The Poor Fit: 6 Signs That Your Job is Absolutely the Wrong One

wrong job

Many of us have experienced the wrong job. It’s really no one’s fault — however, it’s beginning to dawn on you that your work life may be dangerously out of alignment.

Nothing is worse than throwing yourself into work, yet things just seem to continue to go very, very wrong.

The trick here? Identifying the problem for what it is (in very short shrift) and acting to make meaningful changes. Poor matches do happen. So, let yourself off the hook and avoid a longer-term “soul sucking” experience.

Remember that “withering on the vine” is not a viable career strategy.

Here are 6 signs that you should be paying attention to:

  • You feel lost. Have you had the classic nightmare that you arrive at class, only to find that you’ve not read a single page of the textbook and it is final exam day? This should not be your experience with work during waking hours. If every task or project leaves you feeling unprepared, take note: selection errors do occur. Sometimes that “next step” in your career or organization, has been the wrong step.
  • You are in avoidance mode. Be honest with yourself — the process of going to work is absolutely excruciating. If you had your druthers, you would never set foot in the office again. If you’ve tried to make things work and you still can’t envision a future for yourself in your current role, you have a serious problem.
  • Your strengths aren’t being tapped. Ultimately our work should align with our strengths. If this is not the case, it’s time to start exploring other options. If you feel that your weaknesses have taken center stage, it’s unlikely you’ll stay energized for the long haul. Have a conversation with your supervisor now — and don’t wait.
  • You feel disconnected. Does it feel as if everyone else is on one page and you are on another? Whether you work in customer service, sales or consulting — if it feels as if you are not aligning with the vision of the organization, the person-job match may be off. If you see yourself as an island (and everyone is speaking an entirely different “language”), it may be time to explore moving on.
  • You can’t seem to complete anything. Everything seems pointless and your level of motivation is at an all-time low. Are you dealing with looming deadlines with a blank screen continually staring back at you? Have you simply stopped caring? These are telling signs.
  • You are entering self-blame mode. You certainly can own the part of the problem that you’ve controlled (you’ve ignored your “inner voice”, for example). However, I guarantee there were plenty of other factors in play. The bottom line is this: You are not happy and it’s time to act. Blame doesn’t help things resolve — only a plan to move forward will.

Of course — please pay attention to physical signs of stress. If you are not sleeping or eating take heed. Feeling depressed or anxious is a clear indicator that something is off. Time to take the issue to your supervisor, a trusted mentor of career professional.

Has this ever been your experience? Share the story with us.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn. You can also find her on Twitter.


71 thoughts on “The Poor Fit: 6 Signs That Your Job is Absolutely the Wrong One

  1. I once had a long and rewarding career in the film industry in California as a computer film technician and digital effects artist. After ten years in this I relocated to Phoenix AZ with my wife and 2 daughters. My plan was to freelance and build a graphics career while my wife who was going to be able to keep her six figure salary job and work remotely. This was 2007 and it didnt work out that way. As soon as we bought our home here the economy tanked and my wifes employer decided they werent comfortable having her work remotely. So we ended up out here with a house and no jobs.

    This meant that I had to get a real job fast. The only jobs that were readily available were sales jobs. That was 9 years ago. I have been stuck in sales ever since. I have had about 10 sales jobs since then. some for a few months, one for 5 years. I never imagined before moving to AZ that I would be a salesperson. I hate talking superficial talk to people. I am introverted and creative though not shy. I just hate dealing with people when it requires me to be fake in order to persuade someone to buy something. I have always been paid well as a salary based on my talents. I have no interest and actually dont understand the desire to work for a commission. I dont like being around sales people. I find their motivation to make money by talking people into buying something is a lack of character on their part. Anyone who says good salespeople try to help customers are fooling themselves. Basically the good ones try to help by convincing people what they are selling is the answer to helping them. Its a convenient lie but a lie. Unless you are actually helping a customer thats seeking out your products (example going into a store and you help them and sell them). The jobs I have had require cold calling and convincing people to buy stuff that for the most part they could do without. Anyway my point is I have been stuck doing something I detest for nine years now and have most of the issues you mention. I feel like a fish out of water in these jobs. I feel stressed because I know deep down I suck at sales and dont really want to do it. Oh also since moving here I lost my oldest child suddenly at the age of 9 so that has only compounded my unhappy situation. Basically I feel a combination of sadness and anger for making the decision to move to this town. I have just started another sales job and its been two weeks in. I hate what I do, feel unfullfilled, feel like I am in the wrong department, feel like its only a matter of time before I get canned because I know I cant keep up the motivation.

    I am 52 now and its not like I am going to run to school again. I have a degree in Accounting but made a career move 20 years ago back in 1996 which is when I went into film effects. So nobody is going to care about my degree except for lame sales jobs where I have an edge on the uneducated that usually pick these phone jockey jobs.

  2. HI …awesome post!
    These all points including the physical signs , are those I am going through. I am an urban planner. Planning has different verticals and I expertise in one,and here at my office, I am expected to jump in all the other ones as well…..The problem is my employer is one of the most reputed ones and they approached me first, and I got a good salary offer. But as soon as I stepped in I was devastated that I am in wrong place!! My expertise is not taken seriously and I have no clear roles!! I have been thinking..I am the one who knows nothing!!! but other companies are paying for people of my work experience!!………. I am looking for a new job now…lets c!!:O

  3. I got side tracked in my career a few years ago. After a 16 year career in commercial design and a lay off 4 years ago, I took a sales position in a specialized segment of the same industry. I’ve been unhappy since. This current job I’ve been in 1 year and I have little mental energy. The amount of administrative processing to book a sale is ridiculous and frustrating. The moral is bad and some managers are negative and unapproachable. The good think is I’m remotely based and don’t have to deal with the BS politics most days. My tasks have become so cumbersome and my design talent and degree is wasted. I can relate to all 6 of these points. Great article!. I’ve tried applying for suitable positions, but most are over 40 miles from me. I really want to start my own business soon, but I can’t just afford to just quit, so for now I feel stuck.

  4. That is unfortunate. We need to draw more attention to this part of our work lives — the alignment that often is overlooked. Please participate in the project and take the survey (and share it with others) it is anonymous. We’re hoping to break the silence! All the best to you.

  5. Marla,

    Just read your article. Really hits home for me. I’ve held CFO roles over the past 10 plus years and have been rather successful. Started the same way in my current job, then my asst controller left then 6 months later my AP manager retired. I did finally hire a new asst controller several months ago and, after a 6 month search, just hired an AP manager. However, before this occurred I was handling all the accounting functions, all the entries-100’s- closing a, reconcilations, entering invoices, etc. after a while I have become more and more disenchanted. I am much more a strategic person building and turning around businesses not ticking and tying things out. My job had devolved into this which has made me burn out and dislike my new position immensely. Talking to the president about this is like talking to a brick wall. I am looking to get out as soon as I can

  6. These all sound like my current position. I started a job 6 months ago but don’t feel like I should be there or that I’m the right fit. I’m having severe anxiety and panic attacks. I understand and can complete a lot of the tasks but there are others aspects that are over my head and/or don’t fit my personally. I want to tell my boss but am not sure if that’s wise without having another job lined up.

  7. If money was not an issue no one would ever be working a job. That’s why it’s a job. A job is never going to exclude itself from all of these points for me, it’s just the nature of jobs. Jobs suck.

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  9. Dear Marla,

    Well, I started my career in HR and Training back in 2010. Shifted to a new role of Head Training and Development in June 2013 with a sales and distribution company of Fmcg brands.

    Since February 2014, my company has started the ERP implementation project and ever since I’ve been assigned tasks other than my primary domain.

    I am a go getter and often my peers rely on me too much. My own divisional head says that I am more of a sales guy.

    Also, my head is an autocratic leader and doesn’t seem to understand our viewpoint and stance as far as ERP project is concerned.

    I am now trying to find a new job but also confused to whether switch my career to sales or stick with HR and Training.

    Need some advise please.

    Abdul Ahad

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  12. Great article! I think most of us have made the odd wrong move in our careers, it’s not always a bad thing as it can make you focus on what you do really want! Whilst we can not always expect to skip into work feeling we are on top of the world, going to work has to hit some of the right buttons at least some of the time. The key is making a move before all of your energy & passion disappears, otherwise you might find yourself in a vicious cycle.

  13. Great article! I think most of us have made the odd wrong move in our careers, it’s not always a bad thing as it can make you focus on what you do really want! Whilst we can not always expect to skip into work feeling we are on top of the world, going to work has to hit some of the right buttons at least some of the time. The key is making a move before all of your energy & passion disappears, otherwise you might find yourself in a vicious cycle.

  14. I would be curious to hear how you suggest someone going through this discerns between truly poor job fit and natural change resistance.

  15. Marla I love the articles and advice you share thank you, I try and read as many as possible. You are such a positive inspiration!

  16. This is very timely for me as I am going through this as we speak. I have been and am currently still experiencing all 6 of these “signs”. The problem is that this experience did not start off as a “wrong job”. It became that. Thank you for your validation.

  17. This is a great article, all the comments are wonderful… this is what i have been experiencing for the past two years and my question is should i discuss with my boss or my employee realations manager? Because they tell me i’m one of their best hands but they cannot defend me for promotion after recommendation for two consecutive years that is by the way they dont know i’m tired of the role and not interested in it anymore… i took the job five years ago cus there was no other option but i have gotten invite from other department in thesame organisation i”m interested in but they wont let go… pls advice.

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  19. Hello Dr. Gottschalk! My name is Gonzalo, Organizational Psychologist from Chile. After 1 month as Organizational Development Analyst in a large company, I´ve been fired a few weeks ago from a job that definetely was not for me and didn´t make me happy at all (And yes, I experienced the 6 signs you described).

    Selection mistakes do happen as you stated in this article, and it is very important to check during the interviewing process that both parts -employee and future employer, are in the same page when talk about the expectations they have about the job and what is needed to get it done.

    I believe companies must be clear and honest about their expectations, but I also think that applicants must take responsibility and prevent to fall down in a wrong job experience. I know this must not be simple because when a person looks for a job is probably unemployed, and the sense of urgency pushes you to be more tolerant with things you probably don´t accept under other circunstances.

    So in your opinion, what kind of questions would an applicant asks to clarify better if a job is the right one for her/him? We are used to deliver this responsability to the employer, but it is a both ways issue!

    Thanks in advance,

  20. look lets face it there are 11 billion people on this planet there is no way we all can have the job that we want. mankind would fall apart if we were all ceo’s and executives

  21. It’s such a struggle. I’ve been in the “wrong fit” workplace for a long time. The problem is with 20 years of service in a public pension it’s difficult to leave. Everyone believes that gov’t jobs are the best – best in benefits, retirement, etc. It’s not. Problem is that for everything bad about government jobs they are pretty stable – something that my spouse’s career is not – thus I stay – primarily out of fear. It’s a terrible place to be and I’m considering looking into getting a MM or MBA that could help me transition to another job where my talents would be utilized. Any suggestions/comments on those that are where I am or have “broken free” I’d love to hear from. I feel like what I really need is a “coach” that could look at my talents and help me find a job that would “fit”.

  22. In reply to your question I wrote a very long essay on what was wrong and things that happened. After reading through it several times, one thing stood out and I can sum it up in one sentence; ‘The people in charge did not know how to Manage’.

    That was the problem!

  23. I might be simple, but “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your with”. Life is not perfect, you get out of it what you put in and in the end the choices you make determine the outcome. You cannot control everything, but you can control how you feel and how you respond. So suck it up Gen X, Y and Z and get on with it. Smile and move forward. Tomorrow will be better if you want it to be.

  24. What an excellent point! Yes, sometimes it’s time to explore a change in management style.. In a larger organization, this is a great option. What exactly was the problem in “managerial fit”, in your case?

  25. I’ve experienced all of this and thought I was definitely in the wrong job, but stuck it out because I’m stubborn like that.

    Then after a few years we had a change of Management, with different ways of doing things, who actually took the time to get to know you and treat you as a person.

    They took a chance on me, put me back on the Management ladder which I had been on in a previous job, and we’ve never looked back since.

    Even though for so long I thought I was in the wrong job, and dreaded coming to work, it turned out I was in the right job but had the wrong people managing me.

  26. Boy, does this article hit home! I’ve been in the “wrong” job for over 20 years and did it because I could. Then, with only that experience on my resume over the years, I was pigeon-holed into only being considered for similar roles. I’m now in a business development role, my true role, because a former co-worker, now my manager, took a chance on me. She believed in me and through our conversations, discovered that I’ve been in the wrong job. I’ve now found my dream job and love what I do!! For others reading this, try to get unstuck before this happens to you!!

  27. I left a job after only a month. For several reasons, the job was just not a good fit for me. I got to the point that I would wake up a couple of hours before the alarm went off and would get sick to my stomach thinking about going to work that day.

    The work was well within my capabilities and there was no job stress or other negatives. I just kept having this “eery” feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there. After a while, I got stressed out trying to analyze the reasons why I felt this way and decided to trust my gut feeling.

    I’m sure that some folks will think that this is crazy, but the job was having a very serious mental effect on me. I did have another opportunity to go to, so financially I am okay.

  28. Nice read Marla. I am having all the symptoms mentioned by you and am in a search of a new job. Got lot of insights in my current job though.

  29. Great article, although sometimes the job can be the wrong one due to the people you can’t really seem to fit with as well. Which is a shame if the job is great. I do think most people that do their job for the job are more compatible with each other. Lack of confidence can be one thing as well (in regards to internships for example),

  30. i often find the above the 6 signs to be true when i am unable to understand the current situation of my workplace including the thing i do, the work culture, expectations from me and my work.
    but once you figure the situation out, and the way how you can win over, it merely becomes another challenge for you to carry on.

    But, even after you have figured the problem and it’s solution don’t ever try to fit in the role by changing yourself accordingly. You will very soon come across the above signs again. Rather find out how you are going to do it the way you want to, you always wanted to you.

    All I say this because somone’s boss rightly said “You are your own CEO”. (not able to find the link to refer to :(, please some one link to it if found )

  31. I too was recently dismissed for being in a job that was a poor fit. I think what happened was the employer wasn’t entirely sure what they needed as the position was project management for a developing center. I was hired for my skills in environmental science and education but it turned out they needed someone with more knowhow in construction. My capacity to adapt and learn quickly were not in question but I did need more info up front than they were prepared to provide. As a result I constantly worried about my ability to do the job professionally and even sometimes safely.

    Days that involved my science background or education totally rocked. I was THE man on those days. Days that involved operating heavy equipment or dealing with building renovation found me somewhat lost. I enjoyed learning those skills and from those experiences but they needed a construction guy, not a willing learner.

    I understand their side but it still hurts since I really liked the job despite the lost times. But I gained some new skills and learned more about my distinct strengths.

  32. Very Interesting Article. If your strengths remain untapped, you feel lost. It’s very difficult to adjust in a place where you feel that your talent is getting waste and you are not learning any thing.

  33. I’ve just been dismissed from a job I was stuck in for 18 months, and I’m glad it happened. It was making me desperately unhappy and I was doing a very poor job as a result. I couldn’t justify leaving as the money was good but while I was stuck there I had no time to look for anything else. I’m hopeful I’ll get something better soon, but if I ever end up that miserable at work again, I won’t hesitate to walk away immediately.

  34. Life is too short to spend the majority of your waking hours in the wrong job! I agree that, if possible, find where your talents and your passion lie and work your way in that direction.
    In today’s world, there are far TOO MANY people in management positions that should NOT be in that position!
    Some work environments are far too toxic! When you’re in the “right” position/job, you will definitely know it!
    Yes, try to remedy the situation and learn from it, if possible, but if you dread going to work
    & your health begins to suffer, think about making a change…for the better…and shine!! Change doesn’t have to connotate “negative!” Take that leap of faith & see where it takes you! Best Wishes! 😊

  35. Love this article and agree – sometimes you just need to fold your hand and cut your losses and find a different opportunity. I wrote a blog post about topic recently after an experience such as this to share my thoughts – to some extent – but more than anything, for therapeutic reasons. Take a look and have a read if you feel like you might be sitting on the fence and struggling to figure out what’s going on.


  36. I´ve experienced this situation once. I entered into company and noticed from Day1 that there was something wrong with the people and the company. After 10 months I made my move and changed job. As a summary, it was my worst and best experience during my career. I´ve learned to survive and I learned a lot of things that are not teached in the school. Life is strange sometimes.

  37. You may be experiencing a lack of confidence (that must be addressed first). A depressing work experience can contribute to this. I do agree that networking is key. I’ve written a post on networking for people who aren’t “natural” networker, at Linkedin. But, start building your confidence first. (I do offer coaching if you are interested).

  38. Not feeling “engaged” or connected is an entirely plausible reason for leaving a role. The desire to feel behind the mission/vision of an organization and that your strengths are being tapped to reach organizational goals, is a solid reason to move on. Just be sure to refrain from complaining about your former organization, manager or co-workers.

  39. Hi Dr. Gottschalk, I have a question, can the “Poor Fit” excuses could be used in answering the interview, when the future employer asks you: “Why did you resign from the last company?” I mean, we are going to say honest to him, but what do you suggest? Thanks!

  40. I have been experience the signs for more than 18 months now. And I am convinced that depression comes from being unhappy at work. I took action and are currently going through a coaching programme. The problem is that at my age (47) I have been told that the only way for a career move is the network, I should forget about answering to job ads. The problem is that I feel so embarrassed to bother my network contacts in order to find a new job! It is extemely frustrating!

  41. Hi Marla,

    Thank you for the article. Great comments by Tom too. Right now I feel some of these signs enveloping me..I guess its time to hunt for another job opportunity. Having said that I also feel financial concern looming large is also a reason which is keeping me posted in the current job. But yes..better late than never. Makes things worse when you do not have people at higher level in the organisation to reach out to voice your concerns. As Estrella rightly said” Am dying a bit each day that goes by”…

  42. Once upon a time the job was fun, challenging, and rewarding. And then overnight everything changed. It could be that the company switched course, you evolved, or both. The key to sanity and happiness is knowing when to stop trying so hard, and then chart your new course.

  43. Hi Marla..I’m Siti from Malaysia…yes,all 6 signs I’ve been experienced with my last job. Sadly, my manager won’t care less even after face to face discussion. Conclusion is, move on is the best thing to do.

  44. Well I’m currently in a situation where I wouldn’t even care if I was among the “dismissal wave” but I just don’t enjoy it anymore.
    The worst is that I never wanted to. E in the economic sector. I’ve always wanted to help in the humanitarian sector. But as a woman it is hard to work in the streets in the US or El Salvador. Another reason for hanging in is that right now the money is needed so I can built a financial stash for my projects (hopefully) to come.

    I really appreciate this post and Toms comment underneath.
    But in today’s world everyone tries to look out for themselves first (ego of the human being) taking practically just any job they can get.
    I like to compare it with the oxygen masks on the plane. First make sure you are fine before helping others (if you’re not ok you won’t “last” long).

    Thank you for your input!!!

  45. It is extremely important that you deal with any issues that impact the way you feel about your job before you leave i.e. do you speak -up when problems arise? Have you expressed or discussed in a forthright manner any and/or all of your concerns in real time? Does anyone know about your concerns who can impact them? Feelings cannot be discounted but they are not always reflective of what is really happening. Also people do change careers,your interest change overtime…you do not have to stay in one place /role forever.

  46. I think another indication, may not be physical, is that you feel over-qualified for your position. With the job market so cutthroat a lot of people are applying to jobs because they need an income and they get into those jobs and realize that it is really easy or are just plain bored with it because the duties don’t challenge them. I think that there are quite a high percentage of people that are in situations like the one I just mentioned.

  47. This is why I left nursing home administration. It was not a good fit for me and the residents and staff needed someone who could do the job really well! I know many who are amazing administrators. Sadly, I was not one of them.

  48. Good article. I like Tom’s response too, I’d temper these however by saying perseverance can pay off, often it can be tempting to say “the fit isn’t right”.Before hitting the eject button it’s often worthwhile looking at where the roughest edges are and trying to tackle and smooth those out first, then the fit starts to take shape, in my experience this approach can really help with “fit” of course it can be hard work which is when you weigh up your input versus the potential benefits of slotting in.

  49. Hi! i m Betina from Argentina.I read the article and i saw a lot of thinks of me… it s amazing the words that you write…thaks and i will be continue reading yours…

  50. It’s just so hard to finally make the move. Especially when everyone is telling you to stay and have something else lined up before giving notice. I think, ‘Well yes, but in the meantime I’m dying a little bit inside each day that goes by!”

  51. Good article Marla, thanks for sharing. There’s no question you’re in the wrong role, if you can see these sign. However, after 15 years of research, I’ve come to believe that roughly 98% of the workforce is in the wrong role. And, here are the questions I ask people every day to validate that. 1. If money weren’t an issue, would you be doing something else for work? 2. Do you believe you’re doing your best work – your greatest work, or do you believe you could could make a greater impact doing something else? 3. Do you believe you’re doing your “life’s work?” 4. Do you feel like you’re doing what you were “born to do?” 5. Do you know what your unique gift is? If not, how could you be doing your best work? 6. Do you know where you can make your greatest impact? And, do you know where you’d be most appreciated and valued as a result?

    If you can’t answer these appropriately, then you’re probably in the wrong role too.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that people aren’t working hard, or care about what they do, and/or “making a good living. That’s nice, but I think we need to set the bar higher!

    I truly believe that we have far too much failure, and not nearly the success we should have in the world, because far too many people are in the wrong role. From startups to restaurants, and main street to Washington, we’re not solving problems and thriving, because we don;t have enough of the right people in the right role. I truly believe the world is struggling because there aren’t enough of us sharing our unique gift and fulfilling our responsibility to humanity. Yes, responsibility. Meaning, your gift is not for you – it’s for us. And we NEED you to share your gift with the world, and I promise you that you will love what you do!

    I believe that your two most precious resources are your time and your gift, and you shouldn’t waste either one!

    So yes, I believe you’re in the wrong role if you’re not sharing your unique gift with the world. But that’s me. 🙂

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