Thriving in Your Career: Finding the Right Fit

Guest Post by Anna Graham Hunter, Career Happiness Coach

Nod if this sounds familiar:

You hear about a position that seems perfect for you – new challenges, a prestigious company, a great title, and a salary range that’s a step up. They call you in and describe all the ways the company is great, why you’re such a good fit, and the many reasons you’ll love working there. After the first interview, you glide home on a high as you think about the possibilities. That night you start planning the wedding and imagining a life of happily ever after.

They make you an offer, you accept, and for the first couple of months, both of you are still feeling the glow of the honeymoon phase. You continue to think the best of each other.

But after a while, you begin to notice that interactions are feeling a little more forced, “off” in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. Some days it’s hard to remember your early enthusiasm, and, like one half of a married couple that’s grown disenchanted, daily habits start to irritate you: the way people talk in meetings, the tone of emails, the way decisions get made, how you’re expected to spend your time.

You remind yourself that this is your dream job. You remember the salary, the title, and the way your new responsibilities will look on your resume.

But after several months, it becomes harder and harder to convince yourself that this was the right move. Your relationship with your boss has started to sour, and you realize that you’ve lost respect for the person you were so excited to work with.

Now the only questions are:

  1. How quickly can you find something else?
  2. How can you avoid making the same mistake again?

Almost all of us have found ourselves in the wrong fit at least once in our work lives. And when it happens, the first thing to go is usually our confidence. We start questioning not only our competence (“If other people seem to be doing well here, what’s wrong with me?”) but also our ability to make decisions (“If I could be so wrong about this, how will I ever trust my instincts again?”).

One reaction to this doubt is to throw up your hands and assume everything is a crapshoot and that you’ll never know if something is going to work out until you get there.

But there is another, better way to choose your next career step, and that is to look beyond the credentials (salary, title, mission) and instead evaluate the ways in which you and an organization do or do not get along.

The three most important aspects of fit to consider are Feeling, Interactions, and Tasks.

  • Feeling is the overall environment of a workplace, from the way it looks to the way it sounds. What’s the energy level? What’s on the walls? How is the space organized?
  • Interactions are just that – how people interact and who you’re interacting with. How do people greet each other in the halls, if at all? Do they pop in and out of each other’s cubicles and offices, or do people three feet away from each other communicate via email?
  • Tasks are how you spend the day. Most positions come with descriptions of what you will be expected to accomplish, but that won’t tell you what you’ll actually be doing all day. Will you spend most of your time on the phone? Working collaboratively with others? Putting out fires? Staring at a computer screen producing PowerPoint decks?

Before you start exploring what your next step might be, you need to get clear on what you want for each of these aspects of fit. You can do this by looking at past positions and organizations and analyzing the components that felt both right and wrong.

Once you know what you want, it can be a challenge to discover whether an organization or position will be the right fit for you, but it can be done. The keys are to ask the right questions and look for the right clues.

By the right questions, I mean non-biased queries that force whoever is answering to be specific. The problem with questions such as, “How would you describe the culture?” is that it allows someone to speak in platitudes without backing anything up (“It’s great – really supportive, lots of teamwork.”)

One of my favorite questions is, “How does conflict show up in meetings and how does it get dealt with?” This assumes that there is conflict – of course there is – but does not give away the answer you are looking for.

Another of my favorite questions is, “What’s the energy like around here Friday at 5:00pm?” It’s impossible to respond in platitudes, and there is no assumed right answer.

Looking for the right clues means thinking like an anthropologist when you visit the office. Observe how the place is organized and decorated (or not). Listen for the noise level. Watch the people and how they interact. Do they seem tense? Energetic? Engaged? Checked out?

By getting clear on what really matters to you when it comes to feeling, interactions, and tasks, and then developing a list of questions and clues that matter to you, you will be able to gauge whether something is the right fit before you take the plunge.

Anna Graham Hunter will be presenting “Thriving in Your Career: Finding the Right Fit”  for Georgetown alumni on May 6, 12:30-1:30pm ET.  Register here and follow Anna on Facebook or visit her website.  Check out Anna’s past webinar for Georgetown:

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