by Exeter Jones Comments (59)

“Unattractive, Poorly Dressed Applicants Need Not Apply”: Got Cultural Fit?

Cultural Fit Interview Questions

I’ve chatted with enough Managing Directors, Vice Presidents, and Human Resources personnel to know what someone means when they utter the term “culture fit.”

It’s just a way of telling a prospective employee that their “out of the box” thinking and unique, identifiable qualities need to be confined within that firm’s invisible “culture fence.”

You may think to yourself, “I’ve got all these great ideas and the best way for me to get noticed and move upward is to stand out!”

But “standing out” is not a great method for advancing when you work in a cubicle…

Got Culture?

We’ve all interviewed or worked at companies that have their own unique social environments. At some shops, everyone who works in the office played sports in college, actively follows a popular television show, or eats lunch together all the time. Sometimes it’s easy to tell what a firm’s culture is but it’s more difficult when the signals are more subtle.

When you’re at an interview, should you take notice if the administrative assistant who ushers you into the office looks like they’ve spent most of their life training to be an Olympic athlete?

When the associate who greets you bears a strong resemblance to Ryan Reynolds, should you feel a little self-conscious?

And when the director slated to interview you looks like he was dressed by Tom Ford himself should you return your own suit after the interview?

It’s all worth a thought.

Numerous studies have confirmed that attractive, well-groomed people like working, socializing, eating, and hiring each other in any industry.

Should you stumble upon an office where most of the employees look like the cast out of Grey’s Anatomy outfitted by Hugo Boss, hopefully you’ve been hitting the gym, putting your Kiehls to good use, and taking a few (not all) sartorial pointers from GQ magazine.

And if you think it depends on the region you work in, you’d be sort of, but not entirely, correct.

East Coast Finance vs. West Coast Finance

I’ve spent the better part of my life on the East Coast. But anyone who has spent extended time in both New York and LA / the Bay Area is well-aware of the stark contrast between the two regions.

For example, the majority of New Yorkers who are in finance tend to have extreme “Type-A” personalities – mostly because the city’s water supply has been tainted with hyper-competition, compensation obsession, and material object fixation. If you live in this part of the world you might just get diagnosed with a complex heart ailment before your 25th birthday.

When you couple these traits with the persona of a city that favors conflict, every waking moment can appear as though it’s from a disturbingly addictive episode of The Sopranos, The Wire, or Jersey Shore. Other markers of this region include rampant sexual promiscuity, middle-class poverty, and an insomnia contagion – which might be, sadly enough some of the more “positive” qualities.

Everything on the West Coast, by contrast, seems more relaxed – from the weather, to the taxi cab drivers, to the person who serves your $8.00 latte every morning before work, to the bartender who serves your vodka and tonic afterhours, everyone just appears to be less high-strung.

I won’t say that the West Coast is less fixated on material wealth, but it’s a little more palatable by comparison. Just be aware that both coasts are still very much results-driven – so don’t think that investment banking, investment management, or any other high-end finance job will be easier.

Hot or Not?

What I’ve found very common between the two regions is their penchant for outgoing, attractive, and well-groomed (not to be confused with well-heeled) professionals.

I’ve interviewed and received job offers in both areas – sometimes with the most bizarre reasons explaining why I won the offer.

I’ve been told that I left an indelible impression because of my choice of cufflinks, my recreational wall-climbing interest, my teeth, and believe it or not, even my socks.

I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as a well-kept A-List actor, but taking the time to “be” and “look” the part is something I learned from my intern days on the Street.

Think of it this way: If you get an interview at a hedge fund, everyone knows your academic prowess; everyone assumes that you are intelligent; and they know that if you don’t know something, you can learn it quickly.

But what did you wear to the interview? Did you show up with an outdated, oversized wardrobe that screamed “Daddy’s Suit”? Did your color scheme tell everyone “I’m A Saturday Night Club Owner”? Physically, did you look like you spent your entire college years training part-time to be a sumo wrestler?

When you’re competing for a job, presentation matters.

So what does all this mean? To put it into context, I’ll provide three “cultural fit” questions that I’ve been asked by interviewers once I aced the technical parts of the interview.

“So What Do You Like to Do Outside of Work?”

The answer to this question is not intended to be a documentary about your life – it’s intended to give a realistic glimpse into your character. Your answer should fall into three categories:

  1. Active.
  2. Contemplative.
  3. Fun.

Notice how I didn’t say anything about “charitable acts”. Realistically, who spends every waking weekend in a soup kitchen, or packaging survival supplies to refugees on Friday nights?

Most people I know party, do some sort of intellectual activity, and participate in sports or physical activities, in that order.

When I get this question, I don’t give much detail about each item: “I like to wall-climb, I enjoy freelance writing about a host of topics, and I help train aspiring collegiate football high school athletes.”

If they want to know more, I make it a conversation, not a monologue.

“I Like Your Tie. Where Did You Buy It?”

This question can be a compliment about anything that you are wearing – which is always a cue that someone admires your sense of style.

If you don’t know where you purchased the item, it shows that you may not care as much about your appearance as you should – not that you’re so fashion savvy that it’s practically a sixth sense.

On the flipside, going on for too long about any one item may show that you’re too preoccupied with your attire.

In a very indirect way, the answer to this question could be a testament to your attention to detail or even your work ethic.

If this question comes up, you should first acknowledge the compliment, say where you bought the item, and give some insight as to why you bought the item.

If you’re interviewing in front of someone who looks as though they’ve prepared for a fashion magazine spread, take careful note because the answer to this question could distinguish you from your peers.

Being noticed is a good thing as long as you do it with style and class. After you’ve answered the question, it’s also not a bad idea to give the interviewer a compliment as well.

“I See/Heard That You Played (Insert Sport Here). Do You Still Play For Recreation?”

This type of question is designed to figure out if you still actively work out and/or exercise.

In one of my interviews, the interviewer looked like he still ran quite a bit and from doing my own reconnaissance, I discovered that he actively competed in local running contests.

Earlier I mentioned that you could walk into an office where the administrative assistant resembles a finely-tuned athlete, but it could be any interviewer.

In a close-knit office environment, you may find yourself lacing up your New Balances if you still actively exercise – corporate gyms and smaller firm gyms offer camaraderie and the potential to get to know everyone well.

A former Director once asked me days into the job if I would be comfortable going for a light run one weekend – Why? Because I told him I still ran for recreation. Now I stuck to the gym whereas he preferred to run outside, but not agreeing to his request would have reflected poorly on me, and might have even made me look dishonest.

When working out with your peers or senior management, be aware that it’s not an open invitation to “max out” your bench press or to try to beat your personal best for a 12-mile run. If you want to really get an intense workout in, do it on your own time.

To answer this question in an interview, be forthright and honest in what physical activity you engage in – and remember that the canned “marathon runner” answer is outdated and overdone.

If you mention that you’re a biathlete, triathlete, pentathlete or whatever, you better be prepared to intelligently discuss what races you’ve participated in.

Unattractive and Poorly Dressed?

I’ve gotten tons of different behavioral and character-based questions in interviews – some were simple to answer, some were a challenge, and some were borderline-illegal.

But in any case, showing up well-prepared and well-groomed will always give you the best chance of acing the interview and becoming the firm’s newest hire.

That, and wearing the right socks.


About the Author

Exeter Jones is a philosopher trapped inside the body of a writer, trapped inside the body of an alternative investment analyst. He's worked in investment banking, alternative investments, and corporate finance, and his favorite breakfast food is ESPN.

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  1. Hi Brian and Nicole,
    I would like to recommend the brand Thom Browne for anyone who enjoys fashion in finance. It’s a New York luxury brand. They have excellent suits and shirts for both professional and casual settings. A lot of Asians expecially in Hong Kong and Japan love adore the clothing. So people should definitely check their stuff out.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Avatar
    Drake Nguyen

    I love your website. Thank you for the info!! I have 2 question
    1) How is the pay in the West coast compared to the East coast? What about career advancement opportunity? If I’m interested in tech is it better to build a network in SF than in NY?
    2) How do you usually find out about the culture of a company?

    (I realized that was more than 2 questions haha. Hope you don’t mind)

    1. 1) Yes, SF is better for tech. In terms of finance pay, both coasts are similar but cost of living and taxes vary. Tech pays more in SF.

      2) Ask people… network… talk to humans… don’t rely on random online forums or comments.

  3. Should I wear a black suit for analyst interview? Also, is it ok to wear color shirts? Thanks.

    1. Black suits are generally for funerals and weddings, so no, probably not. Stick with charcoal, grey, or navy, and a white shirt.

  4. Avatar

    Brian & Nicole:
    Thanks for this article! I have a question on my case:
    I came form China 5 years ago, in really bad shape in very perspective. I had a realization and started to work hard and stretch myself. Now I am studying engineering at a semi-target in west coast, though few engineers goes into finance here. I am relatively comfortable with networking and behavioral interviews (with big 4 only so far), and recently started to cold call banks. The problem is I might overcorrected myself too much to focus on career and thus don’t have any sports or recreational stuff. I got away with it with traveling and photography for other interviews (bad idea for IB, I know). How should I respond to a question like: “What do you do for fun?” or “Do you play any sports?”
    (I will do a KPMG advisory program this summer, and did a engineering internship at a top defense co. last summer)

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d just say that you’ve been traveling and you’re into photography (this is fine). In terms of sports it is useful if you interview for S&T roles, not necessarily IB roles. If you’re worried about not having any sports on your resume, I’d take up on a sport in your free time now if you can and list that on your document.

      1. Avatar

        Thanks Nicole!

  5. How about female bankers? Do you need to wear make-up everyday? Any recommendations? In particular, bags for interview/work?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      No, it depends on your team and group. Different firms have different cultures. Notice girls at the firm you work for.

      Black will never go wrong. Makeup – natural is good. If you have any questions re makeup/skincare/dressing to kill for interviews, contact me at

  6. Thanks for this article!! I’ve always been convinced that looking fit and well-dressed is somewhat important in interviews. My friends always used to try to convinced that it’s degree, qualifications all that matters, but appearance is as important as all of above.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Appearance matters, but substance is probably more important

  7. Hi,

    I was wondering to what level we can dress ‘up’? For example, I have a burberry tie that I love to wear, but I don’t want to seem like a rich-kid or give off a bad impression with it. This is for an SA interview at a BB btw

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      You should look presentable. Wearing a burberry tie is fine as long as you don’t act like a spoiled rich kid and overdress for your interview

  8. Long-time lurker of this site, and I love your valuable insights! Keep up the great work!

    The only thing that bugs me is the lack of timestamps/dates in your posts and comments section. It would be great to know the actual dates of some of your posts.

    1. There are dates when dates are relevant i.e. bonus predictions. Otherwise, see: under #6. Many big sites in other niches have adopted this policy as well (Copyblogger, Zen Habits, etc.).

  9. I went to a joint program offered by two schools. The second school included all my grades (including those at the first school) on their transcript. Is it ok to submit the transcript offered by the second school only? Thanks

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Sure unless they ask for your first transcript

  10. So it’s okay to get a slick Prada suit!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yeah though it really depends on how confident you are and how you present yourself.

  11. Just to let you know, saying someone’s “tie looks nice” means there is nothing worth talking about and that you find the other person uninteresting…

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Haha, I agree w you to a certain extent

  12. Brian,

    I recently accepted an offer with GE’s Financial Management Program (FMP) and I am looking to transition over to banking. I know of people transitioning over after completing 3-4 years at GE and 2 years at a top MBA program, however, that is at the associate level. Is it possible to transition within 2 years at GE into the analyst level at a top MM or BB firm? Could the transition take place in June/July so I could attend the training program and start off with the other analysts all at the same point? If so, would headhunters be helpful in this case?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes and yes – however you do need to network w bankers/recruiters, speak to them and land yourself interviews. Networking would help immensely in your case. Just send bankers your info and intention to work in IB as an analyst

      No, headhunters are generally not useful to candidates/people analyst-associate level unless their clients specifically requested them to find a candidate that lvl/with your background.

  13. Avatar
    Arthur Schmidt

    Hello. I am a Brazilian, and love this website,since it’s such a good career guide, but I do not know why you do not have a Brazil IB guide. Many students from my engineering school wish to get a job in finance, but their only source of information is newspaper.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’ll speak to my team and let them know of your thoughts! Thanks for contributing!

  14. Hi, could you please do a piece on breaking in and networking for international students?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Sure – will speak to the team. Let me know if you have other questions re breaking in as an intl student in the meantime !

  15. I think wearing well ironed formal suits,combed hair and neat appearance is enough right , Brian?The suits should look classy though

    I know this is silly but do employers discriminate or classify you as unattractive based on height cause im below average height for a male.I can more then make up for it with my intelligence and unique hobbies but height is the first thing they see , right? (I know wearing high heeled shoes is one solution)

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Hm I don’t think height is as important as 1. Confidence 2. How you present yourself 3. What you know re the industry 4. Why you want banking. Nail all the above. You can’t change your height so embrace it – who said short guys can’t get jobs/unattractive? It’s your confidence that matters – in applying for jobs and on dates haha. Hope this helps. If i were a guy i wouldnt wear high heels; a bit funny

      1. Yea i was sort of expecting this answer , thanx anyways
        I was referring to high heeled “BOOTS” not heels which ladies wear

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Dude, just be confident and show it. Really – its energy. People can feel it.

          1. Avatar

            I agree about the height not mattering. I married a guy who is shorter than me by a couple inches, and I’m an accomplished and attractive girl, if I do say so myself. He is very talented and has a very authoritative and confident personality though as well.

          2. Avatar
            M&I - Nicole

            Nice! See? Its the confidence and chemistry! Right on!

  16. Hey Brian, an off topic question here maybe.. When looking for a career in venture capital is the IB analyst location important? I mean, does it make it easier to break into VC if you’ve been through an analyst program on the SF/Bay area or would other places like NY be practically the same? Thank You.

    1. Yes it is very important. Much easier in the Bay Area vs. other places. See:

  17. This article if GAY!! this is supposed to be a website about banking not fashion dude!

    1. no this is supposed to be a website about how to get a job in banking and your appearance is a component of recruitment, so it’s not gay!

    2. There are a bunch of fashion-related articles on the site. Wealthy people care a lot about fashion and appearance, and it is important to at least try to fit in. I think it’s another one of those topics that constantly gets overlooked but which is actually important to discuss. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at this stage all the basics are covered on this site so we have to cover new areas.

  18. Thank you very much for the article Brain!
    I have one question. I carried my Northface backpack to the IB interviews. (I’m based in London, I can see the bankers carrying the same style bags in tube every morning..) Some of my friends told me I should get a proper bag and backpack doesn’t make me look professional. but I don’t like shoulder bags. Do you think I should listen to my friends?
    Thanx :-)

    1. This is the dumbest question I’ve seen in a while… I would say don’t even bother going to the interview… youre too stupid to get the job

      1. …. and you wrote Brain instead of BRIAN… it think you should get a brain actually

      2. Relax, I think it’s a valid question…. bankers do notice style. And people misspell my name all the time, so I don’t really care.

    2. A proper bag would help, yes. I don’t think a backpack would kill you, but bankers do notice stuff like that.

      1. Thanks, Brian! Sorry for misspelling your name.

  19. “That, and wearing the right socks.”

    Unless, of course, you are an East Coast hedge fund manager … in which case you aren’t wearing socks.

  20. Regarding attire, what is appropriate for analyst interviews? I’ve been told that undergraduates for most jobs should wear a traditional suit with either a white or blue shirt and a simply patterned tie. What are your thoughts on interview attire? What about french collars, cuff links, and banker shoes? Are those too presumptuous for entry-level interviews?

    1. Yes generally go with a traditional suit, white shirt, and simple tie. Personally I would not wear french collars or cuff links, but you can get away with it more in places like Europe where such attire is more common. Maybe see what analysts in that office wear before you go in to interview as well (via networking, info sessions, etc.). Normal black dress shoes are best (technically should match the color of your belt but that should be black for an interview anyway). More on fashion:

  21. Completely agree!
    When I got accepted for my summer they told me the group thought I had a good “fit”, whatever they meant with that. It’s soo subjective.
    Ultimately, you must be yourself. An interview is a two way process. If they don’t hire you, is ’cause you weren’t meant for the job and wouldn’t fit in the group. If you fake it and then get hired you will probably be miserable at it.
    But if there are minor thing you are willing to change to improve your chances, go for it! Get in shape and look your best!

    1. Yup really good point… fit is important but if it’s a huge stretch to fit in, probably not the right group for you.

  22. So…then for the life of me I can`t figure out why that guy from Yale that can bench press a car,serve a tennis ball so hard it catches fire,thinks he can dance etc etc didn`t get hired?!

    1. May be just did not know finance well. Or, the hiring manager became jealous of his superhero’s abilities

    2. Haha it’s because his video resume was a really horrible idea and was forwarded so widely that it destroyed his reputation.

      Dress well and be accomplished, but don’t make a video resume out of it…

      1. timing is uncanny, I tracked that video down last night to show to a friend haha

        1. Yeah its a classic. That one and Models and Bottles are must-see material for anyone interested in finance.

          1. Can someone post a link? I’d like to watch it!

  23. Avatar
    M&I - Nicole

    I like this article!

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