I was not a good salesperson. It wasn’t that I was lazy. I worked very long hours. It also wasn’t because I was ignorant. Often I understood the product better than the majority of my colleagues, so much so that I found myself training them on the various products I represented. It wasn’t because I didn’t try to do the things my supervisors told me. I did exactly what they told me to do. Yet I wasn’t a good sales rep. I was so bad that I was let go. Multiple times. Now that isn’t exactly a true black mark on me. The nature of the professional salesperson often includes careers where jobs are changed every few years for various reasons both within and external to the salesperson’s control. It did happen to me more often than others. For many years, the first half of my career really, I didn’t understand why. Then I, eventually, figured it out.
Upon reflection the root cause of the layoffs was because I didn’t have what I think of as the killer instinct. When given a chance to help the customer out or close the deal, I always helped the customer. I justified my decisions because of the rhetoric you hear in every sales meeting. “If you put the customer first, your sales will grow and you’ll have a great career” I was told the same thing often in seminars, books and sales meetings. In the end I have come to the conclusion that nothing is farther from the truth. As a sales rep, no matter if you are selling photocopiers or complex technological solutions, your productivity is measured quarterly,monthly,weekly, and sometimes daily. No sales meeting where you say “I found the customer a solution that was a better fit” ends well, even if your company told you to always support your client over closing the sale. So I had a great many happy customers and a great many pink slips to show for my nearly twenty years as a professional sales rep. Clearly I should have gotten out of sales much earlier. I simply wasn’t a good fit for the job I was in, yet I didn’t see it. Many, many people from practically every type of job and from every sector of our economy don’t see it either, even though it’s not rocket science. That being said, you can figure out how good of a fit you are for your job.
There are many signs you aren’t a good fit for the job you are in. Getting laid off often, as was the case with me, is one of them. Yes, there are industries where many people get laid off with regularity. These are typically where we see big swings in the business cycle seasonally. You can also have the bad luck of being involved in an industry in transition. Even in those situations, those who are the best fit for a job tend to keep it more frequently than others.
An internal sign has to do with how you feel about going to work. If you never want to be there, then clearly it’s not a good fit. There is a very clear correlation between job satisfaction and how well you get along with your boss. But what if you get along with your boss just fine and you still don’t want to be there? If your boss is great and you still find yourself in the thank God it’s Friday, oh God it’s Monday syndrome that is a good sign that something about that environment is not a fit for you.
Speaking of bosses, another telltale sign is if your boss is always on your case. I should say if the ‘bosses’ are almost always on your case no matter where you go. Everybody can get the bad luck of a micromanaging boss once or twice in their career. Yet, even the sweetest bosses with the kindest natures still have to follow up when things don’t get done. If you hate your day-to-day activities, it’s only human nature to put them off a bunch. If you’re putting them off, often they won’t get done and somebody has to come to you and tell you to move it. If all your bosses have always been bad you would either have the world’s worst career luck, or you’re in an industry and a job type that just attracts bad bosses. That would be another sign that you’re not fit for that style of job. Of course it goes beyond the boss. What if you’re not matching up with your team’s personality? What if you don’t match up with all of the teams you’ve ever been a part of? That could be another good sign that your personality is not a match for the job or the industry. Another sign that you’re not a match is if you’re always dreaming about doing something else. If you’re having trouble being focused on the task at hand and not feeling some measure of enjoyment for the majority of your time there, then you may wind up fantasizing about doing something else way more than is usual. Constantly fantasizing about a different type of job is an almost guarantee that your personality is not a fit for the one you are in.
If we know we aren’t comfortable with our working environment, it would make sense for more people to say “this isn’t for me” or “I’m not right for this job” yet something keeps us from that. There is some sort of built-in hesitancy. There are many reasons for this ambivalent attitude. I think simple ignorance is a big issue. Ignorance really means not understanding what other environments are like and how well of a fit they are. Ignorance of different working environments is rampant. I put the blame of this squarely on our legal and educational system. Companies are so risk averse, that they won’t allow students to sample worklife to limit the organization’s liability. In some instances this makes sense, such as manufacturing. In others, like office or service based jobs, it makes little to no sense. There is no question that people will consider any options they are familiar with and eschew those that they don’t understand. I think this is why so many kids wind up following in the footsteps of their parents. Over the years they get a sense of what their parents’ work life is like.
Another challenge is anchoring. Anchoring can be a good thing if it keeps you employed in a place you want to be employed at during turbulent times. You can be anchored by experience and/or education and a professional network. It’s a challenge if your personality isn’t really a fit for your current job/industry. The problem is that companies will almost always want to hire the applicant with the most experience. Often it’s not just the company, it’s us. We have a tendency to only apply to jobs of the same type because it fits in our comfort zone. If the job isn’t a good fit, a variant of the same issues that made you want to switch jobs will most likely rear its head again. Not only that, your professional circle will think any issues you are experiencing are just related to the boss or the company and they will try to connect you to other jobs of the same type and in the same industry. Now, the reverse is less common but it does happen. This is when someone who knows you, knows your personality, and has an in to a work opportunity with a different type of job or industry that would be a better fit you.
Even if you get a better opportunity from someone who knows your personality, you may still not be able to move to a job that is a better fit for your personality. You could be anchored to your current job and/or industry because of financial or lifestyle considerations. Often transitions in employment can trigger the great reset switch. In a world where everything is a payment, it’s often impossible to take a step down. A classic example I’ve seen a few times in my life is the chatty office admin who’s not detail oriented and so they are always getting in trouble no matter what job they go to. They would do great in a service job in the hospitality industry. Service jobs usually pay much less than almost any admin positions in the corporate sector. If the chatty office admin has a lifestyle that includes car payments, house payments, and other obligations that require the admin salary, then there is no way they can take the service job unless it’s a part time gig on top of the admin job. Eight to five, they are still going to be living a life where their personality is not a good fit for what they are doing.
There is also the transition cost on the other side. If there is a big bill associated with a career move, say going back to school, then it’s virtually impossible. Using myself as an example, I know the person I am today would do very well teaching and researching in a University Environment. I also know that the cost of the PhD in money and time coupled with the years of paying my dues make it completely infeasible. It doesn’t matter if you would be a better fit as a lawyer, medical care provider, or any other job that takes a huge educational investment, if you are mid-career, it’s almost impossible to break from commitments for the years it’ll take you to get to where you want to be.
I talked about ignorance earlier as a barrier to making a change to a job you are more fit for. Just beyond ignorance is fear. Often we are afraid to admit we are in the wrong field. For many, if not most people, there is also the fear of trying something new and different. Let’s be honest, the new and unknown is very scary. I’ve seen people turn down paths that would be a great fit for their personality because of fear. I know I’ve done it and I hate that I lost so many opportunities because of my fears.
So what can you do? If you aren’t a good fit for your job or career and your mature enough to realize it. What should you do? If you have a good idea of what you’d like to do, but are afraid to try it, possibly thinking it’s too hard to do the job or too challenging to get into the industry, then you need to fight the fear and ignorance with activity. Activity creates familiarity and familiarity mostly eliminates fear. Start by reading trade journals or taking a class here or there. Then see if there is any way to start working in that world in a part time position or some other sort of internship. Learn as much as you can.
An alternative to this method is to stay in the same industry but make a lateral move to a position that is different from your own but somewhat aligned to where you want to be. It’s easy to move from sales in one industry to customer service in that same industry, and then move to customer service in a completely different industry. There are other, possibly better, examples. The point is once you have experience in the target job it’s easier to shift industries. You can even do the target job as a hobby or on a voluntary basis to get the experience and resume filler needed to make recruiters feel more at ease moving you into your target position. It won’t be easy but it’ll definitely be less challenging than going from your current position to your target position in a single step.
There is no easy solution to the money issue other than taking it on the chin. It’s not easy. I’ve done it. You’ll have to completely change your lifestyle. It’ll take big moves like selling everything you own or stepping down in house size and location. The benefit to this is much more lifestyle flexibility. It can be done. Often it takes several passes as changing a lifestyle is more of a journey than it is a single action. The biggest barriers aren’t actually changing your lifestyle. It’s bringing along the others in your life. If you are married with kids it’s nearly impossible, unless, of course, they want to get rid of the negative effects that come with not being a good fit for a job as much as you do.
In the end life is short and nobody should spend the majority of it engaged in environments and activities for which they aren’t a good fit. We should spend our days feeling comfortable with what we are doing and with where we are. To that end, If your truly unhappy in your job, or under uncomfortable levels of pressure, and it’s causing issues, then you should really consider if your personality is a good fit for the work you do and the industry you are in. If you do come to the conclusion that your personality isn’t a good match for the work you do, then it’s time to start the hard work of transitioning to something that’s a good fit. Part of that hard work may be career exploration because we may not even know what’s a good fit for us if we don’t have enough experience. To that end activity is your best friend in that it will erase fear and create opportunities.
The bottom line is this. Weekends are great, but we should never find that we are living our lives for them. When your personality matches your job, then really, it almost feels like every day is a weekend.
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