5 common career mistakes—and what you can learn from them
If your career path veers off the road, here’s how you can get it back on track.
Everyone makes mistakes, particularly early on in their career. But there are mistakes (like forgetting someone’s name or accidentally making an off-color joke to the boss) and there are mistakes. The latter ones can wreck your reputation and do lasting damage.
But some poor career choices can have a silver lining: “Mistakes are good if you can learn from them,” says millennial career coach Kim Carbia. “But when a mistake becomes a habit, it becomes a problem.”
Here are five frequently made career blunders, paired with lessons to keep you from repeating them in the future.
Mistake #1: Missing an important deadline
“Even top performers drop the ball some times,” says career coach Maura Koutoujian. When you’re buried in work, assignments can fall through the cracks—like that quarterly sales report that was due to your boss a week ago. (You know, the one that’s still a blank Word document?)
Lesson: Tune up your organizational skills
“Find out where things fell apart,” advises Carbia, “and determine whether it was something inside or outside your control.”
Workers often miss deadlines due to poor organizational skills, says Jessica Smith, a millennial career coach and host of the podcast Career Coaching with Jessness. To improve, she recommends setting milestones for long-term projects.
“Break down your work into more bite-size pieces,” Smith says. “By setting checkpoints for yourself, you’ll be able to stay on track and turn in assignments on time.”
Mistake #2: Not negotiating your salary
One-fifth of workers surveyed by Salary.com said they never negotiate their salaries. But you risk leaving a ton of money on the table if you don’t negotiate—especially when you factor in compound interest.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to ask for more money
Many job seekers don’t negotiate salary because they’re fearful of rejection or don’t want to appear too aggressive.
The solution here is to learn how to overcome your fear. “You need to become comfortable selling yourself,” says Carbia; that way you can successfully negotiate your salary at your next job or persuade your current boss to give you a big raise at your next performance review.
You might feel more at ease if you arm yourself with data that supports your request for higher pay. You can use compensation data from Salary.com, PayScale.com, or SalaryExpert.com to get an idea of what you should be earning. Then to calm your nerves, practice negotiating with a co-worker, says Robin Pinkley, management professor at Southern Methodist University and co-author of Get Paid What You're Worth.
Mistake #3: Giving up networking once you have a job
A lot of people hate networking; some people despise it to the point where it makes them feel physically dirty and they want to take a shower, a University of Toronto study found.
That may explain why a number of workers stop networking after they find a full-time job. After all, you’re already gainfully employed—why would you even need to network?
Lesson: Networking is a key factor to advancing your career.
Part of managing your reputation is staying connected with people in your sphere and continuing to make new connections in your field, says Carbia. Also, if you don’t network on a regular basis, you could be missing out on job opportunities, since your contacts may not think of you if they hear of job openings at their company.
Social media makes it easy for you to network online, but you can’t rely solely on the internet to grow your circle, says Smith. “Having 500 connections online doesn’t necessarily mean you have valuable connections,” Smith says. You need to attend industry conferences on a regular basis. Joining trade associations and labor unions will enable you to gain access to their networking events.
To keep contacts fresh, touch base with people on a monthly or bimonthly basis, says Smith.
Mistake #4: Burning bridges
Whether you quit in a less-than-professional manner or hung your co-worker out to dry, burning a bridge can do lasting damage to your career. “Reputation is everything” in the workplace, says Koutoujian. Indeed, you never know if you’re going to cross paths with someone again in the future.
Lesson: Apologize and recognize what you did wrong
You may be able to mend the relationship by making a formal apology, but if that’s not possible, you need to at least assess the root of the issue.
Take time to reflect on what caused the rift so that you don’t repeat the behavior. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of gaining more control over your emotions. “You need to learn how to manage your feelings so that you don’t say or do something in the heat of the moment that you’ll regret,” says Carbia.
Mistake #5: Failing to brush up on your skills
To continue to advance in your field and attract new potential employers, you need to stay current. Unfortunately, it’s easy to let your skills development lapse—especially if your employer doesn’t offer any on-site training or certification opportunities.
Lesson: Create your own opportunities for growth
Hiring managers want to know that you’re committed to developing your skills. Take an online class, attend seminars, research available certificates in your industry—just don’t let your brain gather dust. But check with your boss before enrolling; your employer might be willing to cover any costs.