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October 19, 2012
Like a Fish Out of Water: Coping With a Bad Culture Fit
This is hard to watch because I’ve been through this before myself.
A friend of mine is now four months into what she thought was her dream job. The timing couldn’t have been any better: at her previous employer, she had taken her position as far as it could go and she simply wasn’t challenged any more. So she was starting to pop on her radar to look for other jobs.
Then along came a recruiter with a high profile, cutting-edge social media company in hot pursuit.
Sweet! Who wouldn’t be flattered?
Long story short: Recruiter courted friend, friend was interested. Friend got flown out to the corporate headquarters and was more interested. Everything seemed completely awesome after she did her research and pinged her network, so when the offer came (loaded with a very attractive salary), she took it, like most people would.
But what about now?
She’s not liking that sparkly new job so much.
The corporate culture that she entered is centered solely on a mind-numbing march towards profitability, with little attention paid to assisting the employees, who are helping the company get there, with being successful. It’s a toxic world of “every man/woman for themselves,” a lack of information sharing, and ivory towers.
My friend’s biggest struggle is that she has tremendous assets that the company needs, but somehow, there is a culture disconnect that simply won’t let her “plug” in to her job in the way that she excels. Internal dysfunction abounds, and the workflows simply don’t make sense — they aren’t normal business practices.
Have you ever felt this way? It’s a very unbalanced feeling, especially when everything just seemed to align so perfectly and your expectations of what you could do with the job were so high, yet the target is now always changing and moving. Within the first few weeks, the job became extremely stressful to my friend, in addition to being a huge letdown. Crushing, actually. 
Tongue-in-cheek, my friend mentioned over breakfast the other day that she was picking up her depression medicine this week.
So how do you cope with a bad culture fit? Here are some tips to try and overcome these difficulties in a last-ditch effort to rescue your current position:

1. Get face time with the boss. Spending time with your superior can help you better understand their expectations and pain points, and provides you an opportunity to build rapport and find out more about the culture. The boss is your gateway to performance evaluations, but you don’t want to come across as a suck up. Instead, take the approach of being their ally: tell them you understand that their job isn’t easy and your goal is to help make it easier for them. What do they need and when do they need it so you can meet those expectations?

2. Ask for more training. If you can clearly see gaps where there isn’t a connection, be specific and ask for additional training in those areas. Ask for a mentor, or find out what resources might be available for you to tap into in order to gain a better understanding of the area in question.

3. Clearly communicate concerns. Part of developing a strong rapport with supervisors includes keeping them in the loop as to what answers you need in order to move forward. No one wants to look like an idiot while trying to manage the learning curve, but sometimes employers make the assumption that new employees should immediately “get” what is being expected of them, but fail to actually articulate them. Communicating your concerns or questions is key to getting onto the same page as your boss.

4. Reach out to internal success stories. Is there someone in the organization who stands out as an expert in what you are trying to accomplish? Offer to buy them lunch or a cup of coffee…use this opportunity to give them an appropriate ego stroke as someone you look up to and respect, and let them know you would appreciate their insights/opinions on the areas you are struggling with. Most people are willing to share when approached in a one-on-one situation, and who knows, they might even become one of your champions as a result!

5. Document, document, document. If you are really struggling in the company culture, there’s one inalienable fact that you and probably your employer can see pretty clearly: this isn’t the right hire. If you are feeling it, they are too. Most people earnestly try to do their very best in the new job and don’t want to fail, so it is important that they keep track of their accomplishments and do their best to document concerns (in writing) to supervisors in case your employment ends. This can help you in the event that you need to claim unemployment.

But sometimes, no matter what you do, gelling with the company culture remains elusive, and you still feel like an outsider. Keep up your best efforts, but realize that there is an end point quickly approaching and it’s best that you launch your job search in earnest while you still HAVE a job. 

Forget Job Security: Build Your Marketability” is a new book that outlines all of the control points that can and do influence what career opportunities come our way. Instead of passively assuming that others control our careers, readers will learn how to be actively and mindfully managing their career direction.  Complacency has no place in today’s employment world… it’s all about building value so current employers and future prospective ones can see what you bring to the table.  Used as a roadmap, “Forget Job Security” outlines every facet of how to conduct job searches as well as best practices to use on the job in order to build professional value in the workplace.  By being more productive and resourceful, employees can become indispensable and therefore more employable… whether being pursued by prospective employers or retained by current ones during staff cutbacks.
It’s time to seize control of your career destiny… and “Forget Job Security” is the perfect guide on how to get there.
This book will be available for sale on Amazon.com on October 15th.

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Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Careers, which specializes in mid- to upper-management résumés. She is an active volunteer in her community and donates her time teaching a résumé writing class at the Oregon Employment Department every week to help empower unemployed professionals and workers.
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