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July 10, 2017

Don’t get stuck in the comfort zone


We’d like to share a snippet of conversation we overheard in a restaurant this week – “I’m enjoying life outside of my comfort zone.”

At first, this statement doesn’t seem to make sense. If your comfort zone is a place of safety and control, and the world beyond that can be physically and mentally uncomfortable, why would anyone enjoy being there? Yet stepping out of your comfort zone is almost universally accepted as a way to achieve bigger, better and brighter things. We know almost instinctively that it makes sense, so why are any of us opting to stay there?

Before we get deep into the psychology that underpins the human condition, let’s look at comfort zones in the workplace and in particular, those relating to the recruitment process.

We often find clients have a list of essentials they want to see in a candidate. Sometimes these are “statutory” requirements, or professional or trade body memberships, and we have no problem with that. But often things on the person specification are fixed and restrictive where they don’t need to be.

Perfection or potential

For example, take the situation where a client is looking for experience with a certain software package. Now imagine that people with these skills are in short supply and that the position, therefore, is tricky to fill or that a very high salary has to be offered.

Maybe there are some very good candidates with alternative skills and approaches that would benefit the business. With extra training and support, they could be a very good fit for the role. There may be a delay before they’re up-to-speed, but let’s not forget that a candidate willing and ready to retrain is already demonstrating the desire to make progress. One who already has the skills could simply be looking for a comfortable, easy life.

Think transferable skills, not fixed positions

Job seekers are no more immune to the comfort zone bias than are potential employers. It’s too easy for them to see themselves as the sum of their last list of responsibilities. People are much more than what they have already done. They are what they’re capable of. A storeman with a quick eye for detail could make a brilliant order processor. An electrical engineer could become a fantastic project manager. Softer, transferable skills could be just as important as the technical ones.

In business, comfort zones can be dangerous. Those who remain within then can become stale and begin to doubt their own capabilities. Seeking a perfect match in an applicant can blind the employer to the much greater potential of the candidate who ticks only 80 per cent the boxes.

Breaking out of the zone isn’t risk-free, but in the long run, which is the bigger risk – playing it safe and getting nowhere or accepting the challenge and seeing how far you can get?

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