Finding the Best Fit

Tips on tailoring career opportunities to get what you want

by Teresa Whitacre

Over the past year I have counseled many people looking for employment, whether they were seeking to change jobs or fill an unemployment gap. Throughout this process, I found similarities among all the individuals I met with. Can you see yourself fitting into one of these categories?

Look for something in your size

Too often, quality professionals—myself included—look for the first available career opportunity, not an opportunity that is the "right size." That is, company size, culture, compensation package, commute, travel requirements, working environment and the actual work to be performed.

Finding an opportunity that is the right size is an extremely important part of a successful career opportunity.

An opportunity that is the right size does not mean all of these factors must perfectly match your needs and goals. Although there are times we must take temporary or short-term work that doesn’t fit quite right, the long-term, career-oriented opportunities should be the right size. We spend so much time with our work, we owe it to ourselves to find the best-fitting opportunity. It’s not worth being miserable.

Tailor as needed

Most career opportunities are not a perfect fit right out of the box. There are pros and cons to every opportunity. To get the best fit possible, tailor the opportunity to your needs and goals.

Just like regression analysis in data studies, consider everything you know about the opportunity and look for the "best fit line." Can you accept a salary reduction, at least temporarily? Can you job share or telecommute if the need arises? Is there something you are passionate about within the role structure that will offset a lesser title or responsibility?

In almost every role I have been in, there has been a way to tailor the position to be a great fit. Look at the skills you have gained from current or previous work—how can you use those in another field? If I lack experience in one aspect of a job, I make up for it in another. By balancing a role in this manner, I can tailor the fit.

Be flexible

Whether you are an employee, contractor or client, few opportunities are one-size-fits-all. There are always at least a few aspects that make an opportunity less than 100% suitable for your situation. Would you wear exercise clothes to a formal ball? Of course not. Even though the exercise clothes are comfortable, they are not a good fit for the situation.

Think of your career the same way. Don’t expect all employment prospects to be a perfect fit; rather, be flexible. I have counseled people who search for the perfect career fit and never find it. Instead of seeking that often-unattainable perfect fit, look for a flexible fit. Ask yourself, "What will fit well enough to meet my needs or goals?"

It’s a matter of perspective

How you look at your situation—and how you decide what fits—is a matter of perspective. Are you boxed in so tightly with your career choice that there is no room to move? Or do you have some extra space to compensate for the less-than-ideal fit?

We don’t all fit into the same style, shape or size of anything, so why should we expect our career prospects to be any different? Stop making your choices all-or-nothing, one-size-fits-all. Instead, look for the best overall fit and adjust the aspects that aren’t perfect.

Teresa Whitacre is a quality engineer and principal at Marketech Systems in Pittsburgh. She has a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership from Ashford University in San Diego, CA. She is an ASQ-certified quality auditor, engineer, Six Sigma Green Belt and manager of quality/organizational excellence. An ASQ fellow, Whitacre is an instructor for ASQ’s Pittsburgh Section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and is deputy regional director for ASQ Region 8.

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