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With paint, cars and employees, fit is everything

Strengths, talents, needs and experience dovetail for true career match

Paint turned into a pithy epiphany. I realized that with everything in our personal and work worlds, whether trivial or titanic, we are subconsciously always looking to achieve three things: fit, form and function.

I decided to take the plunge and paint inside my home again. Mine was intended to be an easy project, an accent wall in the dining room. Simple, yes? Seriously, no! Even though I hired a professional to do the job, it turned out to be more complex than it sounded.

Then paint turned into a pithy epiphany. I realized that with everything in our personal and work worlds, whether trivial or titanic, we are subconsciously always looking to achieve three things: fit, form and function.

Fit means having a positive look and feel. Form means coexisting with the current environment. Function means producing the intended benefits.

And each time we change an integral component of our surroundings, the entire ecosystem may also require rebalancing. (With paint, that means adding wall décor and more.)

Like your favorite football-watching shirt or, for me, a cherished pair of workout pants that feel fabulous, you often know quickly, if not instantly, when you’ve found the right fit. Kick it up a notch when talking about a big-ticket match, such as features when selecting a boat, auto or home — or an employee.

A first-class career match means that a worker’s strengths, talents, needs and experience are well suited for a specific position and environment. When a superb pairing occurs, the employee and the organization achieve a beneficial fit. The employee can help the team succeed, and the company has an associate who meshes with the group’s culture. Satisfaction, happiness and accomplishment are mutual.

The opposite is true when a poor pairing is in play, something I witnessed recently when my eldest son purchased an SUV. In that situation, the overwhelming and possibly most imperative factor for closing the transaction — job fit — was missing. An employee appeared to be in the wrong role, and as customers we paid the price in frustration and wasted time.

I like the summary of job-fit factors provided by human resources expert Susan M. Heathfield at I have punctuated her writing with my personal insights:

Culture: Does the organization’s culture sync with the applicant’s needs? If an environment is low-key but the candidate is high-energy and growth-oriented, the fit may not be good. In our car-buying experience, the salesperson was friendly and accommodating for the test drive, but fumbled when processing the transaction. Only a partial match for that position applied, a problem that did not foster fully realizing success.

Experience: Will the candidate’s experience set her up to excel in the new role? In our automotive purchase, the salesperson seemed unable to make a straightforward deal (multiple errors were made handling paperwork, causing extensive waiting and other issues). In this case, required experience was lacking, begging the question: Was there a bad fit, training needed, or both?

Values and beliefs: Similar to having cultural fit, employees must share values and beliefs to collaborate, and attract and satisfy customers. Our SUV salesperson thought it was OK to ignore the extraordinarily slow service she was providing. The prospect of losing the sale (which nearly happened) appeared to be her only motivation to improve. No fit? Potentially, no sale.

Needs the employee fulfills by working: Beyond a paycheck, every individual has reasons for laboring. These include recognition, self-actualization, challenge, growth, leadership and fellowship. Several of these prerequisites must be met for a well-formulated occupational fit.

Job content: Applicants must enjoy what they do. If they can’t apply skills and don’t adore their duties, they will have no passion. Asking a laid-back laborer to run the express checkout at the supermarket is like asking the slow-lane driver to flash onto the fast track. Stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction ensue for all.

Education and training: Does the candidate possess the education and training for the role, or can that person quickly be brought up to speed? Few companies furnish resources to train an employee from the ground up. The trained applicant who is also culturally paired properly will generally prevail.

For managers who are now pondering the pieces that generate fit, form and function, there’s another item I want to call out: stereotyping, or preconceived notions as to who will or won’t do well. Yes, we all use benchmarks when assessing the capabilities of another; however, I’ll caution you to always apply appropriate considerations.

A couple of examples include the young, bright college graduate who was provided a post at her father’s company and nevertheless performed poorly (wrong role, bad fit), and the famous 81-year-old Bette Nash, a flight attendant for 60 years for American Airlines who continues to deliver excellent performance, thoroughly enjoys what she does and has passengers who love her (right role, great fit).

What about the paint in my dining room and my son’s car? Whether it’s a home-improvement venture, a favorite shirt, a big purchase or your next new hire, each must be accompanied by the correct fit, form and function to render fulfillment.

Clearly define needs and goals (what you want), plot the process (how you’ll find what you’re seeking) and set minimum requirements (who or what you’ll consider), and your probability for achieving objectives will exponentially increase.

Mary Elston

Mary Elston

You may not hit the mark all the time — with paint, OK, I had to paint twice to get the best color — but my son did get the vehicle he wanted. When it comes to hiring and job fit, or even if you’re pursuing a fresh position for yourself, you’ll be closer more often than not and outwardly pleased with the outcome.

Need a new employee? Now you’re ready to find the person who will be your next fantastic fit.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue.



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