by Jonathan Puc

Culture fit is king. Here’s how to nail it in your next developer interview.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Before you read this post, I’d like to acknowledge the fact that a core component of getting a job as a developer involves technical preparation and interviews. This article however, will assume that the reader is already confident and well-prepared for the technical component of the interview process. We’ll focus on ways to distinguish yourselves further by highlighting yourselves as individual beings who can fit in or even better, elevate the culture that currently resides in the company you’re are applying for.

I was inspired to write this article after recent events in my career.

My story

Due to financial obstacles at my previous work, I was made redundant and began immediately looking for a new company to join.

Finding my fit

It wasn’t difficult getting in to the job seeker flow, as I knew exactly which company I wanted to be at: Today, an agency which I believe to be the most impactful and inspiring in my city. They are a social innovation agency and one of Australia’s founding B-Corporations and I just knew the next story of my journey would have to be with them.

Their website indicated that they were looking for junior developers and it was like the stars aligned. I applied for the position as you normally would and fortunately, they were familiar with my previous employer, so I requested a word to be put in.

My process

I wrote a cover letter (which I believe was the hottest cover letter of 2018), sent it along with my resume, and a couple days later, I was phone screened.

After the phone call I sat down to brainstorm how I could best prepare for the interview stages that would follow.

I wrote a process in the form of three basic questions that were to be answered in dot points. I hoped that through deep reflection, I would be able to answer interview questions naturally and from a genuine place. This article revolves around that process, which I’ll discuss soon.

So I went through the process and was ready to take on the interviews.

Getting through the interviews

The first interview was a sit down with the technology director and solution architect. They wanted to know more about me and wanted to gauge what my drives were, including what drove me to apply for a position at Today.

Answers came naturally and confidently, because I knew I was answering from a place of authenticity. It was extremely comfortable and enjoyable as we were learning a lot about each other. At the end, I was told I’d get a callback about the next stage, where I would be showcasing my craft as a developer.

Culture fit is king — there’s a reason why it is in the title. Having completed the first interview, on my commute home, I was flooded with confidence and overall good feeling. I knew the words I spoke resonated with Today during the interview. The three question process had put me in a position where I was absolutely confident that Today and I were compatible in terms of culture and values, and this manifested in the way I spoke and conveyed myself during the interview.

My culture first approach led to an event that left me both ecstatic and dumbfounded…

The following day, I received a phone call from the tech director. He said he really enjoyed the interview and was impressed, so much so that he decided to fast track me to the final interview with the managing director. I didn’t have to complete the developer skills stage.

I understand that at most companies, this would basically be impossible but I’d like to highlight a key takeaway from this.

Even if I still had to do the developer skills stage, the fact that I had already made a profound impact on the company as a culture fit was invaluable.

What if I hadn’t done too well in the skills stage? Would I instantly have been deemed an unworthy candidate and been booted out the door without a second thought?

Would my success in the first interview and potential as a culture fit hold no weight at all?

Highly doubtful. And if that were true, it’d represent a company that doesn’t really care about culture at all and I’d happily be rejected.

I’m a firm believer of small margins making a difference, and if you didn’t do so well in a technical test, but absolutely nailed yourself as a culture fit, you’d still have high chances as a prospect.

Getting the job

The final interview was scarily similar to the first in terms of how I was feeling, my thoughts, and the message I wanted to spread. In fact, I was even more confident this time due to the recent events.

I spoke from a place of genuineness, we had a very thought provoking conversation. I believe this was due to questions I asked. The importance of asking questions will be discussed as one of the three questions of the process I have created. A few hours after the interview, I received a phone call and received the job offer.

The events and success that led me up to this point are, I believe, a by-product of me following the three question process. If done with intent and purpose, it is a process that really has you thinking about what you want out of your career, your values, and your worth.

I hope my personal anecdote elevates your confidence in it.

Once you’ve completed the process, you’ll figure out if the company is a fit and you’ll be well prepared enough to sell yourself. If it isn’t, you’ll have saved time and can move onwards.

Let’s begin.

Calling all job-seekers

Hey! The one over there going through notes that were frantically prepared the night before, no not you, good luck with your finals though. I’m looking at you, the one blue in the face and clearly nervous for some job interview ahead. Yes, you! Cue cards in the recycling bin, you won’t be needing them.

I’m sure everybody has gone through a similar experience, a callback from an awesome job you applied for, told to come in for an interview and to acquaint yourself with the company. Excitement floods you, perhaps a nice dopamine rush.

And then, the ‘oh crap I need to prepare’ feeling hits you, followed by the inclination to prepare yourself for potential interview questions.

Although it’s great to devise an action plan in preparation, arguably, the typical method of Googling and answering common interview questions is quite ineffective. Hoping that questions you studied for pop up in the interview is asking for trouble, and relying on chance isn’t a good idea.

Let’s just say the die fall your way and a question you prepared for pops up. Most people begin to answer like it’s a rehearsal for an acting gig, and unless you are an actor, it’ll seem monotone and too narrow.

Surely there are better ways to do it.

Our colourful and genuine selves shine when we speak in the present moment, not while we dig through our minds for what we told ourselves we should say the night before!

Speaking in the present puts you in a state of vulnerability. Why would you want to be vulnerable? Let’s see what putting yourself in such a position entails.

The importance of being yourself

You’re confident in your ability to communicate without training wheels. You understand that you may mess up but have the resolve coupled with the persistence to get back up. Values that are attractive to any employer.

Your employer will know if you’ve prepared your answers word for word or if you are speaking from a genuine place. You can’t fake authenticity and honesty.

That isn’t to say no preparation should be done at all! Lucky people get the jobs with companies that make them blush, but as we all know, luck is preparation meeting opportunity!

I’m just saying that there needs to be a strong dose of authenticity and natural flow when you approach an interview.

So how do you figure out what you want?

The three questions of the process I mentioned above should be answered with dot points which have greater underlying meaning to you. Being more broad means more potential ‘aha moments’, you’ll ooze with genuine enthusiasm, and who doesn’t love that kind of positivity in an interview?

They are questions that in no way are extraordinary. In fact, I’m confident you’ve already seen them before. But they are three that I believe are fundamental, and if thought about carefully, will equip you with enough thoughts to be able to answer any other question naturally.

After a brief explanation about each question, I’ll provide an example of what I manifested when applying it to Today.

Question #1: Why *insert company name*?

Unless you’re applying for a company that is a monopoly, there’s probably another company around the block that is doing similar things.

You need to ask yourself what it is about the company that compels you to want to be a part of them.

This is a great way to really question and reflect on your current career path. Through this process, as you note down points about the company, you’ll internally begin giving weight to certain things about the company according to how important they are to you.

Was it their emphasis on social responsibility that drew you in? Maybe you enjoy doing work that has a positive social impact.

Do they have amazing employee benefits? You want a career that rewards you and pampers your life a little.

It’s a great self-discovery process.

It is my belief that culture fit trumps all when it comes to the final decision. If you’ve discovered certain things about the company that align with you as a human being and are able to communicate that, you’ll kick start your prospects.

My example:

  • They wear their values on their sleeves which also suggests an amazing culture.
  • They adhere to environmental and social responsibilities as a B corp with great fortitude.
  • Their high quality of work that contains social innovation characteristics is super unique. Not any agency can do that, it takes a certain kind of passion and authenticity.
  • In a world that is filled with so many cracks and issues, I want to craft solutions that incrementally make things better for our environment and communities. I believe Today is the only agency around that can help facilitate that.

Question #2: Why me?

Cliché, yes. But it’s important. This question is quite aligned with the previous one. You’ll find that what you as a human being have to offer to the company will either fit like a glove or have no similarities at all.

My example:

  • I’m a bit of a self-improvement enthusiast, always looking to improve myself and my craft. A mindset that would definitely bring value to Today.
  • I’m happy and capable to navigate and familiarise myself with the unknown, stems from my curiosity and eagerness to learn.
  • Today is heavy with design personnel, I worked side by side with a designer at my previous job. I value working collaboratively with designers.
  • Agencies are filled with so many different minds, there’s a lot going on and collaboration is fundamental. My fluency in both verbal and written communication definitely pays off in that kind of environment.
  • My values around doing good, helping the underdogs, and solving social issues align with Today’s.

Question #3: What would you ask them?

It’s not all about you!

You need to be asking thought-provoking questions, questions that clearly show you’ve thought of them with intent and meaning. It shows that you are genuinely interested in their processes and values, reinforcing the fact that you are applying for the job for reasons more than just a paycheck.

My example:

  • Is there much healthy conflict? How is it usually resolved?
  • If you could embody the people of Today in three words, what do you think those words would be?
  • What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone new to Today?
  • If Today had billboard real estate of about 5–10 words, what would it say?
  • What has been Today’s most treasured project so far?

Finito

Having gone through the process, you’re geared up and ready to walk into that interview. I’m sure you’ve noticed that there weren’t any set instructions or steps to follow in the three questions above — just see the question and jot down answers. Through deep thought and reflection you will deeply embed answers to topics that could arise. Read the potential questions below and you’ll notice that you can answer them quite instinctively now.

‘Why do you want to work here?’

‘Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?’

‘What are you passionate about?’

‘What are your strengths?’

‘Tell me about yourself’

‘What can you bring to the company?’

‘What can you do that other candidates can’t?

‘Do you have any questions for us?’

To conclude

If you struggled to find lines to write for any of the three questions in the process, don’t apply to the company.

I know that’s quite a blatant thing to say, and while I do acknowledge the fact that some people that may not have such privilege, I’d like to address those that do.

It’s estimated that a large portion of our life is spent at work, about 1/3. Do away with the “a job is a job” mindset. If 1/3 of your life is spent at work you should be striving to put yourself in a position where what you do is meaningful to you!

If you struggled to answer those questions, it shows 3 things.

  • Little to nothing about the company resonates with you. What they are trying to achieve or their values, nothing aligns with you. So you’ll most likely become miserable in it after a month or two.
  • Few of the skills you have will be of value or could be utilised at the company. You’ll be doing mundane and uninspiring tasks, and to quote William S. Burroughs, “ When you stop growing you start dying”.
  • You have no interest in the company at all. Just as you would research and have questions about a company before buying stocks, you should have the same curiosity when entering a contract which involves you trading your time for their money.

I hope you give the process a go and let me know — did you learn a lot about yourself? Did it help with any of your interviews? Keen to hear your thoughts and opinions.

As always, my inbox is open to anybody in need of further advice or have questions.

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