Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


Tips on how to understand, recruit and keep the best people for your business


Why do square pegs apply for round holes?

And what can we do about it?

square pegs

Too many people are in jobs they’re not suited for.

And being in a job they’re not suited for makes them and their employers deeply unhappy. But so often they don’t realise that’s the reason why they’re unhappy.

And it upsets me too!

I’ve spoken to two job applicants recently, both of them capable, intelligent people. But both of whom were applying for roles they were completely unsuited for.

The first was a young man who’d worked his way up in retail from the tills to managing a department. But he was looking for a change of direction and applied to the role I interviewed him for – an admin and bookkeeping role in a small start-up business.

Having studied his CV, and from our conversation, it became obvious to me that what he really enjoyed doing was working with people and helping them to develop and perform better in their roles. So what on earth was he doing applying for a role where he’d spend the majority of his time on his own and where there was no realistic possibility of a managerial position for many years?!

Not long after I gave interview feedback to a candidate who’d applied for a leadership role in a major financial institution. She had lots of managerial experience but when I talked to her, it was clear that leadership wasn’t really her thing. She was passionate and extremely knowledgeable about research and customer analysis but wasn’t at all people-orientated. Tough-minded and resilient, she lacked the soft skills a good leader needs.

My question is – why would you go after a role that doesn’t suit the sort of person you are? Why would you apply for a job that’s going to make you unhappy?

If you’re in a job that doesn’t satisfy the sort of person you are, you won’t perform at your best and that will eventually undermine your confidence. Which will affect your performance still further. And so on. A vicious circle.

So why do square pegs keep applying for round holes?

The problem is, I think, is that often people are simply not aware of what does suit them. The young man I spoke to clearly had never given any thought to where his interests might really lie – and was surprised when I pointed them out.

Other people, like the woman I spoke to, have an inkling the job they’re applying for is not for them but carry on regardless, hoping, perhaps that the recruiter will spot they’re not the right fit instead.

That’s a very passive way to go about life. Yes, if you’re lucky, someone like me will realise all is not right. But if you’re unlucky you could get the job. And be properly miserable in it.

So what’s the answer?

I think it’s important that we all become more proactive. That we all take more personal responsibility for our career choices.

To do this, we need to be objective about what makes us tick as individuals. And that will help us see what sorts of jobs we’re best suited for.

It’s not hard to do. There are plenty of profiling tools that can help you understand yourself a little better. I’ve mentioned Strengthscope® before as one way to identify your strengths.

But you don’t even need to go that far. It’s as simple as taking a moment to think about and jot down which tasks and activities in your job (and outside it) you really enjoy and which you don’t. Does a pattern emerge? Do the tasks you enjoy share a common theme?

It is that pattern, that theme, that can start to reveal where your passions and skills truly lie.

Now you can focus job-hunting efforts on those jobs you’re really suited for. You stand a better chance of success and you’ll be happier.

There’s a lesson here for us recruiters too. The traditional interview approach most recruiters take tends to focus on a candidate’s previous experience and skills. But this approach won’t tell us much about the sort of person they are and whether they’re truly suited for the job.

That’s why I favour using profiling tools alongside an interview to help me discover the candidate’s personality and preferences in terms of working style and environment. Then it’s about making sure you’re having a conversation with them about their potential and about how they may (or may not) fit with your business culture.

I believe it’s in all our interests to match candidates with the jobs that suit them. And, of course, to make sure we’re doing jobs that suit us. It means the employee/we’ll be happier and perform better which is good for them/us and their/our employer.

After all, life’s too short to be unhappy five days a week!


Thank you for reading this article. I post regularly about recruitment and people development issues – to help you create a brighter workplace. To get future blogs sent direct to your inbox, sign up here.

No comments so far.

Have Your Say