Networking

Are You an “Organizational Misfit”? Here’s Why That Might Help You Advance Your Career

organizational misfit

Americans change jobs frequently throughout their working lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, older millennials born in the early 1980s held an average of 8.2 jobs from the ages of 18 to 32, while younger Baby Boomers had an average of 12.3 jobs from 18 to 52. 

Perhaps these job-changing statistics aren’t entirely surprising. What may be more of a surprise is that individuals with atypical job-changing trajectories build stronger professional networks that help them advance. Though it may seem that individuals who follow traditional career paths have more success, in fact, “organizational misfits” use their connections to colleagues from disparate sectors, as well as contacts from wider swathes of demographics, to their advantage. 

Why is a non-traditional career trajectory so beneficial to career success? Even if you don’t have an atypical career, can you still deploy similar networking-building tactics to your advantage? Let’s discuss. 

Why an “Organizational Misfit” May Have More Success

New Research from Dartmouth on “Organizational Misfit” concept

Adam Kleinbaum, a professor at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, published an article about the networking benefits that “organizational misfits” had over those who followed a more consistent path. 

In his study of 30,000 employees at a single organization, Kleinbaum defined an “organizational misfit” as someone who progressed through several departments of the company. In this progression, they connected with colleagues across sectors, as well as accumulating a more diverse list of contacts. 

Why is this accumulation of connections impactful? 

Kleinbaum posits that organizational misfits are more likely to be brokers. He defines a broker as “one who connects people and groups that are otherwise disconnected in the informal network structure” (Kleinbaum 407). 

Brokers are then better able to use their “far-reaching networks” to learn information earlier than others, as well as generating a greater wealth of information at their disposal (Kleinbaum 408). 

Use this research to build your network.

Organizational misfits have an easier time building these diverse networks than those with a traditional career trajectory do. However, employing certain attitudes and behaviors can help anyone build a similar network. 

Connect with colleagues from across your organization.

Kleinbaum suggests that “that individuals who have experienced more mobility… should be more likely to bridge otherwise disconnected groups” (Kleinbaum 413). 

The idea here is to build relationships with colleagues across your organization. While these connections may be less defined than current or former colleague relationships are, they are still meaningful.

There are ways to connect with your organizational peers in other departments. Try networking with someone whose work interests you or that you know nothing about. Don’t just think about how you could use a potential contact for a purpose; connect with them on a human level first and foremost. 

Build trust and connection beyond your department.

Connected with the previous insight, Kleinbaum also suggests, “When one or both members of such a strong relationship changes jobs, the communication frequency may drop off significantly, but the underlying trust and emotional connection changes more slowly” (Kleinbaum 413). 

The idea here is that an organizational misfit has a greater number of former colleagues with whom they’ve developed trust. Again, this kind of deep networking can be replicated even if you haven’t worked closely with someone. Consider reaching out to collaborate on a mutually-beneficial project with a distant colleague you’d never considered connecting with before. 

Create referral potential by connecting in unique ways

Another benefit an organizational misfit has is that their large group of former colleagues also let them “tap into an even larger population of friends of friends…an individual is more likely to interact with an organizationally distant person if they share a common acquaintance: awareness, normative pressure, and trust” (Kleinbaum 413). 

In other words, having a key contact in common improves networking potential. If you have a narrower field of contacts, however, you can still develop this type of broad network yourself. Consider joining a professional organization to meet people who don’t work in your department. Or, you could tap into your college or grad school’s alumni network. 

The most important part of this strategy is ensuring that you’re reaching out to colleagues who aren’t your field. 

Becoming a “Broker” With or Without an Atypical Career Path

The benefit of being a broker is that you can access a wider network of connections, which, in turn, offers you a greater breadth of information. While an organizational misfit constructs this network throughout their atypical career path, everyone can use insights from Kleinbaum’s research to intentionally build connections beyond those individuals you work with regularly. 

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