HR Specialist

10 top career mistakes

In Human Resources on January 25, 2010 at 11:25 am

 In his 21 years as a career consultant, Emory Mulling has seen his share of career mistakes — and even made some of his own. The chairman of The Mulling Corp., an Atlanta coaching and leadership development firm, compiled a list of the 10 most common career mistakes to help his clients.

“I think we’ve all made these common mistakes at one time or another. Being aware of them and learning to avoid them will definitely make us more successful,” Mulling said.

If you’re seeking more success in 2008, steer clear of these career missteps.

1. Not having a long-term career plan

“A lot of people will do financial planning. They’ll get medical checkups and make sure their homes and cars are covered by good insurance plans,” Mulling said. “The irony is that they fail to do career planning, and it’s the career that pays for all the rest.

“Either they don’t know what they want or they don’t know how to do it or they don’t seek advice [on how to set and achieve goals.]”

It’s shortsighted not to take time to plan your career direction and the next step on the path.

“If you’re unclear, find someone who will help you think things through, someone who will be honest and not patronize you,” Mulling said. “If you don’t have a goal, you’re less likely to get there.”

Everyone needs to spend time reflecting on his or her career direction, and the start of the year is a great time to do it.

2. Not keeping your network active

As executive director of Re:Focus on Careers, a networking organization, Debbie Rodkin believes that the key to career success is “ABN” — always be networking!

“Once people find a job, they tend to get complacent and neglect their network,” she said. “Then, when they get ready to find another job, start a new business or an entrepreneurial venture, or seek a promotion, they have to start from scratch.

“Networking is the key to success and the best way to keep your career moving forward.”

It’s much easier to start a business with referrals from existing clients or to achieve a promotion if you’ve taken the time to get to know different people and understand their roles in the company, she said.

“If you only call people when you want a favor, people are less likely to want to help you,” Rodkin said. “New Year’s is a great time to reach out and reconnect with colleagues. Instead of asking for something, find out how things are going in their lives.”

Make it a habit to contact people on your list at regular intervals.

“It takes less time than you think. You have to eat lunch anyway,” Mulling said.

3. Not having a current résumé to document your accomplishments

“Most people don’t want to write a résumé, so they wait until there’s a deadline and then frantically throw something together. It’s not strategic, well-thought-out or effective,” said Gayle Oliver, president/CEO of Execumé, an Atlanta recruiting and career services firm.

Oliver helps clients look at the “situation, action and results” of their accomplishments.

“A job function doesn’t have any meaning alone. It’s the function in relationship to the company that counts,” she said. “Why was what you did meaningful? What was the outcome and the impact on the company?”

Answering those questions will help you write a compelling document that gives a true picture of your skills and abilities.

Oliver recommends reviewing and updating your résumé twice a year, to see how you’re doing and to add new accomplishments. A résumé-writing service, book or Web site can teach techniques to better portray your true value.

“Without an updated résumé, you could miss the perfect job opportunity,” Oliver said. “With it, you’ll feel more confident — or, as one client put it, ‘Now, I’m armed and dangerous.’ ”

4. Becoming outdated in your technical skills and not understanding your developmental needs

“We all tend to like the status quo, but, when it comes to technology, business leaders need to find a way to stay abreast of and embrace new technologies, or run the risk of being outmoded,” said Paul Terlemizian, president of iFive Alliances, which helps small and midsized organizations form and manage strategic alliances. “The kind of employee I’d want to hire is one who takes responsibility for his own professional development.”

Terlemizian stays current by reading journals; being active in professional organizations, such as the Technical Association of Georgia and the American Society of Training and Development; and talking with friends and employees who keep up with the latest innovations.

“Remember when you were young and you did impossible things because you didn’t know you couldn’t do them? Adopt an attitude that change is interesting and remember that, as long as you’re learning, you’re still young,” he said.

You also can deduct nonreimbursable business expenses — such as training classes and professional meetings — on your taxes.

5, Not asking for choice assignments to receive good exposure in your company

“People think that, when they volunteer for choice assignments, that it looks self-

serving or that it will be more work or that they won’t have enough time to do it,” Mulling said. “If you don’t take on choice assignments, you lose the opportunity to make a difference and look good.”

Even if it doesn’t work out as planned, people admire initiative and courage to take on a challenge. “Those assignments pay off in the long run,” he said.

6. Not receiving proper credit for your work accomplishments

“People in a job interview [or review session] often don’t take proper credit for what they’ve accomplished,” Rodkin said. “Women, especially, tend to shy away from bragging. It’s not bragging to explain your achievements, and, if you don’t, you are never going to move ahead.”

If your team had a success, claim your unique part in it.

“It doesn’t hurt to write your boss periodic notes outlining all you’ve done toward a goal,” she added. “If you aren’t given a 90-day review after hiring, create your own and show your progress.”

7. Not showing your employer your value to the bottom line

“It’s a free-agent economy, and your job is valued by whether it adds value or increases the bottom line. Today, companies are ruthless about their bottom lines,” said Craig Allen, creator of the radio show “Career Doctors” — formerly on WGKA-AM (920) — who has 20 years of experience as a senior strategic marketing executive for companies such as Disney, Time Warner, Citibank and General Motors. “Even if you’re in a department or role that is not on the front line of revenue generation, you can have a financial impact on the company.”

For example, a human resources manager can use industry norms and statistics to show how he or she effectively has used recruiting dollars, saved money on benefits, cut turnover costs or increased productivity through good training programs, Allen said.

8. Putting too much emphasis on your performance

“The fact that you need to do a great job to get ahead is a given, but it’s just as important that you do a good job of gaining exposure for what you do,” Mulling said. “It’s not always the best performer, technically, who gets promoted. It’s often the person with the best exposure. That’s not fair, but it’s the real world.”

You may be an excellent worker but need to improve your marketing, people or teamwork skills.

9. Not understanding the value of your reputation and positive exposure with your employer

“If you don’t have a good reputation with the company, you won’t be given the choice assignments or invited to the right meetings,” Mulling said.

If you want to survive and see new opportunities, “think of yourself as an independent contractor,” Allen said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t be loyal to the company, but you are a brand. You need to know what you stand for and what skills and accomplishments make you uniquely different, and [you need to] be able to speak about them.”

One way to enhance your reputation is to get involved with professional organizations that allow you to grow your network, stay aware of new trends and increase your knowledge base.

“You are working for you. If you learn to manage your career with confidence, you can add value anywhere you work,” Allen said.

10. Not maintaining work/life balance

The old adage about all work and no play making Jack a dull boy holds true, Mulling said.

“You need to have balance in your life if you want to be more effective at work,” he said.


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