With the work I do as a career coach, I am lucky to be able to talk to people from all walks of life on their career concerns and fears.
And during these conversations, inevitably some version of the following question comes up: “Jill, what would you say are the major career mistakes to avoid?”
Granted, this is one of those ‘ask 10 people and you will get 10 different answers’ sort of questions. But I wanted to really distill what I have seen down into a core three to help you build awareness around whether you are doing any of these things and how to tweak your behavior and mindset so you can work toward obtaining or maintaining a robust career.
So here’s my definitive list of the big three career mistakes to avoid:
Putting it Off/Ignoring the Signs: This one’s a big one. Many people feel a longing to do something different or a pang of discomfort that they’re not quite doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Yet, they stay in unsatisfying jobs. For years and years, until the salary or benefits package becomes too good to walk away from.
I get it. You need the money. You are paying off your loans or saving up to buy a house or putting kids through college. I understand that not everyone can just – BOOM- quit without a second thought to pursue a dream job.
But regardless of your situation, you may have more control than you think. Ask yourself these questions:
- Has your income stagnated because of your lack of engagement in what you’re doing?
- What impact does being unhappy at work have on the rest of your life? Is it worth it, knowing you spend almost one-third of your life at work?
- How creative can you get with your career? Are you willing to consider an alternative approach to making money while exploring an alternative career?
I recommend doing a full-scale check in on your career once a year, at minimum. By this I mean asking yourself he questions above, along with these:
- How fulfilled are you at work on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being totally unfulfilled?
- What’s an appropriate number you’d be happy with for the above question?
- What would it take to move up the scale to where you want to be ideally? (Be as specific as you can.)
- What would it take to move up the scale to where you want to be at minimum?
- How likely is it that your current a) position b) employer and c) career is going to be able to bring you that level of fulfillment in the future?
- If it’s likely, what do you need to do to get it there? (Include internal and external resources such as mentors or coaching or coursework.)
- If it’s not, for how much longer are you willing to put up with it?
Not Doing the Work. And that means, especially if you are early in your career, doing the grunt work. I can’t tell you how many people I have worked with who have absolutely no idea how to load a presentation from a USB onto a laptop, how to format a Powerpoint or how to scan copies. And these are just a few examples. Do yourself a favor and learn how to do the grunt work no matter where you are in your career. I’m not saying to take that work off your assistant’s plate and do it all yourself all the time, but workplace culture and dynamics work better when you understand what other people in your constellation are doing and you have a sense of empathy for their time. It goes a long way in terms of workplace satisfaction, which in turn helps retention and your reputation around the office as a team player to boot.
Mistake # 3
Taking What Was Given. I’m talking about failure to negotiate. That includes salary, position and responsibilities, here. I can’t tell you how many people take exactly what was offered without a single thought to negotiation. By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 in earnings by age 60, and men are 4 times more likely than women to negotiate a first salary, according to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, the authors of Women Don’t Ask.
Starting now, if you haven’t already, make a commitment to negotiate starting salaries, bonuses and job titles. How?
- Understand what you’re worth. Look at your annual reviews, get an understanding for what others in your position with your level of experience make and get a sense, backed with reason, as to what your contribution to the company’s growth has added to the company’s bottom line
- Have the accomplishments and scenarios to back it up.
- Think about what the narrative is for when you discuss with the hiring manager or, if you’re a current employee, your manager.
- Don’t just ask for cost of living adjustment. That’s 3% by the way.