The 4 Big Career Potholes

It makes sense to drive around real potholes, but on your career path it makes more sense to fill them in.

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I’m writing this from rural Romania—Transylvania, actually. We’ve spent the last week driving around and have learned quite a bit about Romania. The food is fantastic, the people are fascinating, and the views spectacular. But the roads are abominable. They are covered in potholes.

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Now, when you come to a pothole you have four choices. The first, of course, is to turn around and go home. The second is to drive straight through it, risking your car’s suspension system. The third is to go around it. And the fourth? Well, the fourth is a bit out of the ordinary. You see, you could stop and fill the pothole and then go on.

We have four-wheel drive and have been going through or around, but we’ve discovered that it takes a tremendous amount of time to get anywhere. Yesterday it took us 4 1/2 hours to go 140 miles.

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Similarly, when you are driving along your career path, you may get stopped by potholes. These are the things that prevent you from going forward at the speed you would like. And while it makes sense for us to go over or around real potholes, on your career path it makes more sense to fill them in because you seem to hit the same potholes over and over again.

Just what are career potholes? Well, judging by the E-mail I get, here are four big ones that you may need to fill go forward:

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Lack of a degree/advanced degree. Yes, it’s possible to be a senior vice president with a high school diploma. It’s a lot easier with a bachelor’s degree and easier still with an MBA. Doors to some jobs and some companies are just going to be closed, no matter how brilliant you are, if you lack those degrees. You might say, “I’m too old to go back to college now. I’ll never be able to keep up with those 18-year-olds.” But I have to say that you can and you will. In fact, I used to teach undergraduate classes and my “adult” students with jobs and kids did better than my 18-year-old students who didn’t seem to think attending regularly was that important.

Poor writing skills. This one is important for everyone. If you can’t put together a clear and coherent E-mail, no one will pay attention to the ideas hidden in there. Perfect practice makes perfect, so take a writing course, ask someone to help you, learn to revise, and recognize that this is a critical pothole that is slowing you down.

Lackluster communication skills. I have yet to meet the person who cannot improve in this area (including me). Take time to listen, give feedback, accept feedback, and pay attention to skilled communicators, observing how they interact with others.

Make and achieve goals. Don’t just make the super big goals--make the little ones, too. What do you want to accomplish this week, this month, and this year? Keep in mind that non-business goals also help your career. Things like having a happy home life, being in good physical condition, and having outside interests honestly help you in your career as well. Take it one step at a time, but plan out what those steps need to be.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.

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