Avoid Accepting a Job That's a Bad Fit

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe won't cut it. Here's how to intelligently find and choose a job that fits.

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The idea of choosing a job based on fit is underrated. In the excitement of clearing hurdles during the interview process, it’s easy to overlook signs that a position or company might not actually be right for you.

But it’s a mistake to accept a new position while turning a blind eye to potential red flags. If you land a job that makes you miserable, this can’t be considered a victory. Worst-case scenario, you’ll have to repeat your job-search efforts back at square one – with a short-term blip on your résumé to explain.

Here’s some advice for job seekers to steer clear of scary workplace scenarios that can lead their career off-track in a hurry:

Start at the beginning. Finding the right job fit should begin long before your first phone-screen. It should originate with your own sense of who you are and what you need at work. Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders, suggests that before you begin your search, you first have to identify what’s most important to you. “Take an inventory of your career to date and consider which roles you’ve enjoyed most (and least), and why,” she says. “Also consider your proudest professional accomplishments. Based on this information, identify the underlying skills, core values and working environment that work best for you.”

Research them. A 2011 study by Reppler, a social media monitoring service, found that more than 90 percent of the 300 hiring managers and recruiters surveyed use social media to help screen candidates. They then base their hiring decisions in part on what they find. As a competitive job applicant, you should do the same thing when it comes to the companies and managers of potential interest to you. “Job offers and employment are a lot like dating and marriage, and so thorough dating beats speed dating to avoid a likely divorce,” says Stephen Smith, founder of G5 Learning, an online career advice and webcast service.

In addition to the obvious advice to research the company’s website and check the LinkedIn profiles of hiring managers you know by name, you should also go to Glassdoor, since the site's profiles can shed light behind the scenes. Software Advice, a software sales and resource firm, released results from a recent survey of 4,633 respondents in the U.S. that found almost half used Glassdoor at some point during their job search. Job seekers used Glassdoor ratings – which are given by current and former employees at each organization – to help evaluate a company’s culture and values, work-life balance and opinions on senior management, compensation/benefits and career opportunities.

Interview them. While most savvy job seekers do their due diligence when it comes to preparing to be interviewed, they may overlook the opportunity to get answers from their potential new manager and colleagues. “Job seekers often forget that the purpose of an interview is twofold,” says Judi Wunderlich, co-founder and vice president of recruiting at staffing and recruiting firm WunderLand Group, LLC. “Obviously the company is vetting you to see if you’re worth hiring, but you should also be looking at the company and asking, ‘Is this a place I can see myself spending most of my waking hours?’”

Laura Renner, founder of Hiring Coach, a hiring consulting service, agrees that the key to finding the right fit is coming prepared to ask the hiring manager the right questions in the interview stage. Renner recommends asking the following:

  • What would I be expected to accomplish in my first 30 days? The answer would reveal how clearly defined the job is.
  • How would you define success in this role? This would let you know how success is measured in the company and if that matches with how you measure your own success.
  • What is your management style? If interviewing with your potential new manager, this answer would allow you to see if your work style meshes with your new supervisor’s management style. It may also give you a sense of the company’s culture.

Watch for red flags. How many times in your life have you noticed something that didn’t seem quite right, yet you ignored it and later regretted doing so? If you take that approach to your job decision-making process, the results can be disastrous.

There are a number of red flags that can help tip you off to a poor fit between you and the company (or between you and the department, role, supervisor, team or corporate culture). The key is, you have to heed these warnings and avoid the job if you notice them:

  • What’s being said. Commonalities in employee discontent are a big red flag, according to Adrienne Tom, employment strategist at Career Impressions. Tom suggests that when you're doing research on a company through Glassdoor or other review sites you should look for repetitive and consistent comments around similar issues, including company culture, work-life balance or process confusion. “Look at the social media pages of companies (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) – are there poor reviews or negative comments?” she asks. “If so, delve deeper.”
  • What’s not being said. You can often gain valuable clues not just by obvious warning signs, such as clearly disengaged employees, but by listening to what people aren’t telling you. Howard Seidel, partner at the career management consulting firm Essex Partners, suggests asking open-ended questions, such as, “Describe the work culture” and “How are decisions made?” “This can get direct positive and negative information, but even when it doesn’t, employees will often telegraph what they truly think about a manager or an organization by what they don’t say in response to such questions,” he says. “Listen and act on these cues.”
  • Disorganization. If your interviewers can’t get it together enough to be on their best behavior for your job interview, chances are the actual job won’t be much better. Stacy Lindenberg, owner of Talent Seed Consulting, LLC, warns interviewees to be on the lookout for lack of cohesion among team members and lack of understanding of job duties. “Each person you interview with should at least have a common understanding of the job,” she says. “Also if the interviewer is late, rushed or explains they just heard from HR they had to interview you, that could be a sign that the company doesn't communicate effectively internally.”
  • Culture cues. Don’t underestimate the influence that company culture can have over your well being at work. “If you walk into an office and it just doesn’t feel right – pay attention,” says Brad Karsh, president of the training, learning and development company, JB Training Solutions. “The organization’s values, visions, norms, working language, systems, attire and habits will be huge contributors to your happiness on the job.”