Career Mistakes from 30 Years of Client Experience

After almost 30 years listening to client’s experiences on their career journeys it’s clear that there are some things not to do if you want to minimize the bumps along the way.  As we reassess and recharge at the beginning of a New Year, here’s my take on the top six career mistakes people make and how to fix them.

Not Taking Charge

Of all career mistakes, this is the most serious of all — not realizing that your career future is up to you.  Too often I see people who let their organizations or happenstance define them, instead of making choices based on their best interests and goals.  The result: one day they wake up to find they no longer enjoy what they are doing, or realize they have limited options because they failed to anticipate consequences of decisions made along the way.

The lesson:  Put yourself in the driver’s seat.  Your career success is up to you; you need to take charge of it and make wise decisions to nurture it.

Lacking Self-Awareness

One of the most common difficulties people experience is finding themselves to be a square peg in a round hole, in a job that’s a poor fit to their strengths, or, in an organization where the culture conflicts with their values or work style.  Poor career choices typically happen when people lack important information about themselves — their strengths and personal criteria for career fulfillment.

The lesson:  Spend time on self-reflection.  Know your strengths, your challenges, what motivates you, what you want —  and use this information to ensure the choices you make are right for you and will inspire your best performance.

Head in The Sand

We live in revolutionary times with dramatic changes in the very nature of work and the pace of change only expected to accelerate.  Too often I’ve seen people blindsided by these changes — so preoccupied with the day to day that they fail to see the writing on the wall and are ill prepared to cope when change is upon them.

The lesson:  Never has it been more important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening around you.  Attend business and professional events, read the news, learn from people in the know. Be always alert to information that may signal the need to shift focus, learn new skills or take an entirely new path.  Remember that the impact of these changes need not be negative; they may usher in wonderful new opportunities, assuming that you have prepared for them.


Another one of the career mistakes that people make is not realizing the importance of their relationships in powering their careers.  It’s estimated that 80% of positions are filled through personal connection, a fact people often find out the hard way if they become unexpectedly unemployed, and have not made the effort to stay connected.

The lesson: Make networking a way of life.  Recognize that your relationships are as necessary as your skills in powering your career success.  Reach out to people beyond your immediate area in your organization and in your field.  Be curious and genuinely interested in others and in sharing your experiences with them.  LinkedIn is a great facilitator for staying in touch with people you know and of reaching out to new ones.

Out of Balance

So much of our identity and financial security is tied up in our work, it’s hard not to lose perspective when you run into challenges —  a demanding boss, a difficult client or just plain too much work.   Too often I’ve seen these problems get out of control with people sinking into serious anxiety and stress reactions that impede their ability to cope.

The lesson: Take care of yourself. Realize that your emotional wellbeing is fundamental to your effectiveness.  Implement wellness strategies as a non-negotiable part of your daily routine.  Turn off the work phone on weekends. Learn communication and problem solving skills to deal with conflict and relationship problems that can be the source of much distress.  Above all, seek help and a sounding board if you find yourself stuck.

Hide Their Light Under a Bushel

This expression captures the mistaken belief of many talented individuals who hold fast to the notion that “the work will speak for itself”.  These people reject the need to make themselves visible in their world and miss out on interesting opportunities as a result. The reality is, it’s not just about what you do, but who knows you and can speak for your good work should an opportunity come along that is a good fit for your skills.

The lesson:  The first hurdle for most is to overcome a negative mindset about “selling” yourself and re-frame this as creating awareness — by connecting with people, volunteering for special projects, attending events.  But the next big challenge is to get comfortable talking about yourself, for example, who you are (your elevator speech), what you’ve done, what you’re excited about.  Learning to handle these conversations does take some forethought and practice, but is one of the most important career management skills you can develop.   Of course, in today’s world, there’s a whole new opportunity to build your profile and brand online — but that’s a subject for another day.

So there you have it, 6 of the most common career mistakes that people make in mismanaging their careers, and what to do about them.  What do you need to work on?  What do you do well?  What might you do to get your career off to a great start in 2018? Feel free to comment below.

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