Good Fit or Force Fit? Finding the Company That’s Right for You.

Square Peg Round Hole

Here’s a tough question to ask yourself: Are you the right “fit” for your company?

If the answer is yes, my guess is that you’re probably pretty happy at your job. But, if the answer is “not sure” or “no”, you’re probably very unhappy, even if you work for a great company.

Several years back, I was working at what many would consider to be a great company. The business was growing rapidly, and the company took really good care of its employees. The only problem was that the culture was just not quite right for me. And there were a lot of unwritten rules about how you were expected to behave in the workplace.

Here are a few examples:

  • Never question or debate someone senior to you, even if you do it in a polite and productive way.
  • Always hide your emotions. Never get angry, even if it’s completely justified.
  • If you’re in a meeting with company executives, always let your boss do all the talking.
  • If you’re giving a presentation, it should not be fun or entertaining in any way because that distracts from the substance of the content.

Anyone who didn’t follow the “rules” would be identified as a “problem”. Unfortunately, I got pegged as one of those “problem” people.

So, here are some things you should know about me. I’m a passionate guy. I love talking about business and debating strategy. I want to figure out how to solve tough problems and move the company forward. I’m never afraid to share my thoughts and ideas with senior executives. And, I’ll show my emotions when I get frustrated. That’s just how I’m wired.

In many companies, those would be good traits for an employee. But, at this particular company, the way I was behaving was holding me back. When I would get a performance review, the common theme was that my work was excellent but I didn’t follow the “rules”.

There was a phrase that would often come up in my reviews: “lacks self-awareness”.

Honestly, that kind of feedback would drive me nuts. The one thing I did not lack was self-awareness. I was completely aware of my behavior. And, I was aware that it would sometimes make my co-workers or my boss uncomfortable. But, I was always focused on doing good work that would help move the business. And I was delivering results that no one could argue with.

But, I started to realize that my behavior was limiting my career at this company. Just doing good work wasn’t enough to get me to the next level. I had to start behaving differently.

So, I decided to make a change. I started to really “dial it back”. I wouldn’t debate. I’d keep quiet in meetings, only speaking if spoken to. I never let my frustrations show. And I tried my best to play nice with everyone.

It wasn’t easy. I’m not used to being the quiet one in meetings. I’m not used to holding back when I feel like I can solve a problem or contribute to a conversation.

But, as I changed my behavior, things started happening for me in the company. My boss was happier with me. I got great feedback from peers in my 360 reviews. I even got a promotion!

But, it was killing me on the inside. I just felt like I wasn’t myself anymore. I would come home from work every day absolutely exhausted. It’s hard work trying to be someone that you’re not.

During this time, I also felt like my work really suffered. I just wasn’t bringing the same energy to my projects. It felt like I was just going through the motions. But that didn’t seem to matter because I was now seen as a “company guy” with a bright future.

Then, it happened. I had a relapse. I was giving a presentation in front of the marketing department and I started off showing a slide with a picture of my kids. I made a joke about how my daughter has an amazing head of hair while her Daddy is completely bald. I then showed a picture of myself as a kid with a thick head of hair similar to my daughter’s. You can see the slide below.

I got a huge laugh. It was a nice way to break the ice and build rapport with the audience. But, I knowingly did violate the “no entertaining presentations” rule.

After the presentation, I was called into the boss’ office. I was told not to put pictures of my kids in my presentations again. He told me that it distracted from the content of the presentation and it wasn’t funny.

There were so many things I wanted to say to him. It was 1 slide in a 45-minute presentation. And it definitely was funny. Those weren’t sympathy laughs I was getting. People were genuinely cracking up. But, I didn’t argue. I just apologized and left his office.

I went back to my desk completely deflated. That day I came to the difficult realization that this was not the right company for me. I just wasn’t a good fit. It was time for me to leave.

So, I polished up my resume and started a job search. A few months later, I resigned. When I walked out the door on my last day, I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders.

The new company I joined ended up being a much better fit. I could really be myself at work and I would show up every day excited to be there. Everything about my style that worked against me at the last company, worked in my favor at this new company. And showing pictures of your kids in presentations was not only accepted but also encouraged.

I have a feeling that many people can relate to this story. I’m sure that some of you are struggling with this exact issue right now.

All I can tell you is that it’s not enough just to work for a great company. You have to work for a company that’s the right fit for you. – a place where you don’t have to change who you are in order to be successful.

You only get one career. Why spend it being unhappy?

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