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.

5 common career mistakes—and what you can learn from them

You can fix common mistakes before they damage your career.

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 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. Trying breaking down your work into categories based on priority level and set milestones for long-term projects.

Mistake #2: Not negotiating your salary and benefits

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 what you want

Many job seekers don’t negotiate salary or benefits because they’re fearful of rejection or don’t want to appear too aggressive. In a recent Monster poll, 52% of respondents didn't even try to negotiate more vacation time, and 21% now regret it.  

“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 founder of the M2M (Master to Master) Center for Profitable Negotiation.

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. And remember, it's about quality not quantity. Although you should attend industry conferences on a regular basis and join trade associations, there are easier—and more fun—ways to build your network, says David Burkus, author of Friend of a Friend.

"Luckily, there are lots of ways to do this, like getting involved with community service, sports activities like a golf tournament or a bowling league, or a faith-based organization like a church or mosque. Another way is by volunteering for special-projects teams at work," Burkus suggests.

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.

Listen to the experts

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're sure to keep moving forward. Still not sure how to get ahead?  Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can get job alerts emailed right to your inbox, which cuts down on the amount of time you'd spend combing through ads. Additionally, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to different types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. And that’s just the beginning. There's so much more we can do to help you get a great new job.