Unless your career has been an unblemished rise to the top, you can probably identify a few mistakes (or maybe more than a few) made along the way. Here are some of mine:
1. Charting a path from A to B to C to D without giving much thought as to whether I'd like B and C. That is often a very bad move, because although D may be nirvana, B and C are where a lot of time is spent.
2. Getting career advice from a small and inexperienced group. It helps to go outside of your circle of friends and relatives for advice. They may know you well but are too close to give brutally honest opinions. You really need those.
3. Looking at the world through a mirror rather than a window. This mistake occurs in a variety of endeavors. It was a great day when I finally lurched in front of a window—although I don’t always stay there.
4. Expecting people to do what they say they will do. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve met marvelous people who have gone out of their way to be helpful. There are some souls, however, who won’t blink at breaking a commitment. A solemn handshake means nothing to them. This may surprise you because, aside from that failing, they may be admirable individuals.
[See 17 rules for job seekers.]
5. Underestimating the power of inertia. There are more organizations in search of comfort than in search of excellence. Don’t expect to see improvements in selection and promotion practices unless the improvements are convenient or forced.
6. Staying too long in some jobs. Yes, things may get better, but in the meantime you’re drifting. Make a detailed escape plan.
7. Failing to seize on available opportunities. Take classes, get a mentor, study the organization, build a network of contacts, volunteer for community projects, invent new approaches or products, get some exercise—start acting like you’re alive.
8. Slipping into blaming “them.” Slam on the brakes whenever you start blaming others for your career blunders and barriers. To steal a line from Hannibal, either find a way or make a way. You’re in charge.
9. Expecting a career to be a direct path. This isn’t a rocket launch. You’re steering your ship past reefs and through storms. You may even encounter pirates and shipwrecks. Life is sloppy.
10. Equating networking with glad-handing. The very idea of a cocktail party packed with business card-swapping careerists repels most of us. That’s why we need to build quieter, more sincere networks by volunteering for worthy causes, attending cultural events, joining professional associations, and editing newsletters.
Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.