A Surprisingly Simple Diagnostic Question to See If You’re in the Right Job

6 min min read
Updated on November 22, 2021
By Trevor Throness
A Surprisingly Simple Diagnostic Question to See If You're in the Right Job

Like everyone, I’ve had jobs during my youth that were just to make money and fill in the corners.  Not career jobs.  These included:

  • Building Quonset huts (way too much altitude for my taste)
  • Working in a drugstore (stocking shampoo under fluorescent lights didn’t seem like a life-long solution for me)
  • Farm labor (turns out I have a talent for ruining machinery and property. Never met a piece of equipment I couldn’t get tangled in a barbed wire fence.)
  • Construction (good, but again, I have no talent in my hands)
  • Painting (tilt up buildings, not watercolors)
  • Washing dishes (I was actually really good at this. Something to fall back on if things go south)

And I’ve also had more than a few career jobs too!  I’ve:

  • Been a youth pastor working with teens and parents
  • Done a variety of jobs with a multi-national including getting everybody coffee and washing the owner’s truck (to start) and later, on to acquisitions, business manager, sales manager, and running a large sales territory
  • Manager/owner of a training company with a bunch of trainers implementing contracts for the federal government
  • Consultant, speaker, writer
  • Owner/instructor of an e-learning school

That’s a lot of jobs for one guy!  Presumably I’m not done yet.

Maybe your career looks the same.  Lots of different experiences.

But how do you know if you’re in the right job?  And how do you know if a team member is in the right job, or if they’re just going through a bad spell?

I like to ask one simple diagnostic questions that has three possible responses.  The responses are very revealing.

Here’s the question:

If you woke up tomorrow and heard that your department had been eliminated and you were moving into another role, would you feel:



Or Relieved?

In this thought experiment, fear isn’t one of the options because you’re simply being moved to another area.  You’re not waking the next morning wondering how to pay your rent.

Here’s what you can learn from each of the three responses:


If you choose ‘surprised,’ it’s a good indicator that things are working well for you.  There’s no reason for anything to end, and you can’t imagine why your organization would want to make a change with your department.

When you choose surprised, you’re telling me (and yourself) that you likely shouldn’t be making any changes.

Unless of course someone isn’t being honest with you about how you and/or the department is performing.  That’s a different conversation!

Anyway, surprised is a positive sign.


If your department were to end and you would feel sad about it, that’s a good indicator that you’re in the right role.

You don’t want it to end!

Things are working with you and your team!

You’ve found a good fit, and there’s no reason for it to end!

So, sad is a positive response and a good indicator that you shouldn’t be making a change.

Likely this means you’re exactly where you should be.


This is a cat of a different color.

Just for your interest, I’ve seen many situations where a person moves on from a role with a push from the organization.  I’m trying to delicately say that the person is let go.

And when the dust has settled, you know what they feel?


While no one wants to go through the misery of parting ways and all that that means, when it’s over, often all parties see it was for the best.

No more having to slug it out doing something I don’t feel good at.

No more guilt feeling I should hang in even though I hate every minute of it.

I remember one of my teenagers being in a dating situation in high school, and also feeling sick about the whole thing, but feeling obligated to ‘hang in there.’

So, we talked about it.  My advice was something like this:

Me: If you could decide whether or not to date this person all over again, knowing what you know now, would you?

Teen: No! (tearfully)

Me: Well, maybe you need to break it off then

Teen: I can’t, they’ll be crushed!  (Waterworks are kicking into high gear now)

Me: Is it fair to them to not tell the truth?

At the end of the day, the two-week love affair of the century was over, and you know the teen felt?  Of course you do.  You’ve been that teen!

They felt relieved.

Just like you feel when you leave a job you’re not good at, and not succeeding in.

I don’t think anyone was terrifically sorry to see me leave the farm.  They liked me well enough and thought I was a good kid, but it was obvious to everyone that I had no aptitude for the job.  And I felt some relief too although it was a great experience.  I knew it wasn’t my future (and so did they).

If the thought of leaving your job makes you feel a surge of relief, that’s worth exploring.

When I ask a person my diagnostic question and they choose relief, I know I’ve got a live one.

Not that they should quit immediately, but if that feeling persists for months, it’s something to not ignore.

If you aren’t sure, try building your own annual plan for free.  In this course I challenge you to look at what’s working and what isn’t  And to make a plan to take control of your life in the upcoming year.  Did I mention that’s free?

You can use my Building Your Personal Annual Plan course and access it here:


The secret of getting ahead is getting started!


Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at gettingpeopleright.com https://gettingpeopleright.com/

Find more about “The Power of People Skills” here: https://www.amazon.com/Power-People-Skills-Dramatically-Performance/dp/1632651068

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