Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. While you may be doing your best to make the right career moves at every turn, it can be difficult to take a step back and see how a certain choice could negatively affect your trajectory.
Make a really bad move, and you could risk sabotaging what you’ve worked so hard for.
In this post, we highlight the most common mistakes professionals make that can hinder long-term success, so that you can avoid them yourself and stay on the fast-track to the career of your dreams.
Career Mistake #1: Sticking To A Rigid Plan
The good news is, you don’t need a ten-year plan to craft a rewarding path. In fact, the more open you can be about opportunities, the more they will come your way. Today, there are more options than ever before for how you can shape your career; you just need to be open to them.
We spoke with Diane Hessan, Chairman and former CEO of C Space and former CEO of Startup Institute, who said, “I learned early on that most people get their best opportunities when they least expect them. It’s someone you meet at a party or on an airplane.” Diane never developed a rigid plan, and this is exactly why. She shares, “It’s sometimes scary to be uncertain, but on the other hand, you can wake up every day thinking that this might be the day when a new adventure shows up.” Diane is a strong believer in serendipity, and she chalks much of her success up to being open to it.
We also talked to Sam Feldman, product marketing manager at Trello, who said his career path has been built on referrals, not a predetermined track. “Anytime I give people career advice, I tell them to look through their network — it’s the best way to get a job.” He adds, “I landed my first job through a friend of a friend at Google who gave me a foot in the door, and I met the former CEO of Trello at a conference.”
While a ten-year plan isn’t required to build a successful career, you do need to be intentional about making the right connections, staying in touch with them, and always being open to opportunities that may knock on your door.
Career Mistake #2: Not Vetting The People You Will Work With
To be the best, you need to learn from the best. That’s why it’s important that the people you work for (and with) are smart, driven, and care about your success. “One of the most important things I look for in a company is the people who are leading the team,” says Mila Hadzhiracheva, territory development associate at Starry, Inc:
“Before I joined Starry, I asked to have coffee with various people who knew the team I would be working with to find out what the leadership team is like and how professional and inspiring they are. When a leadership team is composed of people you want to be like one day, you can learn a lot from them.”
You also want to be sure your team is composed of go-getters. “It’s fun and exciting to work on a team that is collaborative and intelligently curious - it makes a big difference,” says Mila. You can get a good sense of this during your interviews by asking in-depth questions about the company culture, and by reaching out to those in your network who are well-connected to your future employer.
Career Mistake #3: Accepting Mediocrity
The easiest way to stay stuck where you are is by not putting in the effort to improve yourself or take initiative. “Where I see a lot of people fail is being okay with something that isn’t their best work and letting that happen consistently,” says Dan Baptiste, vice president of brand partnerships at Skyword, Inc. “You need to put in the effort at every stage of your career — effort is as much a skillset as anything else,” he adds.
In Dan’s first job in media sales, he says he was hungry to learn, improve, and take initiative: “I asked for more work and what skills I needed to improve.” By adopting a mindset of continuous improvement, you will learn more than most people, which will give you flexibility later on in your career to do what you really want.
A good way to sharpen your skills and gain new ones is by learning from those who are in a position you one day want to be in. Another way is investing in personal development by way of reading books or attending classes or online courses. “I started reading a lot of books written by really smart people who taught me skills that I could bring to my company, such as strategy and leadership skills,” Dan explains. With a focus on continuous improvement, you’ll be able to consistently deliver your best work, and that will get you noticed.
Career Mistake #4: Thinking You Have To Be In Leadership To Impact The Business
Don’t wait until you’re in a leadership position to bring new ideas to the table or lead big projects — begin now. “People have the perception that you have to be in a senior position to influence an organization, but that’s not true at all,” explains Mila. “You can influence your company as an entry-level employee as much as a vice president if you’re thoughtful enough about it,” she adds.
As a sales associate at Starry, Mila is able to close business and work closely with senior management, which requires taking initiative, developing creative ideas, and owning those ideas. She’s just as integral to the success of the company as anyone else.
By demonstrating your leadership potential early on in your career, you will have many more opportunities open up to you, both within your current company and well beyond it.
Don’t box yourself in because you don’t feel that your title grants you permission to lead. By focusing on doing what’s right for the business using your unique talents, you will become integral to the company. Career advancement is a natural next step from there.
Career Mistake #5: Getting Comfortable
Even if you are completely happy where you are today, it’s always a good idea to have one or a few informal interviews each year. Sam Feldman says this does two things: “It either confirms you’re happy doing what you’re doing, or it makes you realize there are other more interesting opportunities out there.” This can also help you when you are ready to find your next opportunity. Not only will your interviewing skills be fresh, but you’ll have made many connections you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Going to informational interviews is far easier than going on several formal interviews, which is all the more reason to do them. “Reach out to people across your network and see if they have ten minutes to talk to you about your career,” Sam advises. “These can be really lightweight, casual conversations that may open up the door to a great opportunity now or down the road,” he adds. Every year, Sam aims to talk both with companies he wants to learn more about and those he simply wants to make a connection with.
“Reach out to people you know and those you don’t so that you’re always broadening your network,” Sam says.
Become The Leader Of Your Career
Think about it this way: You can’t successfully climb a mountain if you don’t focus on moving upward. While you don’t need to know what every step you’re going to take will look like ahead of time, being intentional and thoughtful about where you place your feet will get you to the top in due time.
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