It happens all the time. You, the job seeker, have an interview or phone screen and feel it went great. But the next day, you get the word you're not moving forward in the recruiting process because the hiring manager says you're not a "cultural fit." At which point, you think, "What exactly does that mean?" And, "Why don't they just tell me what I did wrong?" Well, here's the harsh truth...

You Missed the Mark on the Hiring Trinity

Hiring managers evaluate candidates on three things:

  • Personality: How you interact and communicate professionally.
  • Aptitude: Your capacity to change and adapt so you work the way the company wants you to.
  • Experience: Skills you have gained by doing similar work previously.

While that might seem obvious, here's what many job seekers don't realize--those first two are more important than the third. It doesn't matter if you're the most qualified from an experience standpoint. If the hiring manager doesn't feel your personality and aptitude will mesh with their leadership style and the personalities of the existing team, they won't be comfortable bringing you on board. Now more than ever, you need to be highly self-aware of how your communication style is perceived by others.

Rejection Is Hard, But They're Likely Doing You a Favor

Being in a job where you don't naturally mesh with the management and the team is a terrible situation. It can bring back those horrible, insecure school days. You'll feel isolated, have constant doubt, and will likely be super stressed. Trying to fit in when you don't isn't worth it. We've all seen enough movies about this to know the answer is to let it go and find your tribe. With so many companies out there, you need to identify and get hired by one that appreciates your unique combination of personality, aptitude, and experience.

P.S.--How to Get a Do-Over

If you are still convinced that an employer is ideal for you, but you got rejected for cultural fit reasons, then you need to start a networking campaign that enables you to interact and develop professional connections with multiple people who work there. Setting up information interviews with a bunch of peer-level employees can be a good start. The more people you meet and have meaningful conversations with from the company, the better. Then, when a position that fits your qualifications becomes available again, you can tap into this new network and seek their guidance. For example, you might say,

"I was hoping to get your perspective on something. I really value your opinion. As someone who has been successful at getting hired at XYZ Corp., I'm wondering if you can give me pointers on how to stand out in a good way for the __ position. I applied to a similar role a while ago and was told I wasn't a cultural fit. Do you think that is the case? Do you have any suggestions of what I can do to make myself appear to be more of a cultural fit?"

By seeking their guidance, you can hopefully get the insight you need, and they may even be willing to put in a good word with the hiring manager on your behalf. Validation via an internal referral is the easiest way to overcome a former rejection.

Published on: Nov 16, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.