Early Career

Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Kill a Career

stock_student3Do you see yourself in any of the dangerous scenarios below? Watch out for these professional missteps—landmines that can derail the careers of even the most brilliant managers. And while all managers are at risk of committing any number of these career-stoppers, women need to be especially mindful to steer clear.

1) Thinking short-term about your career direction.
“On average, men are more likely to be strategic in thinking about their careers, whereas women tend to think more short-term,” says Laura Hill, an executive career coach. As a consequence, Hill says that women may find themselves at a dead end more often. Her advice: always evaluate a job based on the opportunities it will present after you’ve been in the job—picture it at the top of your resume. “Will it be appealing to other employers, does it get you someplace you want to go?”

2) Having no idea what you want to do.
The first step in any career exploration process, Hill says, is to ask the question, “What do I want to do?” For many people this is a really hard question. Most people default to talking about what they can do or what jobs they think they can get. “The first step is to figure out what makes you tick, what your strongest suits are and what you want out of a career. This takes a lot of introspection and reflection, and the answers don’t always come easily. ”

3) Not taking advantage of the career coaching that’s available.
“Of all the people who could really use the help of a career coach, only a few actually get help. Students should always take advantage of campus career facilities as a starting point,” says Hill. Beyond that, an investment in a career coach for advice and perspective on managing your career is a small price to pay for the success it will bring you.

4) Not using your aptitudes or innate skills.
Most people might think that working in a field for which you don’t have the natural aptitude would be a tremendous problem. But research has shown that the bigger occupational problem occurs when you have strong aptitudes and don’t use them. The manifestation may be job-hopping—always searching for a more satisfying job. Hill recommends that clients consider the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation for aptitude testing. Johnson O’Connor is a nonprofit organization dedicated to studying human abilities and helping people make important decisions about school and work.

5) Not looking at the supply and demand equation.
Hill points out, “After figuring out what you ideally want to do, you then need to be aware of the market demand for what you do. Always watch market forces that can affect demand for talent, and take this into account in your career planning.” And look out for a demographic trend that should play out well for mid-career professionals. Forty percent of the existing work force will be exiting in a 10 to 12 year period, beginning this year, as the baby boomers move into retirement. “This will be an unprecedented exodus, that will present tremendous opportunities for young people to rise more quickly.”

6) Taking career advice from anyone who gives it.
“For some reason, people love to give career advice, and unfortunately a lot of it is just bad, incomplete, or out of context, albeit well intentioned,” says Hill. If you invest in a career coach, check out his or her credentials and check a couple of references. If you don’t work with a coach, Hill recommends availing yourself of advice from several sources, including books and at least two different people including recruiters. There are many good books on careers and job searches, including the classic “What Color is Your Parachute.”

7) Giving away power.
Assertiveness is the most common trait Hill says she sees among people in the senior ranks. Compared to men, women of equal skills and experience are often less confidant and less aggressive in going after challenging assignments, promotions, and raises.Women are more likely to be tentative in their speech or fail to “market” their accomplishments to their bosses. “And it’s no wonder women are often underpaid good negotiation skills are critical to getting paid what you’re worth, and women don’t always feel comfortable negotiating.”

8) Focusing only on doing your job well.
Getting ahead takes a lot more than just doing your job well. “I advise clients not to be political but to be politically astute,” says Hill. It’s important to form relationships and be aware of the political landmines, even in organizations that are model meritocracies.

9) Not marketing your accomplishments.
Generally speaking, men are more inclined than women to measure and track their progress, and to boast about it at appropriate times. To ensure that you have the information you will need later to showcase your accomplishments in a resume or job interview, Hill advises keeping a “career folder” close at hand with all the necessary information for your next performance review or resume update, including complimentary notes from your boss, colleagues, or clients. “Update your resume at least once a year and fill it with results and accomplishments,” Hill further advises. “You should never be more than an hour or two away from being able to produce a polished resume should you get a call about that next big opportunity.”

10) Ignoring the corporate culture and chemistry with your boss in your career decisions.
The right culture and boss can make a huge difference in your success and longevity in a company. “This is where knowing yourself really well and closely examining your prior work experiences can help you make better decisions,” says Hill.  Culture fit is even more critical as you move up the ranks. “When an incoming executive fails to work out it’s almost always because he or she didn’t fit in with the culture not because of a lack of skills and ability to do the job.”

Good advice gleaned from an interview with Laura Hill, founder and managing director of Careers in Motion in New York City. Hill was formerly the managing director of client services with Crenshaw Associates, a boutique career management firm for CEOs and senior executives. With 25 years’ experience in the field, Hill is an expert in the areas of personal assessment, career strategy, networking, compensation strategy, and employer negotiations.

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