Few things are as important–or as complicated–as having a rewarding career. But the journey from first job to retirement can be long and complicated, and many things can go wrong along the way if you’re not careful.
Here are four potentially career-killing mistakes to avoid during your journey.
1. Not thinking about your next job.
If you like your current job, you’re probably not thinking about your next one. But unless you’re retiring soon, you should be. You never know when you’ll end up looking for new work, especially in today’s crazy economy. Bankruptcies, mergers, layoffs, and downsizing are happening more often these days. Thousands of American employees were caught off guard this past year when their “solid” companies self-destructed.
Even if your company is still secure, your dream job may not be. Bosses, co-workers, budgets and policies can and often do change. A dream job can quickly and unexpectedly turn into a nightmare.
If you had to find a new job tomorrow, would you be ready? Be prepared for the unexpected by: (1) keeping a current list of your accomplishments, awards, references and other information you’ll need to update your résumé; (2) keeping up with the latest skills and trends for your industry, even if you don’t use them in your current job; and (3) networking, always.
2. Not networking.
Networking is something many of us dread and avoid, even though it’s how most people find unadvertised jobs (and many of the best jobs are never advertised). But don’t wait until you’re looking for a job to think about the importance of networking. Networking can often help you with your current job and promotions. There are people at your company other than your boss who can help with your career. Get to know them. And what about clients and customers? Friends, colleagues and even family members? You may be surprised at who could turn out to be a great benefactor.
It’s important, though, to realize that networking is not a chore that involves forced schmoozing and socializing for the purpose of achieving your goals. Networking is the art of building mutually beneficial relationships.
Here’s the key to networking success: do whatever you can to help others achieve THEIR goals. It’s that simple: help others and they’ll help you.
3. Focusing on yourself and not on the company you work for.
This may seem like a bit of a contradiction to mistake no. 1, “Not thinking about your next job.” But it is possible and important to focus on helping your current company while also preparing yourself to leave it behind.
While focusing on yourself and your career objectives is acceptable and expected up to a point, putting your personal needs ahead of the company’s goals can be a mistake.
Think of your company as an individual who can help–or hurt–your career. Remember the rule of networking: do whatever you can to help others achieve THEIR goals first. You help them, and they’ll help you. If you focus on helping your company to solve its problems, accomplish its mission, and achieve its goals–especially by doing more than is required or expected of you–you’ll gain an enviable reputation as a valuable asset. Contrast that with someone who has a reputation as a self-centered career climber. When promotional opportunities come up, who do you think will have the best shot? When layoffs become necessary, who do you think the company will protect?
Even if you have no intention of staying with the company for long, don’t overlook the importance of working FOR them in every sense of the word. Develop a great reputation; it will go with you as you move on to other companies and continue to advance in your career.
4. Getting excited about a new job before it’s yours.
If you’re currently employed but have applied for a great job with a new company, it’s often difficult to remain calm. It’s natural to fantasize about how much better your life will be when that new job is yours. While it’s okay to be optimistic, there are dangers here, as well. Your attitude about your current job may change. You’ll be mentally comparing it with the terrific new job you expect to have soon. Silly little things that never really bothered you before will become huge frustrations, as you’ll be thinking, “I won’t have to put up with this crap much longer.” Imagine how frustrated you’ll now become if you find out that new job isn’t going to happen!
Here’s an even worse scenario: being so sure you’ll be leaving soon that you brag about your “new job” to co-workers who are grumbling about theirs. Make no mistake, even if you swear them to secrecy, your boss will find out. Your working relationship with your boss and co-workers is now permanently changed. If the new job comes through, this is no big deal. But what if it doesn’t? You’re now stuck in the same job with the co-workers you bragged to, working for a boss who knows you are looking for another job and therefore considers you to be disloyal and ultimately unreliable.
Don’t allow yourself to become too excited about a new job before it’s really yours. And never, ever say anything about it to anyone until you have a firm (written) offer and are positive you’ve got it!
There are many other mistakes that can hinder your career–often without you even realizing it. The old days of getting hired out of school, moving up the ladder with promotions based on seniority, and sticking with the same company until a cushy retirement are long gone. Your career progression depends on what you do, and don’t do, as well as on external forces like the country’s economy. There is no “automatic pilot” setting that will take you where you want to go. You must remain informed, involved, and in control for the entire journey.