Do you fit in? Photo by Su Neko.

You have the skills. You’re a good communicator. You get an interview, but you don’t get the gig. Why?

If they interviewed you, chances are that they like your work or your resume. Now they’re probably looking for something much more ephemeral (and for you, hard to control): “culture fit.”

A survey of 3,000 hiring managers and job-seekers released this week found that 43% of hiring managers ranked culture fit as the most important factor in their hiring decisions. In contrast, only 2% ranked “GPA” as being most important in the recruiting process, and 64% of employers would consider a candidate without a college degree.

While one might assume HR professionals were thinking mostly of full-time employees, if you do any work that involves coordinating with employees or relating brand values (copywriting, designing, etc.), they’re looking for cultural fit in you, too.

What is culture fit? As the CEO of AirBnB, Brian Chesky, says, “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion.”

Passion is the key word here; hiring managers want to see that you not only care about what you do, but that you care about what they do. They want you to love their company. They want you to be as passionate about their mission as they are -- especially if you’re working with small businesses and startups trying to grow.

“When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing,” Chesky says. Even if your clients are not hiring you based on culture fit, the degree to which you fit into their culture will affect your working relationship and the quality of your work. Freelancers who understand the company’s culture will require less onboarding, fewer revisions, and will ultimately create a more successful project.

How do you communicate that you’re a culture fit?

  • Do extensive research on their website and social media pages before heading into the interview. This should give you a fairly good sense of their “brand voice” and the kind of culture they want to convey.
  • Listen. Normally in an interview, your prospective client will explain the company’s mission. Don't just nod your head; even repeating back what they say in your own language will show them that you understand what they’re saying.
  • Ask questions. Many freelancers are nervous that asking too many questions makes them look stupid. Focus many of your questions on culture, the way the teams are organized, the single most important value those team members should have, and what brand they want to convey to the public.

Freelancers, have you ever been told by a prospective client that they picked someone else who was a better culture fit?