I am Different, Yes I am

Note to Reader: For the sake of this article, I will be referring to my former employer as the Summer Company.

A week ago, my best friend had asked me whether or not she should accept a job offer at this ultra conservative PR firm that helps to sell cigarettes. The problem is that she is extremely liberal and hates cigarettes. It made me think of my time at the Summer Company. When I had accepted the position, I knew that I was different from everyone else. What I didn’t know was how different, and how that would affect my time there. And although I tried really hard, I just didn’t “fit in” with the company culture.

What’s Love Got to do with it?

After six months of accepting the position, I still had not established any real connections with my coworkers. But despite the challenge, I was doing very well at the Summer Company. Just a few months after I was hired, my manager pulled me into her office to give me a bonus citing how impressed she was with my work. I was at— what I thought was—the peak of my creativity and I loved it.

In just four months, I had written the copy for the electronic newsletter, three articles, four press releases, and produced two media kits. As an added responsibility, I had even taken on writing, monitoring and responding to the new blog. I never had any doubts about whether or not I would do a good job at the Summer Company. That’s why I accepted the position in the first place and ignored some obvious contrasts and more subtle ones during the interview process.

“Interviewing is similar to online dating. You read a profile—or in this case, a job description; determine if you’re interested; and pursue it in hopes of securing a date—or interview,” the Chief Executive of What’s For Work?, Teri Hockett told Forbes. “But you don’t get a real sense for the person—or the company or role–until you have an in-person meeting or phone conversation to learn more.”

And sometimes, halfway through, you realize it isn’t a match made in heaven, Hockett added. After my initial interview with the Summer Company, I had looked around and noticed that I didn’t look like anyone there. They all looked like work clones in their stuffy, blue or black matching business suits. While I do love a nicely tailored suit, I also enjoy colorful, bright prints. They make me happy. Should I have restricted my “happy attire” to the weekends? Maybe. But sometimes, I needed a little dose of “happy” during the work week too.

But I took the job anyway because I figured my race and fashion choices wouldn’t be a problem. When I started working, however, the cultural differences became extremely difficult to overlook. I always believed that diversity brought value and insight. Instead, it only led to stupid stereotypical jokes and a great deal of awkwardness at the Summer Company. After eight months, I started to wonder if I had made a mistake.

Born This Way

Over the years, I had heard the term “looking for the right fit" from potential employers. I always thought that it was an excuse not to hire me. “Fit, however, often really is the issue," says US News & World Report. "Employers are rightly concerned these days," according to US News & World Report, "about more than just melding a candidate’s skills and a job’s responsibilities."

In the article, US News & World Report cited "a landmark survey, Leadership IQ determined that a shocking 46 percent of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months, and that technical competence was only related to 11 percent of those failures." By not paying attention to that gut feeling that told me I wasn’t in fact, a good “fit” for the Summer Company, it cost me in the end.

It’s a mistake to accept a new position, says US News & World Report, while turning a blind eye to potential red flags. If you land a job that makes you miserable, this can’t be considered a victory, says US News & World Report, and the worst-case scenario is you’ll have to repeat your job-search efforts back at square one – with a short-term blip on your résumé to explain. Needless to say, I resigned from the Summer Company after only nine months on the job.

Let It go

Today, I am self-employed, freelancing and doing some consulting work for non-profits, small businesses and government.  It’s not because I didn’t “fit in” at the Summer Company because I went on to work for a lot of great companies both in the private and public sectors where I have made a diverse group of lifelong friends. As a matter of fact, I met my best friend years later at another company.

The point here is that if you happen to be different too, don’t let the promise of a big paycheck or even desperation guide your decision about accepting a position at a company that you know is not right for you.

Try researching the company first by checking out staff bios or profiles listed on their website. You also may be lucky enough to find some photos of company outings like picnics or volunteering activities, which will give you a good sense of the company culture. Also, review your boss and potential co-workers’ Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, which will provide a little intel as to whom you will be working with. Finally, don’t try to change who you are to “fit in”. I have always embraced my differences. They make me who I am and I just happen to like that. After all, who wants to look and be like everyone else? 

Anyway, that’s what I told my best friend who decided not to accept the job.