Interviewing Primer 101.4: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: Fit

Legal employers say that the second most important job candidate attribute they look for (after likeability) is “fit.” In this blog, we’ll examine what exactly they mean by fit and how you can make the case that you have it.

Determining Fit

Similar to likeability, employers assess your fit with their organization—

  • first by an examination of your application materials,
  • then and most importantly during your job interview(s), and
  • last by posing “fit” questions to your references.

The Initial Application

Unlike likeability, fit is a more difficult and vaguer concept. It is not easy to pin down. What makes it even more problematical is that it is highly subjective and can vary markedly from employer to employer.

For example, if you are applying to a media company that has an obvious ideological slant, it may not be a good idea to include your volunteer work for an opposing ideology. Fit is sometimes like obscenity as described by the late Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Affirmatively demonstrating your alignment/congruence with a potential employer on your resume, print or online application form, cover letter and/or transmittal email is by no means as obvious or easy as showing the employer that you are likeable. You assert your likeability by including things in your application that signal that you are congenial. However, fit is not as easily asserted. You need to be careful with respect to this important trait not to include items that cause the employer to believe that you are out-of-sync with the employing organization.

The best advice for this stage of the application process is: do your research about prospective employers…and do it before you apply to them for a job. Learn what they are about and try to align with that without over-exertion.

The Job Interview

This is where you make or break your fitness quotient for the job. Key fitness questions employers pose to candidates (and references) include the following:

Tell me about yourself. This open-ended question can be a job killer for candidates who either say too much or say the wrong thing. While some personal background information is acceptable, don’t go overboard. Move quickly from your birth and formative years to your education and professional biography. Try to limit your response to approximately 90 seconds.

Are you a team player? “Yes” is not sufficiently responsive. Give specific examples of your collaborative work. Paint a picture for the employer that shows how your team approach was successful in specific situations.

What experience relevant to this position have you had? Again, specific examples of your relevant experience are sought. Make sure that you do not go off on a tangent and present experiences that it would be a stretch to call relevant. If your work experience is thin, include appropriate examples from any volunteer activities.

Note: It is important to remember that the absence of any relevant experience did not foreclose being invited to interview. The employer must have seen something that compensated for your lack of experience. Build on that.

What do you know about our organization? Do your research prior to the interview.  Even the smallest employers leave an online trail these days.

Why do you want to work here? Your response can be either a deal-maker or game-breaker. This is an open invitation to demonstrate that you fit within the organization.  General platitudes don’t work here. Draw on what you learned from your research.

Employer Reference Checks

Regardless of how you impress a prospective employer, s/he is likely to seek confirmation of your qualifications and fit from your references. The kinds of questions that the employer will ask the reference often focus on fit. To a great extent, the responses are outside of your control. However, you can make sure that each reference understands enough about the prospective employer and his or her business that they will align their responses appropriately.

Next: Interviewing Primer 101.5: Understanding the Interview ProcessWhat Employers Want: Intelligence