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This job is fun? For whom?

4 min read


It doesn’t take a lifetime in the working world to figure out that a job that looks great on paper could easily be terrible for you in practice. There are seemingly endless reasons that a job could be a bad fit — culture clash, bad boss, crazy co-workers … I could go on and on.

In this week’s Washington Post Sunday Jobs section, frequent Post freelancer Vickie Elmer tackled this topic in an article titled “Get Creative to Find out Whether You’d Fit In.” She tracked down some great advice from experts, but still the article left me wanting to shout out some caveats that I’ve learned the hard way.

One of Elmer’s sources recommends checking out the best-employer lists that are put together by a variety of publications each year. That’s not a bad plan, but take what you read with a grain of salt. I once took a job at a company that appeared on a popular local magazine’s best-employers list. The company was touted for its young staff, casual dress code and fun working environment. Sure, some of the staff were young and most people did dress casually, but that did not make for a fun workplace — at least not for me.

My co-worker, SmartBrief on Workforce Senior Editor Mary Ellen Slayter says she has heard similar complaints from women who work at companies cited as “best-for-working-mothers.” Sure the companies have family-friendly benefits on the books, but woe to the woman who actually tries to take advantage of them.

“You want to go somewhere where it’s fun — where it’s not work,” another source told Elmer. Who can disagree with that, but remember people tend to define fun differently. Take my mom, for example. She’s a first-grade teacher who is thrilled to go hang out with loud, quasi-literate children all day. Me? I prefer not to speak to anyone before 10 a.m. For me, the workplace that went so far as to have fun in its company motto turned out to be the least-fun place I had ever worked. The takeaway: Be cautious about any company that makes too big of a deal about how “fun” it is.

A third source recommends asking as many questions as possible about the person who would be your boss if you got the new job and accepted it.  She offers some great suggestions of questions to ask, but leaves out a major consideration — what if the boss has little or no experience as a manager. In that case it will be hard to ask questions about how they have handled situations in that role in the past.

In my experience, as well as through observation, I have found that the transition to management is a tough one for many people. Employees may be great at what they do, but it doesn’t mean they will automatically be great at supervising others doing that job. Some people will never be good managers and others won’t be good until they’ve received plenty of guidance and on-the-job experience.

When you’re interviewing for a job, be sure to find out how long the boss for the position has been a manager. If she hasn’t been one for long, or was just promoted, ask questions about how the company is going to be supporting her in the new role: Will she have a mentor? Will she receive management training? Will there be someone available to field concerns that the people under her may have?

Questions, as Elmer’s sources point out, are really the best way to find out about the job and what kind of a fit it will be for you. Ask a lot, both in the interview and in any follow-up conversations or e-mails you have. When you get an answer, listen with a critical ear and dissect it as best you can. Remember that the people working for that company are trying to impress you just as you’re trying to impress them.

Also, bear in mind that the recruiter you’re working with may know the company well on the whole, but may not be as well versed with the culture and working environment of the specific department you would be working in, so don’t rely on him or her as your sole source of intel.

Do you have anything to add? How about a horror story on a job that just wasn’t a good fit? Tell us about it here!

Image credit, Yuri_Arcurs, via iStock