Careers are dicey things, aren’t they?
Firstly, they’re our source of survival – that alone can make them stressful.
And for most of us, they’re the foundation of our self-worth.
We get a lot of confidence, fulfillment, and growth from our careers.
And since your work is likely something you’ll do for 20, 30, or even 50 years – you want to avoid costly career mistakes.
We can easily avoid the professional mistakes we know, but what about the ones we don’t?
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
– Sam Levenson
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Mistake 1: Taking What’s Given
25% of employees surveyed by Salary.com said they never negotiate for their salaries.
And men are eight times more likely to negotiate for a raise than women.
Linda Babcock, author of Ask for it, says this actually has a snowball effect.
Even a small salary increase will mean larger yearly raises and possibly larger bonuses in the future.
It will also carry over to a new employer, who almost always asks:
What was your last salary?
“I tell my graduate students that by not negotiating their job at the beginning of their career, they’re leaving anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime,” Linda says.
And her number doesn’t even include retirement contributions, which are also based on salary.
Many employees don’t ask for raises because they’re afraid of rejection.
I get it. It can be hard to speak up and ask for what you’re worth.
But, you have to become comfortable selling yourself. You can’t expect other people to do that for you.
So don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve.
“Opportunities don’t happen, you create them.”
– Chris Grosser
Mistake 2: Burning Bridges
…and not understanding the effects of the fire.
Even if you absolutely hate where you work, there are still smart ways to quit your job.
When you quit in a less-than-professional way – burning that bridge can do lasting damage to your career. Talk about a career mistake.
You never want to become the person that the HR manager uses as a bad example:
“I have a good story of what NOT to do when you leave a job.”
Those good stories make for bad references and missed opportunities.
And those stories are usually about bad behavior when someone quit their job.
It’s easy to get caught up in telling your boss or coworkers what sucks, what they should do to fix it, and how the place is going downhill.
It might feel good in the moment, but it won’t change anything for the better.
The job is still going to suck after you leave, so let them worry about that.
“It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.”
– Warren Buffet
Mistake 3: Thinking “It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Business”
You know what would be nice?
If we lived in a world where our bosses judged us solely by the quality of our work.
We hope to earn credibility and merit at our jobs by working hard and doing what we’re told.
Except, there’s more to it than that.
While work ethic plays a huge factor – it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Business is personal.
The relationships and connections you build are important.
Have you ever heard someone say as many business deals are made on the golf course as in the office?
Some people call this: realizing your boss IS your job.
Your job is not writing reports, replying to emails, or answering phones.
Your job is to manage the relationship with the person who’s in charge.
Plus, did you know that likability is the number one key to getting hired?
After a job interview, nobody says, “Wow, Dan was so punctual! I can’t wait to work with him!”
It’s more likely to be, “Dan was not only professional, but he was also so nice! He’ll be great to have around!”
It makes sense.
Our bosses and coworkers actually want to enjoy being around the people they have to work with.
And if you fail to realize that, it’s a career mistake.
So if you need some help developing some charisma skills, then I recommend using the techniques talked about here.
“Whatever you are, be a good one.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Mistake 4: Becoming Too Comfortable
You have to always think about the skills needed for the next job.
Here’s the deal:
Most companies offer some sort of onboarding and training.
But for many people, when they take a new job and finish the initial training, they fail to keep their skills sharp beyond what’s needed for their daily tasks.
If you want to continue advancing in your career and attract new job opportunities, then you have to stay current.
It’s a competitive market out there.
That doesn’t mean someone is constantly lurking over your shoulder and hoping you fail – but it does mean other people are looking for opportunities, too.
You can’t coast your way through a career.
“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do .”
Even when you’ve been in the same role for awhile and start feeling comfortable – don’t stop pushing yourself.
Let’s use an example:
Vanessa joins a company, shows up every day, and does an awesome job.
She becomes good at what she does, has a routine, and doesn’t make any effort to invest in new skills beyond what’s required from her.
Ashley has also joined the team. She’s just as successful as Vanessa, and they share the same skills and experience.
But in addition, Ashley signs herself up for extra training once or twice a year – choosing different (but relevant) topics.
Her ultimate goal is to get promoted, so she pays close attention to the kind of skills her boss (and her boss’s boss) have.
She starts off by taking leadership training and reading things like this to help her learn more.
Then she attends a conference on communication.
She later brushes up on her excel skills with the help of internet research.
She knows that staying stagnant is a career mistake.
So over the course of the year, her overall money investment is small, but it’s about to pay off big.
When it comes time to get promoted, Ashley has positioned herself in a great spot.
Vanessa and others are also up for the promotion, but they’ve only been doing enough to get by.
Ashley’s situation is different.
She’s learned more than required of her and she shows that at work.
Guess who gets promoted?
Ashley chose her next step instead of letting it choose her.
Take that to heart.
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
– John Powell
Mistake 5: Thinking Your Leadership Skills Develop Naturally
Anyone who leads others successfully is constantly working on leadership development.
Humans are tricky people, and learning to manage them requires constant nurturing and developing.
So don’t chase the title and not be equipped for the role.
People who are average at what they do chase after titles more than results.
You can be really good at what you do, but if you don’t focus on developing the right skills – don’t expect to keep moving up, or even to stay where you are.
Leadership skills don’t just land in your lap.
Vince Lombardi famously said, “The man at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
– William James
Mistake 6: Not Doing the Grunt Work
Especially early on in your career, you’re going to be expected to do some grunt work.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who had no idea how to load a presentation from a USB onto a laptop.
Or how to scan copies or make a spreadsheet.
Grunt work is different for each job.
At a restaurant, it might be cleaning tables and scrubbing toilets.
In an office, it might be making copies, grabbing the coffee for everyone, and scanning papers.
So not knowing how to do the “little” things is a career mistake.
Back in college, I remember looking at a job posting for an office position.
Funny enough, one of the job duties said:
“Might also have to wash dishes and get coffee.”
I’ll admit – I thought to myself, “WTF? Who writes that on a job description?”
It made me laugh because most jobs don’t put that kind of thing on their postings, even if it’s a requirement.
But that was a prime example of grunt work.
(At least we should applaud them for being honest and transparent, right?)
So do yourself a favor and learn how to do the grunt work – no matter where you’re at in your career.
Workplace culture and dynamics work better when you understand what other people have to do.
“The future depends on what you do today.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Mistake 7: Giving up Networking Once You Land the Job
If you dread networking, chances are you just don’t realize how much you can use it to your professional advantage.
After all, you’re already gainfully employed – why would you need to network?
Because career growth is largely about who you know.
It makes life so much easier when you know someone who knows someone.
A recent study found that as many as 80% of open positions are filled through networking.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
– Abraham Lincoln
And if you didn’t know, there’s a lot of hidden jobs out there.
Recent research shows that most jobs are never advertised. Instead, they’re filled internally or through networking.
This is why building connections is so important and can make your life easier in the long run.
Failing to network can be a bigger career mistake than you might think.
Without networks, there are fewer people to think of you when a good opportunity actually comes up.
So meet people, ask around, and mention to others when you’re looking for something specific.
People in your network will help lead you in the right direction.
And make an effort before you need it, so that when you do need help – your network is willing to give it.
Mistake 8: Working on Someone Else’s Dream
Maybe you studied marketing based on the advice of your parents, or got into accounting because your boss thought you’d be good with the numbers.
You had a dream but you killed it.
When you work on someone else’s dream, you won’t have the same amount of passion or drive to move forward in that career.
Feeling burned out might be a signal that what you’re doing isn’t right for you.
When you’re doing what you’re passionate about, then you don’t go home feeling drained or exhausted.
Instead, you feel energized and excited about the future.
The truth is, people will always have opinions about what you should and shouldn’t be doing.
They project their experiences, opinions, and fears onto you and your life – even when they don’t mean to.
You can’t always listen to those people. It’ll lead you down a path where you wonder to yourself:
Did I pick the right job or was this a career mistake?
So know yourself and understand what’s right for you.
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
– Mae West
Mistake 9: Letting Your Image Go
Most people don’t let their appearance go on purpose, but I’ve seen it happen time and time again.
They get busy, life happens, and they get comfortable in a job – so they neglect their wardrobe, grooming, and overall appearance.
Soon, they stop worrying about presenting themselves in a polished and professional way.
They start looking tired, rough, and sloppy.
But as much as we might wish they didn’t, these things still matter.
Your image will impact your credibility, authority, and alter the respect you’ve built up within your company.
Watch how others present themselves.
Do they wear suits or jeans? Do you like the way they present themselves?
Being presentable at work isn’t about having the latest style. It’s about having appropriate clothes that make you feel good about yourself.
You want to feel comfortable and confident.
Your goal should be to project the version of yourself that you want others to recognize and appreciate.
“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”
– Oscar Wilde
Mistake 10: Putting Your Career Before Your Life
If you don’t have a good life, you probably don’t have a good career.
Who knew that not putting yourself first is a career mistake?
Here’s the thing:
It’s easy to think that putting in long hours, constantly being able to take calls, and putting your personal life on hold will help you move forward at work.
But study after study has shown that you’re at your best when you take care of yourself.
Take breaks, nourish your body, exercise, and allow yourself to have a good balance.
Don’t put your career before your life. Instead, focus more on efficiency by getting more done in less time.
We all know that person who gets so much done at work and still manages to leave on time.
How do they do it? They don’t put their life on hold while they chase success.
They focus on the first part of the puzzle: creating a happy life.
Success doesn’t lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.
It’s only natural to take a few stumbles along your career path. As long as you know what mistake you made and how to fix it, you’ll keep moving forward.
Let me know in the comments, what professional mistakes have you made?
And as always, thanks for reading.