Here’s the Real Reason You Don’t Fit In at Work


By Elizabeth Garone
February 15, 2016

Everyone wants to fit in. This is all very well when you’re a university student and can pick and choose your friends, but quite another when it comes to that first job – or even later in your career when your priorities might be entirely different. But what if your job depends on seamlessly working closely with your colleagues all the time? How can you find a company culture that is meant for you?

Needle in a haystack

“No one company culture is right for every single person, and no one company culture may be right for you throughout your entire career,” said Tom Gimbel, chief executive officer and founder of Chicago-headquartered staffing and recruiting firm LaSalle Network, in an email.  He wrote that as you “grow and develop as a professional,” the things that motivate you may change, which means the type of culture you are looking for or fit with best “may evolve as well.”

Money no longer king

So how do you decide where you fit best professionally? While money used to be the deciding factor for many candidates, there has been a shift in recent years towards finding the right corporate culture and the type of values an organisation espouses, according to Dr. Shoshana Dobrow Riza, an assistant professor of management at the London School of Economics’ Department of Management, in an email. “In particular, people are now focusing much more on what is meaningful to them in their jobs – and choosing organisations whose cultures enable them to get this type of meaning,” she said.


In order to figure out if you will thrive at a firm, you have to understand what’s important to you, what your motivations are and the type of environment you thrive in, said LaSalle Network’s Gimbel. He suggested reviewing influential figures in your past who were able to get the best performance from you. Was it a coach, professor, mentor? What characteristics did they have? Then ask your potential manager during an interview how they would describe their management style. Do the two have anything in common?”

Environmental concerns

In college, were you one of those people who excelled in a group? Or did you prefer to work independently on your own schedule? Did you have to work in the quiet section of the library, or did you thrive working in a busy coffee shop? “Your answers to these questions are telling of the type of environment you will thrive in,” said Gimbel. “If you need quiet to work effectively, an open plan office may not be the best fit for you. Take note of that during the interview. If you prefer to work independently, ask about the make-up of teams and how much is group collaboration versus autonomous projects.

Cultural shift

Also, think about what you learned from any summer internships or job experiences, you had, suggested Dr. Kat Cohen, chief executive officer and founder of New York City’s educational consulting company IvyWise. Was there a company that you truly felt was a good fit and where you already have established contacts? Or did you dislike the internship from the get-go due to its fast-paced and all-hands-on-deck nature?

“It is important to determine what kind of company culture a candidate thinks they will thrive best in and dig deep to find companies that embody those ideals,” said Cohen in an email. Use your network of friends, family, university alumni websites and job search sites like Glassdoor to determine which companies might suit your skill sets and company culture requirements. “Sit down and ask your connections questions. Talking to as many people as possible is always a good idea,” she said.

Not always just right

In an ideal world, you find the perfect fit and slide right in. But there isn’t always room to be picky about company culture first-and-foremost, especially straight out of university, said Cohen. “Most graduates just need a job and have student loans to think about paying off. Plus, it is tough to get your foot in the door,” she said. “Companies are essentially rolling the dice when they hire a person who is new to the full-time workforce, and candidates may end up taking a job at a company that is not their first choice or does not embody all the characteristics they were initially looking for.” But that’s okay, said Cohen. “Establishing worth, work ethic and gaining needed experience is necessary.” Even if the position isn’t exactly what you imagined, you can still learn about the industry, how the profession works, gain insight into the skills and tools necessary to succeed, and begin building a network with professionals in the field.

Priorities change

As people move into the middle part of their careers, their needs in terms of what a job’s responsibilities are and what it can offer them might change. “Evaluate what’s important to you,” said Gimbel. Are you looking for more flexibility? More autonomy? Do you want to be promoted, or are you happy where you are? Do you want to push the status quo, or are you happy clocking in and clocking out doing only what’s asked of you? “Once you understand what you’re looking for, you will be better able to evaluate if you will fit within a company’s culture,” he said.

And, as you move into the final phase of your career, it’s important to revisit those priorities. “Do you want to be surrounded by younger colleagues, or do you want to associate with people of your age and tenure? Do you want to learn and be challenged, or are you just looking for a place to finish your career before retirement?” asked Gimbel. If the answer is learn and grow, then you might want to ask about reverse mentoring programs that allow you to learn from your colleagues and about professional development offered to someone with your skill set and tenure.

Peaks and valleys

“There’s a career myth out there that once you start working, career success will be a straight trajectory going up and up. This is wrong,” said Dobrow Riza. “Instead, it’s healthier for us all to manage our own expectations and expect ups and downs, external jolts, breaks, etcetera. The bottom line is to expect change in our careers, rather than to expect stability.”

And while our priorities might change over the life of our careers, we are all really looking for the same thing in the end, said Shawn Murphy, chief executive officer and founder of Sacramento, California-based management consulting firm Switch and Shift. “We all want to work in a culture where we’re treated like mature, fully-functioning adults, have autonomy, work with purpose, and have meaningful work and relationships.”