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When looking to join a new company, defining a ‘culture-fit’ can be vague and hard to determine. What types of clues and information should you be looking for? Once you’re in your role, what personal behaviors will help you stand out?

On April 26, Tufts Gordon Institute hosted a networking evening focused on finding your career sweet spot – how both companies and employers can ensure that their values and interests align with an organization’s culture. The panel discussion featured senior leaders from a variety of industries, all members of the Gordon Institute Industry Advisory Council:

  • Sean Hemingway, Head of Product Operations & Network Excellence, Shire, MSEM ’01
  • Allison Perkel, Senior Director at Carbon Black, Tufts BS ’93, MS ’02
  • Diane Roberts, Senior Software Development Manager, Sonos
  • Nick Svencer, Vice President of Operations, Augmenix, Inc., BS ’00, MSEM ’04
  • Bob Treiber, President, Boston Engineering Corporation, BS ’86, MS ’90
  • John Wilson, Vice President, Programs & Technology, MITRE
  • Lisa Wyman, Executive Director, Head of Quality, Mersana Therapeutics, MSEM ’08

Here are 5 key takeaways from the panelists. Watch the full video here.

1. Before making a career transition, figure out what you want out of a company’s culture and whether it’s a good fit. Ask yourself, what are your passions and interests.

“When I was deciding to join a new company, I took a step back and said, what are my career values? What do I want in my role? I knew I was passionate about leading people in teams. And I wanted to be part of an organization where I could continue to lead and be authentic. I used these guiding principles when choosing my next role.”
-Lisa Wyman

“I learned a while ago that it’s important to know what you like. The company will know what the company likes. The manager will know what the manager likes. What do you like? What do you like to do? You’re going to spend a lot of time in that environment. Think about it. You have options.”
-Sean Hemingway

“If I’m talking to somebody that only wants to talk about the actual technology behind the product and has no interest whatsoever in the customers, and the users, and listening, our culture —that shows they may not be a good fit.”
-Diane Roberts

“I didn’t know a lot about culture until I found myself in a culture in which I didn’t fit, and it was a disaster. The company I was at didn’t value precision or details, or timeliness – all things that I wanted in a position. Now I look for those.”
-Bob Treiber

2. When interviewing, employers are looking for more than technical skills. They are looking for similar values.

“One of the really important things is a fit for the mission. We [at MITRE] are a not-for-profit, so if a candidate comes in with the right technical skills, but their aspiration is to bring a product to the market, we are going to be the wrong company for them.”
-John Wilson

“When I’m interviewing somebody, it’s not always just about their technical savvy – a lot of people have that technical skill set. It’s really about matching me in my philosophies. I want to feel like I can have a real discussion with someone around a product or the next challenge.”
-Nick Svencer

“You always want diversity of thought – you don’t want an emphasis on culture to result in group think. Behavior-based interviews can give you a better prediction of how a candidate will fit.”
-Allison Perkel

3. Be observant throughout the interview process – it can tell you a lot about the culture.

“When I was interviewing for a role, I was very observant when I was walking through the hallways. Are people talking to my to-be boss? Are people talking to each other? How are people interacting?”
-Lisa Wyman

“You can learn a lot by just observing as you walk around these different offices. Even how the offices are set up can tell you a lot – is it set up collaboratively? Is it in an open space? Are the executive cornered off in one area, or they involved?”
-Nick Svencer

4. If you don’t feel like a company is a good fit, don’t be afraid to say no.

“Certain cultures aren’t for everyone. Just because I’ve decided on a culture for the organization that I’ve built, it might not be right for somebody else out there.”
-Nick Svencer

5. When starting as a new hire, learn as much as you can about the company’s culture and people in the first few months. Give yourself 6 months to evaluate your fit.

“Don’t get discouraged – it takes about six months to transition into a new company. During those six months, focus on learning about the company, make connections, and build up your network in your new company. Get comfortable in that awkward space.”
-Lisa Wyman

“Know that you’re not going to hit the ground running. Take advantage of the people around you – don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.”
-Allison Perkel