Fit is one of the most important factors in job success. What does “fit” mean, exactly? There’s no one specific definition, but in general, it refers to a comfort level with the organizational culture and the job itself: your supervisors and colleagues feel comfortable with you and vice versa.
If your company values hard-charging individuals, you’ll fit in if you’re aggressive and decisive. You won’t if you are introverted and shy. The converse is also true. If you’re company values reflective individuals, you’ll fit in if your approach is thoughtful and considered; you won’t if you tend to value quick, off-the-cuff decision-making.
Because fit is so important, you want to assess the match between yourself and an organization when you interview. But that’s not necessarily easy! Few interviewers address fit overtly during a job interview. Assessing fit often requires picking up on cues, clues, and codes. When a job isn’t a good fit, it may be best to walk away even if they make an offer. After all, if you work somewhere where you don’t fit in, you may not last very long or be miserable the time you are there.
You need to know the indicators to watch out for in the interview process that indicate you won’t be a good fit for the job and/or won’t be happy in the role. Here’s a brief overview of the red flags to watch out for in three key areas.
Check the Fit in These 3 Areas
1. Work/life balance.
Work/life balance is one of the most important elements in a job. Companies vary widely. Some allow (or even expect) remote work and flexible hours; others may reward people for long hours spent in the office or want nearly constant, 24/7 availability by phone or computer.
You need to make sure that your job at least works within the realm of your ideal. If it doesn’t, it’s a guarantee for a poor fit, and can lead to unhappiness and even termination from a job.
Fortunately, if you want a job with flexible hours or work from home possibilities, you can ask directly about the company’s policies as part of the interview. But remember that it’s important to pay attention to the tone in which responses are given as well as the official answer.
Does the company genuinely seem to support flexibility, or is it somewhat grudgingly? Some companies give lip service to flexibility but reserve it only for a few, or aren’t truly happy with people who utilize flexibility.
Others could be transitioning. Some offices have relied heavily on work from home during the COVID crisis, for example, but might be focusing on bringing people back to the office as it ebbs.
Pay attention, also, to the emphasis on time you are expected to give the company. Does the position involve travel, sales, or frequent conferences or meetings? All these can involve much more time than a standard 9-to-5 job. That’s great if you want those things or see them as valuable opportunities. It’s not a recipe for fit if you don’t.
2. Office culture.
Office culture is the sea in which all office workers swim, daily. If you fit, you’re very likely to be successful. If you don’t, you’re unlikely to do well.
What affects office culture? Everything from topics of gossip and favorite pastimes to ways of working. Your colleagues might love Netflix and soccer and emphasize teamwork in their daily interactions. Or, they might be highly invested in video games and work in a very individual way, each person at their own desk.
How do you scope out the culture in an interview? Well, remember that the interview takes place within the culture! Look at it for clues. Assess your fit with the interview itself.
Do your interviewers make jokes about or reference the opening day of baseball, for example? If you don’t like (or don’t follow) baseball, that’s an indication of lack of fit. Do they reference your favorite Netflix show? That, on the other hand, may indicate fit.
Look around you, also. Architecture and office layouts provide valuable clues about cultures. Are people in open-plan offices? Or are people in individual offices or cubes? Do you see people socializing and chatting, or is it quiet and focused? Open-plan and chat may indicate a group focus and sociability; individual offices and quiet are likely to be embraced by organizations that emphasis individual work. Does the company provide spaces for decompressing such as a lounge or coffee alcove or is the space strictly business-oriented?
Assess what you see in the office. Would you fit and feel comfortable in what you see?
3. Opportunities for advancement.
Organizations vary widely in their policies on advancement opportunities. Some place great emphasize on promoting from within and have specific paths to advancement. Others tend to look outside when slots open up.
Whether you fit or not depends on whether their policies accord with your wishes. If you very much want a promotable path, for example, you’re not likely to fit or be comfortable in an organization that grows from the outside.
The best strategy is to ask about advancement opportunities. Most interviews include at least some time to ask questions about the company. You can ask about promotional paths for the specific job or about the company’s overall commitment to employee growth. You can also ask where the previous holders of the job have gone, which can give you an indication of the promotional path as it plays out for the specific job.
Organization fit is crucial to being successful and comfortable in a job. Be sure to use the interview process to both ask about and scope out clues about key elements of fit, including the company’s policies on work/life balance, the office culture, and opportunities for advancement in the position.
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