How To Find A Career That Is A Good Fit

Have you ever worn a pair of shoes that don’t fit correctly? Every step is painful. Just the thought of walking a block in them is daunting! How much more misery is involved when an individual is in a job or career that is a poor fit?

And there are a good number of these people. The Conference Board’s 2013 research reports that more than half of U.S. workers are dissatisfied with their jobs. Someone needs to tell them that the goal of enjoyable and challenging careers that suit us well is not impossible to achieve. The Chinese philosopher and teacher Confucius must have known what it is to have work that is a good fit. He said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Choose a job or career that is well suited to you, and job satisfaction and work performance soars.

Causes of poor fit between an individual and their work
We can find ourselves in a job or career that is a poor fit in a number of ways.

  • The most common reason stems from not clearly identifying what you really want from your work. This makes it difficult to discern what specifically needs to change to improve your “fit”. Ask yourself what criteria you established when you began your career.
  • A second reason is when the actual work or tasks that were part of your job have changed and are no longer tapping into your talent profile. Stop and consider what changes have occurred that have impacted your work accountabilities.
  • Another cited reason is personality differences with a team or manager. What you value may not align with the values of other people or the organization anymore. Are my emotional needs being met?
  • Another reason is that you have changed. You have had a shift in what you want from your job or work environment. What is new in your life?

The net result of a poor fit is significant. It leads to burnout and disengagement. More importantly, studies show that work satisfaction is the biggest contributor to a happy life.

So what can you do about it?
The first is to realize that you do have some control over your situation and that there are some actual steps you can follow to begin to identify a realistic set of options that “fit” you.

  1. Who am I? Self-knowledge:
    First, you need to know yourself. Why is that important? Truly, we are each unique. We all have natural abilities and need to make choices about how to invest time and effort to develop them. We have preferences in topics or interests which can be explored and prioritized. And as we mature, our personality traits and values are more established. What is important to you? You can get at this information through good assessments, feedback from different situations over the years, asking people you know what they see in you and taking time to reflect. It is also important to think about what is NOT working for you currently and why. Knowing what contributes to your dissatisfaction is helpful too.
  2. Next, identify possible options.
    Where do you start looking at possible careers that would make good use of your talents? There are so many it may seem overwhelming. Think about what types of subjects or activities capture your attention. What role would you like to have in your life – helping people, organizing information, working with your hands or machines, researching scientific problems?
    The U.S. Departments of Labor and Education have organized careers into 16 career clusters to make it easier to learn about careers. Each cluster represents a distinct grouping of occupations and industries based on the knowledge and skills they require. The clusters and the pathways within each cluster have suggested plans of study that can help you create your own plan, while also revealing similar careers for consideration.Read more about the tasks involved in jobs that are of interest and may be a good fit for you. The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) and O*NET websites are excellent resources for learning about careers. The OOH provides information on what workers do; working conditions; education, training, and other qualifications; pay; job outlook; similar occupations; and sources of additional information.On the O*NET website, you can scan the list of careers that are classified “Bright Outlook” or “Green Careers”, occupations related to the environment and sustainability. If you’re not sure of your interests, you might want to complete an interest survey that will map your interests to particular career areas and occupations.
  3. So now that you have your baseline criteria, you need to see what type of organization is looking for contributions that you want to make. And what are they willing to pay for it?
    You can begin by thinking in terms of what needs are present in the world today. Caela Farren, consultant and educator, developed a The Twelve Basic Needs Model that creates a framework for looking at jobs, careers and your life through the lens of the needs of the world. What one, two or three needs would you like your work to address? What kinds of organizations have designated those needs as their primary focus?


  4. Do a gap analysis between your abilities, interests, and skills and the career options you have identified.
    Compare your profile of abilities, interests, values and personality to the requirements of the careers you are considering. Where are there similarities? Where are the differences? Can you close any of the gaps through skill-building or training? Sometimes a career professional or coach can be a good sounding board as you consider your options and determine your best fit. And don’t rule your current job out just yet. You may find that a few changes would close any gaps and help you regain or increase your level of work satisfaction. You can propose these changes in a career discussion with your manager. If it is evident that even with some changes that your current position is still a poor fit, consider the other options that are a better fit for you.
  5. Seek out and talk to experienced people in the careers you have identified as good fit careers for yourself.
    Where do you find these people? Sometimes you, your friends or family know individuals in these careers. Where this is not the case, check websites of local professional organizations representing your target careers for the names and contact information of officers or committee chairs. People who are active in their professional organization typically love the work they do, and often enjoy talking with someone who is interested in learning more about their field. Schedule an informational interview with them. This additional information will help you determine how well your characteristics fit with the requirements of that career, which will give you more confidence in your decision.
  6. Make your decision and put a plan into place:
    Need additional education or training? Help on the most effective job search strategies? Write out all the steps in an action plan, include dates and any deadlines, and commit it all to a calendar to keep your progress on track. Choose someone to whom you can be accountable, or even a small group of three or four other individuals working their career plans. Know also that your career goals and the plan to achieve them is a living document, so as you move forward, make modifications and adjustments where needed.

When a career is a good fit for you: what to expect
When you are a close match for a particular career and work environment, you know it. You will be using your aptitude strengths to do your job well, and you’ll enjoy your work. You may find that your work is challenging at just the right level for you. Your payoff will be a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. You will experience fewer conflicts, less stress and more of a sense of well-being on the job and in your life.