild West” is probably not for you.

It is time to head to the Internet again. Find executives that work for the company. (LinkedIn, Hoovers, Zoom Info, etc.) Study the background of these executives, including college. Are they Ivy Leaguers, Stanford types, etc? I was looking at one company once to recruit for them. Almost every executive was a graduate of BYU. This told me a lot about them.

Next read about the company, including articles about their culture. A great place to look is articles about the “Best Places to Work For”. These will typically provide detail about culture, etc. Don’t restrict yourself to national publications. Many local publications, such as the local business paper, will have these types of lists, as well as lists with largest accountants, etc and individual articles. Visit This is far and away the largest owner of these types of publications.

There are a lot of things you can do during the interview itself, most of which I have covered in previous columns. The first one is attire. Don’t over dress. I would never recommend Dockers and a “casual” shirt. But if that is standard company attire don’t wear a three-piece suit either. It is always best to ask the HR person what the company attire is and how most interviewees dress for an interview.

Beyond that be attentive during the interview and look for signs. This is more than just being a good listener, which is critical also. Listen for grammar they might use, education level (typically most evident by their vocabulary), etc. If you are a person who uses more “formal” language and theirs is more every day adopt to theirs. Watch for interactions between the hiring manager and others if there is the opportunity. Is it formal or informal? There are many other little things but I think you are probably getting the picture.

One final item. At the end of any interview with a hiring manager ask what would keep them from hiring you today. More often than not they will respond using the excuse of other candidates. If you get that ask them what they saw as strengths and what else they might like to see in you. You might just get the chemistry fit here. A tip: Listen for the final thing they are not seeing or would like to see. That is usually the one they are focused on. All the others are minor. If at the very end you get the fit or chemistry thing pick up the telephone and call the hiring manager. Don’t be aggressive or conduct an inquisition. Also don’t use this as an opportunity to sell yourself (If it is truly a chemistry thing you can’t). But be inquisitive and tell them you are hoping to better target firms to work for. Ask them why they don’t see the chemistry fit and listen. Then thank them for their time and get off the telephone.

I promised you at the beginning I would repeat this. You are who you are. Don’t try a radical makeover. The “chemistry” is always the toughest item in an interview process, even for recruiters. But it is critical. If you are not a match in this way don’t be discouraged or get frustrated. You would more than likely be miserable fairly quickly anyway. Move on and look for the right chemistry fit.

Here’s Wishing You Terrific Hunting,


About the Author

Bill Gaffney has had 17 years of experience as an executive recruiter and a career coach. He can be reached at 937-567-5267 or

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