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The Culture Connection: Finding the Right Fit After a Career Break

The Culture Connection: Finding the Right Fit After a Career Break

When it comes to finding the right work culture, it’s all about feeling like you fit in and are connected to those around you. A place where you can be yourself and where you are free to contribute and create. All sounds great, right? You'd think evaluating "work culture" would definitely be a top priority for each of us.

Well, not so fast. Last Halloween, I noticed an interesting phenomenon as I was desperately shopping for last minute costumes at my local Party City. This revealed all sorts of agony and analysis over finding the “perfect” costume. I wasn't alone. Will my kids like it? Is it the right theme? Is it unique enough? Is it too scary/not scary enough?  Is it visible at night? A pretty rigorous mental exercise and a lot of effort for something that in many cases is discarded after 24 hours. 

Ok, perhaps a bit extreme of an example here, but I'm trying to make a point — do you think we spend a proportional level of effort on defining what type of culture we want to work in – a place you will potentially spend 50 percent or more of your waking hours? Maybe not.

This takes me back to a conversation with a friend and recent graduate of a returnship program at a major investment bank. She shared her experience of returning to work after being at home with her kids for 3 years. She was thrilled to return to a prestigious employer, went through the returnship, was offered a permanent position, and in the end accepted it. On paper, a true success story. I invited her to share her success story with the Vermilion community and to my surprise, she declined the offer. In all sincerity, she did not consider herself a “success.”

She went on to explain that she was miserable at work and thought about quitting everyday. The work culture that motivated her in her 20’s and 30’s was no longer a fit. Although her job was a 15 minute walk from home, she had changed, her needs had changed, her definition of success had changed, and therefore her cultural requirements had changed. She is not the only one, I’ve heard many similar stories. Some people ignore this feeling, others accept it, and a few brave souls pay attention and take the risk to find a new fit.

[Related: Is That New Job The Best Next Career Move? A 10-Point Checklist To Help You Decide]

This brings up the question of timing. When should you think about cultural fit? Many experience a culture fit or culture "miss" after they've started a job. In fact, I was recently introduced to the idea of a “pre-mortem” by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, author of the book Problem Solved. Instead of doing an autopsy after a project/situation dies, do it before. Imagine the failure and work backwards to identify what could go wrong and mitigate it. Brilliant, right?

Give culture its proper weight as you explore your next opportunity. Creating a culture "filter" will help you to eliminate the “duds” and focus on companies where you and your talents will be valued. After all, it’s all about finding your people, isn't it? Essentially this is what companies do, so why shouldn’t you?


Anju Kurian is the co-founder of Vermilion Talent, a social enterprise empowering professionals through their career transitions with compelling content, coaching, community and connections with leading companies.  She returned to the paid workforce in 2012 after a career break to care for her two sons. When she's not at Party City searching for the perfect costume, you can find Anju cheering on her sons, cooking, and volunteering in her community.

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