“If we stripped away everything you present to the world, what would I be left looking at?”
This is a question I occasionally ask of people I’ve been assisting to find employment; people I’ve known for a while when I’m trying to find out more about them and discover barriers to employment. Upon hearing the question, some go to the obvious; make some comment about being naked and laugh, some pause to think, while others say, “I don’t know, I’ve never been asked that question before.”
If I wait a few moments without saying a word more, they realize I’m expecting an answer on a deeper, more personal level, and then what comes out is often quite helpful. You see, the person we present to the world for some is the person we really are. We are authentic, genuine; consistently the same person both on the inside and outside. There are however many who for whatever reason, work hard to ‘become’ someone else; they take on traits they only assume in public or at work. They are seldom really comfortable when around others, always trying to find ways to fit in, to be comfortable, be accepted. They put out a tremendous amount of mental energy, strategizing who to talk to in a group, what to say, worried about how they’ll be perceived, what people will think of them, etc. It’s exhausting.
These people are really just trying to do what others appear to do naturally; gain the respect of others, be included in the workplace or social gatherings. Have you ever found yourself thinking someone doesn’t quite fit in at work? They appear to be trying too hard to be liked; in workplace social gatherings they often end up alone or included out of necessity instead of by choice. They appear to be alone even in a group of people, standing off to the side, or while they appear to be mingling, if you followed them closely, you’d see them circulating with a series of brief conversations and they may be among the first to leave and get back to their work.
For these kind of people – and you may be one of them yourself – the importance of recognizing and understanding this behaviour is integral to finding the right work environment, giving the person the best opportunity to be successful. It’s fair to say that when applying for jobs, most of us don’t list fitting in as one of the deciding factors in whether we should or shouldn’t apply. Yet once hired, we do want to fit in; and while fitting in means different things to different people, we will likely be happiest and find it comfortable if our need (high or low) for social interaction is similar to the other people who work in the same space.
Perhaps you’re the kind of person who on the surface appears confident; who others would say initiates conversations with people. That’s good. However, you may at the same time be the kind of person who after a few minutes finds continuing the conversation and finding mutually interesting things to talk about hard work. While the other person is talking, you’re only half listening; you’re brain races to find things to mention of interest the moment they stop speaking. You fight to remember a local or national news event, something amusing, what someone else said that others found interesting. You’re good in the short-term, but soon feel uncomfortable and make an excuse to circulate, start again with someone new, and you feel relieved when everyone returns to work where you feel the stress of mingling subside.
Now sharing this reality with an Employment Coach, a Mentor or Employment Counsellor is extremely useful if you want to land a job where you’ll succeed. It is of vital importance. It’s not enough to look at a job posting and only look at the qualifications and responsibilities and then apply. If you go about looking for work only doing this, you may have found that while past jobs are ones you could do, you found yourself saying again and again, “Why don’t I fit in? Why can’t I be like the other people? Why am I so awkward? What’s wrong with me?”
Truth is there’s nothing wrong with you; perhaps you’re approaching the situation asking the wrong question. The question, “What’s wrong with me?” I’d replace with, “Is this job I’m qualified to do with an organization where the culture and the atmosphere work for me?” So this becomes one of your questions at the conclusion of an interview; “Tell me about the work atmosphere in the area I’d be assigned to”, or, “Describe the social interaction among employees or is a ‘task-oriented’ culture favoured?”
Remember, it isn’t only about finding a job but, the right job and the right employer. Ignore the culture of a company and you’re gambling on the fit. A good interviewer can sense when you’ve got the skills but your personality doesn’t mesh with their chemistry. Being rejected in such a case may be the best thing for both them and you in the long run.
Consider thinking of this when finding your next job; some people choose the work atmosphere over the actual job in fact, or pass promotions because the ‘fit’ is so good where they are at the present.