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Your Skills Transfer but what about the Culture?


It’s easy for us to get heavily focused on our skill set as the primarily determinant as to whether we fit into a role.  We start with our resume that is summary of positions held, skills and accomplishments. For many on-line applications, we answer screening questions regarding our qualifications based upon skills, education or positions held.

When you are looking at potential role, culture of a firm will play a major role in the level of effectiveness in using those skills.  A firm’s culture impacts every aspect of a business how decisions are made, management style, processes, hiring practices, internal politics, tolerance for risk, and how an exceptional employee is viewed.  A great example is a publicly traded firms who is heavily tied to quarterly results and as a result will advance or delay projects based upon the most recent quarterly earnings - from the outside, this behavior may seen different, but internally it's the norm that people live by.

I have had the opportunity to work in firms with very different cultures (family-owned, venture-backed, global firm, heavily regulated public, emerging growth and start-up) and I’ve also met numerous candidates who changed cultures, so I can offer a few observations about cultural fit to help set your expectations when considering a change. 

First, for those people who came from other cultures and it did not work out, it was very clear that it was not a technical skill issue.  Expectation: Skills is what a company needs, cultural fit is what they want.

Second, the people to learn the about culture are those whom also came from a different company culture and have been with the firm you are interested in for several years.  They will be able to point out the key differences within this culture.  Expectation: Long-time insiders will have difficult providing a good contrast to other cultures, but can give insight into the types of people who succeed.

Third, good ideas can trump the culture occasionally, but not every day. There is an attraction to firms where your skills can bring change, but start with its current success.    The culture of a firm is what binds together the team and makes them work as one, so you don’t want to be seen outside of it.  I’m not saying every culture is highly efficient, but if it’s working, then it is hard to make it change because the insider’s view is that it’s okay.  Expectation: You can bring your ideas by proving you can work within the existing culture and build relationships with peers.  You must be willing to live within the culture until then.

Fourth, even if a culture needs to change, it is generally a slow shift.  Take an emerging growth firm that needs to transition from a start-up mentality. The infusion of processes, maintenance of systems, etc. will take time.  Even if the company says they want to change, it takes time.  Expectation: You might bang your head against the wall at first, but it will pay off.

Fifth, be honest with where you can work by comparing the culture to your own style and interests.  It deserves an equal level of importance as to evaluating your skills.   This is not to say you cannot adapt, but your goal after landing is to perform, you also need to be reasonable on how much you can adapt.  Expectation: You don’t want to be in search again, so make sure the culture will not limit your success.

There’s a reason that you will hear people say “_______ is a big company person”, “________ sure fits a sales culture”, because they have found both success and the comfort of fit within a given organization. If you happen to work great in a given culture, then nothing wrong playing to your strengths and continuing in a place you can succeed.

The comedian Bill Cosby said “I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” This is very true when trying to work in a culture you do not fit.

Good luck today.



Topic Expert
Barrett Peterson
Title: Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis
Company: TTX
(Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis, TTX) |

An excellent point to emphasize as both technical skills and cultural fit are required to be successful. Cultural adaptability is one of the skills acquired in a career, along with technical skills. Neither are infinitely adaptable, and all will need some effort to adapt to new environments. The variation in culture is substantial with in "common" categories like large public entities, smaller public entities, large private entities, and entrepreneurial entities. Among the more difficult differences to bridge is the "large oublic" to small or medium size entreperneurial. Been there, done that.