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Finding Your Cultural Fit

Submitted by amanda.dumsch@… March 11, 2024
Image of a person sitting behind a laptop with others around. Image courtesy of Christina @ wocintechchat via Unsplash

You’ve been offered an interview with a lab or an organization. As you prepare for the interview, remember to consider cultural fit in your evaluation.  

Finding a cultural fit that matches your values is often one of the most important factors to job satisfaction and happiness. Unfortunately, cultural fit can be very difficult to identify based on one or even a handful of interviews.  

While there is lots of information readily available about most other aspects of an organization, information related to an organization’s culture can difficult to find and decipher. While many companies are good at making their institution-wide culture readily known, smaller divisions, departments, and teams may take on their own culture. In fact, individual group managers may create a culture different from others as we elaborated in a previous blog post “What is Fit and Why Does it Matter?”

How then do you determine if the culture of a potential organization is the right fit for you without having the benefit of insider knowledge?  Here are two strategies for identifying whether an organization is the right fit for you culturally.

First, do your due diligence researching the organization as you prepare for the interview. Along with researching the organization’s website and other public sources of information dig a little deeper. 

  • Find NIH alumni and other connections who currently work or worked at the organization to get their input on the culture at all levels. 
  • Find speeches, presentations, or interviews of the leaders and middle management. Pay attention to how they describe their work, their organization, and their mission and values. Note how they describe their organization’s culture and how they communicate it to all levels of the organization.

Second, remember that an interview is an opportunity for you to learn more about the organization.

  • While the hiring manager will be analyzing your knowledge, abilities, and fit for the position, pay particular attention to how they treat you and the questions they may ask that are related to the culture. 
  • Ask questions that help you identify the key aspects of the culture you are looking for. And ask the same questions of everyone who interviews you.

Below are some examples of question that may help you better understand the culture of an organization.

  • How do employees get feedback on their performance?
  • What are characteristics of successful people at this organization?
  • How is the mission and strategy communicated to employees by those in leadership roles?
  • What does work/life balance look like?
  • How would you describe the work culture?
  • How would you describe the work environment for this team/department/organization?


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