Tough love: Recognising when you aren’t very good at your job

AKA, how to fail.

Sometimes, you aren’t very good at your job. Your friends, family and colleagues might give well-meaning advice and although there are times when you need extra encouragement, there are also times when you just aren’t the right fit. It’s not a very nice feeling — and I know, I have been there more than once. It’s helpful if you can recognise this before somebody else does, so let’s untangle this.

What are the signs?

1. Work fills you with dread

Not being very good at your job, and not liking your job are two different things. If you are good at your job, but you don’t like it, your feedback from your boss will likely focus on your wellbeing rather than your performance.

If you are not good at your job AND you don’t like it, it will be a horrible struggle. Each morning your inbox, the morning zoom, any incoming email or phone call will fill you with genuine dread. Sound familiar?

2. You can’t seem to get anything right

Maybe you wanted to push yourself, or somebody else wanted to push you. There might have been a misunderstanding about the skills and experience required for the role. Making the odd mistake is completely normal, but if you are consistently messing up, this can be a sign that you don’t have the right skills or experience.

3. You’re getting consistent feedback that you need to improve

This should be the biggest red flag. Feedback can be tough to take on board, it’s not nice to hear and you might feel defensive, angry and frustrated. Even if the feedback is delivered poorly, it’s coming from somewhere, so do listen. And get a third party involved if you need another opinion.

If you are putting your performance down to a pressured environment or a pushy boss, question this objectively. Are you being treated unfairly or are you actually just not very good at the job? Again, this is not a nice conversation to have at work, but doing a job you aren’t very good at will make you miserable.

4. You messed up really badly

So, I haven’t been in this situation but I have seen it happen. You caused a PR crisis, forgot to renew the company website domain or accidentally sent an offensive email to the customer email database. The company is not likely to just let it slide, and you should start to ask yourself whether this is the job for you.

Where are the gaps?

You recognise the signs, now you need to figure out why you aren’t performing. Getting into a job that you aren’t very good at normally comes down to two reasons. (It can also be down to negligence or lying but if that’s you, you’re on your own, sorry!).

  1. You don’t have the skills needed
  2. You don’t have the right experience or enough experience

Skills can be learnt with varying degrees of feasibility. You can definitely learn how to use an email marketing system fairly quickly. Learning how to copywrite, not so much.

Experience is hard to speed up. For every intuitive marketing genius running a team by the age of 25, there are those of us who need longer to learn the ropes. Sometimes you just do not have the experience and there’s no magic solution.

What are you going to do about it?

You can stay, you can leave or the decision might not be yours and you may lose your job.

If you think the situation can be rescued and you can bridge the gap, then go ahead and do it. Whether you share this with your manager or not really depends on your personal choice. But if they have given you actionable feedback, then take this on board, and keep listening.

If you want to leave, please learn from your current situation. Consider the feedback you have received and think really carefully about the type of job and environment that would suit you.

And if you lose your job, this sucks, but usually you are given time and/or money which will allow you to focus on what you really want. And as above, learn from the situation and try not to repeat it again.

Some kind words

Recognising the signs, your gaps and deciding what to do is a huge step in your personal development — well done for being so self-aware. Most people have been where you are.

I have had several roles and situations where I look back and think: Actually I just wasn’t very good at this. It was no one’s fault, just a bad fit and a learning experience. I failed and I started again.

And it always led to better things.



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Veronica Wood Querales

Veronica Wood Querales


Writing about marketing, careers, freelancing and life • Marketing consultant and mentor •