9 Lives for Women Blog

Don’t Be A Misfit | March 28th, 2012

Last week I had the good fortune to visit my daughter who has the good fortune of studying in Milan for a semester.  As she talked about the need to “blend in” with a new culture, I was reminded of parallels in the work world.

For generations there has been the problem of the “ugly American” abroad—loud and brash types who clash with refined Europeans.  While I think that most Americans abroad are not offensive, my daughter talked a lot about how Milan, for example, has a very genteel culture that does not mesh well with students who are used to Saturday night beer fests or loud raucous parties.

Cultural fit is so important in all aspects of our lives:  where we choose to go to college, where we choose to live—and the offices that we choose to spend often more than one-third of our waking hours.

Job seekers often think more about the money they will earn in a potential job than the cultural cost of working in a particular environment.  A poor cultural fit can pad a bank account, but drain your energy, enthusiasm and productivity.

The fact is that you have to feel good about the employer who signs your paycheck.  Whether that employer is one person in a small start-up or a cast of thousands in a big corporate environment, every work environment has a certain culture and you need to make sure that you’re a fit.

Greg Smith’s public resignation from Goldman Sachs is a perfect example.  It’s unlikely that Goldman’s culture changed overnight:  this fellow should have thought less about the prestige and wealth-building potential of working at this renowned investment bank and more about whether his principles and values would truly align with the firm.  He could have spoken to any number of ex-Goldman employees to get very honest appraisals of the people and the practices of the firm.

Whether a company is large or small, they have reputations that usually are a mixture of both positives and negatives.  As you’re looking for a new job, be sure that the negatives you hear are indeed true, and if you can live with them.   And while the positives may be right for most Tom, Dick and Harriets, they might not be right for you.

  • Network not just to find attractive jobs but also to find employers who will be a cultural fit with your values, work ethic and general business practices
  • Talk to as many current and former employees of a company as possible to get an insider’s perspective of the day-to-day culture.
  • Don’t rely on the carefully crafted company web site for a true assessment of a company’s culture.
  • Read a variety of articles and blog posts about a company to get a less biased view about culture.
  • When you have an offer on the table, consider asking your potential employer if you can spend a day working in the office—attending meetings and watching how employees interact—before you sign on the dotted line

One thought on “Don’t Be A Misfit”

  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    As a serial non-profit volunteer, this advice works well for Burn-out. Asking about the culture before you walk up to the table is solid advice. Thanks.

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