So what is ‘cultural fit’ and how does it relate to personal branding? A recent article in Forbes, Employers Hire Potential Drinking Buddies Ahead of Top Candidates, got me thinking about this question. After all, your qualifications and credentials are the table stakes that will get your foot in the door, but your character is what more and more employers are evaluating to ensure the right fit.

More and more organizations are willing to overlook a lack of certain ‘skills’. Skills can be taught. Teaching someone to able to fit into the culture is really hard to do. The Forbes article even mentioned what one hiring manager calls the ‘stranded in the airport test’ when considering candidates – Would I want to be stuck in an airport in a snowstorm with them?

Here are 4 quick tips to prepare you for the ‘cultural fit’ test.

1. Know Your “VPs” and Do Your Homework

The foundation of your personal is often called your “VPs” – vision, purpose, values, and passions.

  • Vision: Your image of what you see possible for the world – your desired future.
  • Purpose: Your role in turning your vision into reality.
  • Values: The ideals or operating principles that determine how you conduct your day-to-day activities. Your values are true to you and you do not compromise them.
  • Passions: This is what motivates and energizes you. Your passions get you out of bed in the morning.

Once you know your VPs do your homework to determine if you are even a good cultural fit for an organization. Don’t waste your time interviewing at places that are not aligned with your VPs.

2. Turn the Tables

Take the initiative to ask questions to the interviewer that would elicit details about their culture. Rather than simply being the evaluated, turn the tables and evaluate them! Decide if the culture of the organization matches you.

3. Don’t Eliminate ‘Interests’ 

I have read many ‘experts’ tell us that we need to eliminate our personal interests from our resumes. I have to totally disagree with this. Your interests may just be one of the deciding factors that give you the edge over someone else who has the same or similar credentials. Call it biased if you want, but if an interest in cycling helps you to stand out among 5 others vying for the same position, then work it and use it to your advantage!

4. Prepare for Odd-Ball Questions

“What songs best describes your work ethic?”  “What do you think about when you are alone in your car?”  “Pick two celebrities to be your parents.”  “What kitchen utensil would you be?

Employment site released their list of top 25 ‘oddball’ interview questions for 2013 and these are just 4 examples from the list. The point here is that job interviews are becoming more like first dates and off-topic interview questions are fast becoming one of the key ways to test for cultural fit.

In the end you still need to promote your credentials. After all, you have worked hard to acquire your specialized skills and expertise so flaunt them. However, be more proactive about communicating the real you –  your story – because as Michael Margolis of says,

“You have to get others to believe and identify with your story. When you can do that — the need to persuade, convince, or sell disappears.”


Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer” and is one of only 15 Master level Certified Personal Branding Strategists in the world. He is introducing a leading global personal branding methodology to companies and careerists in Japan and adapting it for the Japanese culture. In a culture where fitting-in is the norm, his mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. His background spans over 21 years in intercultural consulting, international outreach, and global communication coaching.