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Business - Careers - December 14, 2018

You Are Bad At Your Job But You Have No Idea Why

Most employees often give the minimum effort at their job, and are not necessarily good at it

James* works in a bank in Nairobi, Kenya. This year alone, he has received four warnings from his boss. His reconciliations and reports at the end of the day did not add up. Two years ago, James graduated from university with a degree in Commerce. He is a certified public accountant. He is perfect. At least on LinkedIn and his resume. He is every manager’s dream hire. But he is bad at his job.


When James joined high school several years ago, he was excited. He dreamt of becoming an engineer. He was good at mathematics and physics. Technically speaking, his chances of getting an engineering course were high. He maintained these grades until his final exam, prior to the final national exam. During the exam period, James got ill and struggled to complete his exams. It was tough but after subtle threats from his class teacher, he forced himself to sit for the exams. He slept during the second mathematics paper. Invigilators picked up his pens several times after they fell on the floor during the physics paper.

James failed his exam and did not manage to get a score high enough to get him into engineering school. So he settled for the next best option. Commerce. Life would be good, he would work in the bank and make a lot of money. That is what they said.

Present Day

One more warning and James will lose his job. He wakes up every day to come through the traffic to Moi Avenue in the Central Business District of Nairobi. But one day, soon, he will have nowhere to turn to. His parents are not wealthy. Each month is a struggle when he gets calls to send money home. Unfortunately, these are his parents, he must send the money.

Case Two: Irene

Irene* works for a telecommunications firm in South Africa. She is an Associate Engineer and she earns good money. In the past two months, her immediate supervisor has opted for her colleagues during field assignments. He does not want to directly tell her. But he prefers working with her colleagues. They are excellent at solving problems in the field and are always eager to learn. However, in the next year, Irene’s contract is set to end. Her supervisor has no intention of renewing it. He would rather hire a new intern and train them to support and take over the role. Irene is not good at her work. She lacks basic grasp of fundamental engineering knowledge. Her practical skills are worse. A look at her LinkedIn profile reveals a star. She graduated second in her engineering class at the University of Cape Town.


Irene went to the best private institutions in the country right from kindergarten. Her father, a renowned engineer in South Africa said her daughter must follow in her footsteps. Right from age four, he drummed the career path in her mind. She was going to be an engineer. It was not up for discussion. His rigorous investment in holiday teaching forced Irene to do well in her mathematics exams. There was no fun in it. Just cold, calculated, calculations. She passed all her tests. She did it out of fear. When she joined university, it was easy, but not fun. After graduation, she lost all interest in her career. She preferred finance. Her dreams were of her working in an investment bank. That did not come to fruition and she switched off at her work place.

Present Day

The mornings are slow and painful, but she must show up. Deep in her thoughts, she has decided to quit her job once her contract ends. Her father will not be happy. She is not stupid. The looks her manager gives her are clear proof that he does not want her there. She understands him. The last time she gave full attention to her work was the first few days, when her father followed up to see how she faired on.

Career Mismatch

Millions of employees across the world work in jobs that they do not want to do. For some, it is an issue of lack of jobs, so they opt for any available job. But for most of them, exposure to a rigid education system forced them to graduate in courses that they are not good at. Consequently, we have individuals with the right papers, right training but wrong mindset. It is no longer about making money, but about the fit of the individual’s personality and the job.

Personality Test

Research shows that we have a diverse set of personalities. Furthermore, personality tests prove that certain personalities do well in certain careers and roles in society. If we can determine personalities at an early age, we shall make it possible to have higher chances at individual-career fit. Furthermore, we will have people who are better at their jobs. So, it’s probably not your fault that you are bad at your job. You are probably in the wrong career. Unfortunately, depending on how far you are in the pipeline, and the country you are in, it is often a challenge to change careers. Either way, the first step in healing is knowing you have a problem.

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