How to never become a square peg in a round hole in your career

How not to be a misfit in your career? Today, the skills and competencies are becoming so obsolete. Even engineers are setting up businesses in the service sector. Doctors are even desperately trying to enter the Civil services or working as apprentices under someone. The concept of a square peg in a round hole is relevant here. One should never become a misfit or be branded as one. Some nuances are discussed in this article.


The phrase "square peg in a round hole" is a big problem with many careers today. Those in the IT sector are feeling the heat. Those above 45 years of age, in the manufacturing sector, are a worried lot. They can be branded misfits at any point in time. The trick is to constantly upgrade yourself. How you do it will differ from situation to situation. However, you just cannot afford to say now" am not prepared". This excuse will no longer be valid. It is a fact of life that even those with the best of qualifications, who are unable to find value-adding jobs in the US, in the Trump era, either come up and add to the competition in the competency-based job market in the senior managerial categories or turn entrepreneurs. Within India. with the rapid explosion of IIMs, and the IITs and the NITs, the competition for the really good, value-adding managerial careers is hotting up day after day. Yet, you need to stay alive and relevant. The most important points to be discussed here in this article, are a) Always have Plan B or even Plan C b) Be ready to take risks c) Get your finances in shape right from day one and d) Be prepared to slog it in different roles within a particular ecosystem.

Always have Plan B or even Plan C

This is a real-life true case study. Prakash ( name changed) After his degree in Mechanical engineering from the country's best NIT, at Tiruchirapalli, in Tamil Nadu, a very young engineer, wanted to slog it out on the shop floor. His degree was in mechanical engineering. In the campus, he was the only one of the two selected in the campus placement to join the factory of Pepsico, at a place some sixty kilometers from Tambaram, a fully developed suburb of Chennai city. His thirty-nine months of experience helped him a great deal. He could deal with the trade union and with the Electricity board employees and contract employees. His job was good. But he wanted a move on. He took the GMAT and went on to the prestigious Indian School of Business at Mohali, near Chandigarh to do the one year PGDM. Today, after stints with Practo and another small startup, in senior roles, he is Vice President of Operations and Marketing in a startup in the Supply Chain Management space at Bangalore. And he is just 28 years old.

He is not alone. He represents a growing tribe of young professionals, who realize that the next twenty years will be crucial. The Engineer-MBA from the top notch institutions is the best answer. Even if your degree in engineering was not from a very good institute, for the PG degree in Management, it has to be only from the IIMs or ISB or the best ten. These include the FMS, University of New Delhi, SP Jain Insitute of Management, Mumbai, the XLRI, Jamshedpur and so on. The other institutes are all also ran ones. In the South, for example, the notable ones, apart from the IIMs, are only Bharadidasan Insititute of Management, Tiruchirapalli, the TA Manipal Institute of Management, Manipal and Great Lakes Insitute of Management, Chennai, and the LIBA, Chennai. You just do not have a choice. This is what is called plan B.

What if you have family responsibilities and cannot do the MBA now? Postpone it for three more years and then do it. You could perhaps do a good Executive MBA on the weekends and you need a job in Pune or Mumbai or Chennai or Hyderabad or New Delhi. The two years of slogging are very essential. This could be Plan C. What if you are a B.Com graduate and now employed in a BPO? And your English is so good and your salary is also so good? If you do not slog it out for 36 months and acquire the CIMA or CMA or the ICWA or ACS qualification, you can jolly well forget a career in your core area of Accounting and Finance. You are likely to get stuck up in BPOs for the rest of your life. You can transition to IT by doing the SAP or Cloud Computing or the Ethical Hackers course and then even take a dip in salary to go into IT jobs for a career in IT. This will be plan B. If you do not want to do either, you will have missed the bus. All correspondence courses in Management, are not even worth the paper on which your degree is printed on. Please do not waste your money on them.

Be ready to take risks

You cannot afford to sit and relax and then blame the environment. Everywhere you go, you will find much smarter people. Once you start showing your grey hairs, you will find it very embarrassing to sit alongside much younger MBAs, looking like a misfit. The trick is to take risks. Jobs in Mumbai, for example, in Capital markets is a big risk, But it is worth it. This is the only city that offers good careers in this area. Entrepreneurship is a choice. Yes, you need to take a big risk,. However, a good risk after studying your environment for good service and then starting the business will help you a great deal. Never borrow too much. First look at immediate cash-flow, and no credit business like small catering establishments. Expand only with your own internal accruals. This is the best way to expand a business. Remember, you must take risks. Without this, you are a zero. More so, if you are just a graduate. If you are into IT, you can easily graduate to the managerial roles only if you have a good MBA. Even a good part-time MBA of three years is worth it. With any sweat, your life will itself become a zero.

Get your finances in shape right from day one

Of late, the youngsters have begun to see the big picture. Growing uncertainties have reduced their "only spend" attitudes. While such spending might be great for the economy, for the individual, it does not make any sense. It is wise to save a huge amount for a rainy day. Medical insurance, life insurance, and accident insurances are a must. This author has engaged in constructive conversations with at least thirty young professionals, at least ten of them from the IIMs. They are quite aware of the increasing competition in the workplace and the new numbers that are coming to join the managerial ranks. It is very much essential to save good amounts right now.

Be prepared to slog it in different roles within a particular ecosystem

Today, Prakash referred above, is in charge of both Marketing and Operations. He barks at people in the field. Everything is important in the Supply Chain Management business. The drivers cannot be drunk. There is terrific co-ordination required. The customer feedback has to be obtained in real time. He wants to double the turnover of Rs.200 crores to Rs.400 crores in one year. He has seen different roles in Operations and Marketing within four years. This is a new reality. Six days a week. A minimum of 16 hours per day. If you are not ready for this hard grind, as he would insist from each of his one hundred subordinates spread all over India and monitored from his Corporate Office in Bangalore, it is just "bhai, thank you. Gar me bhaito".(thank you brother, you can sit at home). He is ruthless. He wants perfection. The meetings take place through Skype, even at 1 PM-midnight. At the very same time, his sub-contractor visits in Bangalore and in Mumbai, which is a big market, is marked by lunch with good drivers. The good news spreads around. The "boss" is a nice guy, if you work, is the message. This slogging is a new reality. Look at how Prakash has come from the shop floor to Management of an entire Supply Chain Management. Yes, he is now only doing the intra-city contracts. Within 24 months, the organization might decide to do the inter-city business too. This is the Ola kind of business. The aforesaid case-study has been quoted only to explain current realities. The scope for a lot of innovation at the ground level, for any individual, is huge.


Keeping your job, making a success of your job will all depend on how ready you are to take on new roles. What has been discussed above are some imperatives. You must get ready to face all challenges if you are to escape being a round peg in a square hole, in your career.

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