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Job fit: when the right person is in the wrong job


Job fit is critical to every employee’s success – and ultimately, your business’s success as well.

Having the right people in the right roles can propel your organization to new heights. When the fit is there, it’s nothing short of magical. Your business seems to run like a well-oiled machine.

But what about when the fit isn’t right? How does this even happen, if you’re diligent in your screening and interviewing of job candidates?

There are usually a couple of possible scenarios.

Maybe you hired someone who seemed like the best fit for the role, and you were both excited for them to start. As the new employee settles in and time goes by, however, you begin to realize they’re not performing as well as you had anticipated.

Or, it could be that a once solid performer just doesn’t seem as motivated and productive as before.

Does this mean you should fire the person? Not necessarily.

Right person, wrong job

Before passing out the pink slip, it’s important to first consider whether the employee would be better suited to another role within your company. After all, those qualities that made them a stand-out candidate are likely still there.

For the longer-term employee, it’s wise to first try to understand what has changed that may be causing them to perform below expectations. Have their responsibilities increased or shifted? Is there something going on personally?

Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to transition that person into another position within the company – rather than lose valuable talent.

Here’s how to tell if you’ve got the right person in the wrong job.

Signs of poor job fit

The signs will vary from company to company, and even between departments. But, generally, there are some common signs to look for when analyzing whether an employee may still be a good fit for your company, just not their current role.

These signs are:

  1. They’ve told you they feel underutilized.
  2. They express frustration or seem bored.
  3. They’re a good cultural fit for your company.
  4. They’re trying to make things work.
  5. You’re seeing some improvement but not enough to fulfill the demands of the job.
  6. They have technical (or other specialized) skills your company needs (e.g., IT, engineering, etc.).
  7. They demonstrate values equal to your business’s, which can be used elsewhere (e.g., excellent customer service, strong work ethic, dedication, friendliness, willingness to teach or help others, etc.).

Remember, these signals indicate that the employee in question ticks many of the boxes you’d check for any employee worth investing in. They don’t apply to someone who’s clearly not a good cultural fit or consistently misses basic performance metrics.

Common reasons for poor job fit

Before approaching the employee, it pays to spend some time thinking about why the person and the job may not fit. Common scenarios include:

  • Their current position isn’t one they’re able to excel in. Maybe the necessary skills are growing and changing so fast you need to split one job into two.
  • Their role isn’t structured properly for anyone to succeed, especially if it’s a new position that was created in the company.
  • The job requires a little more experience in a particular area than you initially thought was necessary.
  • Your company recently merged with or acquired another company, and roles have changed for existing employees. It’s natural there should be some repositioning to follow that initial reorganization.

Regardless of what you think the problem might be, a talk with the employee is a must to fully understand what’s going on.

When to discuss poor job fit

Once you’ve identified that the employee is a good egg, but perhaps is not placed in the right carton, it’s time to have a conversation.

This exchange should center on the employee’s needs, rather than make them feel defensive.

Remember the conversation is a two-way dialogue. You want to spend substantial time discussing their strengths, as well as the opportunities for improvement in their performance.

At this stage, you want to preserve the relationship, not make them feel like their job is on the line. At the same time, the employee must own their reaction to the circumstances. This is a joint endeavor to achieve personal and professional gains.

If you’ve been checking in with the employee and having regular talks about their performance, this discussion should not come as a complete surprise. After all, most employees already have a pretty good idea if they’re fitting in and performing well.

Questions to ask

You want to center this conversation on what your employee expects from their role in the company and how the company can position them to do their best work.

Sample questions include:

  • Do you feel like you’re able to do your best work in this role?
  • Is the company getting your best work? How could you put your skills to better use?
  • What do you expect from this role in the company? How do you want to learn and develop?

The goal of your questions should be to develop a better understanding of what might inspire or motivate the employee, so you can create a better match. While it may not be possible to offer every employee their dream role, the worst thing a manager can do is let someone who is performing poorly stay in a job. It’s not compassionate, and many times the employee already knows they’re struggling.

Remember, this isn’t likely to be a “one and done” conversation. To be effective, it should probably be a series of discussions directed at finding the right solution for both the worker and the business.

Explore solutions for a better job fit

The transition from one role to another doesn’t have to be difficult, and it shouldn’t feel like an inconvenience. You want to make it clear to the employee that you value them, want them to stay with the company, and want to help them develop and work to their full capacity. You never want to make them feel like any potential new role is punishment or a consolation prize.

Consider partnering with other leaders and managers in the company to share the employee’s skills across multiple departments. This may be a way to provide them with greater challenges and stretch opportunities.

It’s also a good idea to check beforehand with other departments, so that you’re aware of any openings that may offer a solid opportunity for the employee.

And don’t rule out the possibility of leaving the employee in their current role. You may determine after talking to them that they’re capable of (and interested in) doing the job well, once they get additional coaching and support.

If that’s the case, set them up for success. Help them acquire the additional skills they need – whether it’s through formal classes, frequent coaching, job shadowing, a mentor, or a combination of resources.

Benefits to keeping good talent

It’s not always possible to salvage the situation when you’ve got a good employee in the wrong job. But sometimes it makes more sense to transition someone into a role that’s better suited to their skills and abilities rather than let them go.

And when you do, the rewards can be well worth the time and effort it takes to transition them. Some of those rewards include:

  • Retaining valuable talent, which isn’t always easy to find
  • Reducing turnover, recruitment costs and onboarding time
  • Deepening employee knowledge of the company through lateral moves
  • Building employee loyalty by taking the time to find a mutually beneficial solution
  • Providing employees with growth opportunities and career mobility within the company

Perhaps best of all, by being open to keeping a talented individual who is simply in an ill-fitting role, you facilitate the natural progression of talented people within your business.

Want more insight to help you empower your employees to do their best work and propel your business to greater success? Download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.