Culture Fit or Culture Add: Can You Fit In?

My family moved 13 times between the time I started kindergarten and when I graduated high school. I was an Army brat with a very focused and determined mother. She knew what she wanted and who was looking up to her – the other women in her courses and of course, me. She wouldn’t quit. She didn’t have it in her. We packed up our entire lives and moved once for 3 months so she could get promoted early.

I was a professional new kid, so I knew how to blend in. I’d notice everything. Take it all in. I’d see what the kids were wearing, what they said, what they listened to – I could mirror that. I tried to be funny. I wanted to fit in more than anything.

I was still bullied relentlessly. I didn’t have nice clothes or even clothes that really fit me. I was overweight with a terrible overbite, buckteeth, bad bangs and a big smile.

An obvious target.

I think the assumption that no one knew me and that I would just be passing through gave people even more reason to target me. There would be no consequences from their peers to taunt the new kid.

Fast forward a few years, and I was in a fist fight with a boy at my high school. I wasn’t taunted much after that.

But fist fights don’t fix work.

I’m confident that most of you just had the same follow-up thought I did: I really wish they did for that one guy…

Fitting in at work is one of those old topics and one I cringe at every time. You know how it starts. “Well, every hire should be a culture add, not a culture fit.

Ok, Cheryl. Thanks.

So I asked and y’all showed up. 

culture fit vs culture add
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The more we talked through it, the more I realized how personal this is. I don’t know that I’ve ever really fit in at work (until now of course). I’m usually the “only” a lot of things. I’ve been the only woman. The only one without a masters degree. The only one who didn’t work at an Ivy League college. The only one with no agency experience.

I can keep going.

Throughout my career, I’ve bounced around a lot and in all of these situations I know people have looked at my mish-mash of career history and thought, “she’s a culture add. She thinks totally different than we do.”

In some scenarios, that worked out well. The Ivy league kids weren’t that bad. The leadership built something more significant than spoiled kids could corrupt. In most of the others, not so much. Culture in every one of those scenarios really did translate into one stupid question: “do I fit in?”

But here’s why I struggle with that idea: How do you fit in if you’re not like everyone else?

Every time I’ve felt like the culture ad, 3 months into the job I’m thinking one thing: I do not fit in here. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that long.

That’s why I think we need to stop talking along the lines of culture fit and culture add all together. Instead, let’s write about how we create a place where people can thrive, then build that.

What is that? Well, you’ll have to talk to someone else. I’m not an expert, but I know it’s personal. It’s not a template or tangent I can ramble off. It’s about making your values come to life in your behavior, not graffiti on your walls.

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Kat Kibben View All →

Katrina (Kat) Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive, unbiased job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I can tell you that if you plan to add people to your culture to help it grow and flourish, if you don’t also have a plan to make them feel supported and accepted, you’re wasting your time.

  2. Love this article. A lot of mid to large orgs have many cultures going on. Rather than hiring someone who fits in with a department or group, how about we build a culture of expectations that everyone is responsible for welcoming new people and helping them succeed. This should be nonnegotiable.

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