I was reflecting with a friend last weekend about some of the jobs each of us had previously had — jobs for which we were, to put it charitably, not well-suited. It got me thinking back on my first sales job, one I’ve alluded to before with an unnamed office products company. I took this job not long after leaving the Navy because I wanted to succeed in selling. I lasted six months before moving on to something else.
Why was this job such a bad fit for me, and I for it? What could I have foreseen had I stopped to consider what I was getting into? Here are a few thoughts (with the benefit of hindsight) on how I could have known from the start that this job would turn out to be a mismatch. Maybe some of these points will help you if you’re considering a new job or a job change.
- First problem: I did not care one iota about what I was selling. Does this mean you can never sell something you’re not excited about? Well, no, not necessarily…but if you’re making cold calls to talk about something in which you have zero interest, trying to gain the attention of prospects who don’t particularly want to talk about it either, you’re in for some frustrating sledding.
- Second problem: the position was 100% cold calls. Many people can thrive in a cold-call-based job. I am not one of them.
- Third problem: the company’s philosophy was 100% based on “getting past the secretary.” (Remember, all this was decades ago). In fact it was the secretary who was going to be the prime user of the product! By doing my best to circumvent her or him, I was turning a potential ally into a committed adversary. As I’ve said before, many people who lack the authority to say “yes” definitely have the influence to say “no,” as I found out the hard way with more than one lost sale. And the manipulation required felt like a bad fit for my relational personality.
- Fourth problem: the company insisted on flying me out for a week of training — on Christmas Day. That’s right, on Christmas afternoon I was on a plane for Los Angeles, checking into a hotel in Inglewood for a six-day training class. Ho, ho, ho. That should have been a clue that the company lacked a certain…sensitivity. Not a good fit, for me, anyway.
- Fifth problem: the company insisted I memorize the product demonstration. I’m a fairly intuitive person and I feel like I communicate pretty well. I like using my empathy to adjust my communication style. But, no — my sales presentation consisted of a memorized product demo (“Note the pistol-grip microphone for comfortable, stress free dictation.”) from which I was not supposed to deviate. Can you say “awkward”? Again, this approach is perfectly fine for many people, but it’s a bad fit for my personality.
There were more clues, but you get the idea. Was it a “bad” company or a “bad” job? Not at all! But it was a bad fit — wrong for me, my temperament, my learning style, my interests and my personality. In hindsight it’s almost like I took the job under false pretenses, and cost the company a lot of wasted training dollars. I should have known better. I suspect that when I left the boss was as relieved as I was.
In today’s economy, I realize, many people are holding on to jobs they may not love or even particularly like. I get that. But if you’re considering a different job (or a first job after college, the military or raising your kids) you may want to think long and hard about your gifts, talents, and internal wiring. If you have a choice, save yourself the grief of a job mismatch. You’ll be vastly happier in the long run, and so will your boss.