Avoiding the 7 biggest career mistakes

*by Shane Rodgers

We all have “if only” moments in our careers. If only we had taken one role instead of another. If only we had studied something else. If only we hadn’t left a role when we did.

It doesn’t pay to have regrets. But, in case it is useful, the following are my personal observations on the seven biggest career mistakes people make. And, yes, at various times I have made all of them.

1. Taking the wrong job because you feel flattered

There are two types of jobs – the ones you find and the ones that find you. The ones you find are a conscious choice and they are generally based on some version of a career plan.

The ones that find you are out of the blue and they come with a powerful sense of flattery. Somebody has singled you out to offer you a job – you. It is such a good feeling that many people accept jobs just because of that. Only to realise all too soon that it is a bad move.

It is nice to be wanted. But if the job is inconsistent with your life and career plan it can end badly.

2. Not doing enough diligence

Employment engagement surveys consistently show that the mismatch between the promise of a job when you take it and the reality of it is a major source of disgruntlement and disengagement.

It is easy to blame the company. But companies “sell” like everybody else. When they are trying to attract the best candidates, they are putting their spin on the role.

While companies have an obligation to be honest and upfront about roles they are offering, it is also up to us to check roles out properly ourselves. It isn’t hard to track down people (usually someone you know) who can give you a frank, warts and all assessment of what you are getting yourself into. I’m always amazed at how few people do this. And they pay for it later.

3. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

Sometimes we get job offers that are just so good on paper, we feel we need to take them. It might pay an incredible amount, come with lots of perks or promise extra holidays and flexibility.

If you are lucky, it will all work out as imagined. However, in many cases, the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, will probably prove correct.

I have been caught out badly on this, even when I thought I had done diligence. At the very least, if you are faced with a “too good to be true’ scenario you should take the opportunity with a healthy degree of skepticism. If you are pleasantly surprised, that’s great. If not, at least you will have factored in the possibility.

4. Confusing a bad patch with a fundamental problem

Most jobs go through seasons. In good economies with interesting projects on the go and great managers in the top jobs, your employment can feel like it is covered with fairy dust and you feel energised and happy.

But the stars don’t always align and you can wake up one day and find your once great job has turned foul. Often this doesn’t mean it is fundamentally broken. It could be just one new contract or one senior appointment away from getting back on track. It is often worth being a bit patient through the down cycles and looking for your positive energy outside of work. I’ve seen plenty of people leave great jobs for this reason and regret it later. And eggs are really hard to unscramble once you have bailed.

5. Underestimating your ability to make a job better

It seems most employees blame managers and this mythical creature known as “the company” or “they” if they perceive their job to be going badly. The reality of most jobs is that you know more about what you do than anybody else, managers included. You are the only one waking up every morning thinking specifically about your particular job.

There is a good chance that you know exactly what is needed to make it right and that you have a lot more power than you realise to do something about it. Most managers get presented with problems but would much rather be presented with solutions from people with the right knowledge. That is mostly you. It is always a good idea to try to solve your own problems before you try to delegate them up.

6. Letting a job rule your life

No matter how much you love your job, if you let it totally rule your life you can almost guarantee you will eventually start to resent it. You may sign up to 12-hour days or some sort of super-commute with your eyes fully open but one day you will inevitably ask “why am I doing this?” and you won’t remember the answer.

If you find a great job that you want to do for a long time, by definition it needs to be sustainable. There is little point working yourself to death even in a job that you love. Loving a job is all the more reason to insist that you can do it in tune with your life balance. Just because you enjoy your work doesn’t mean you don’t want to do anything else in your life.

If you have time to do the things you like to do outside of work and you enjoy your work, you are better off than more than 70% of other people. And you won’t let the job rule your life. You will stay in charge and set positive habits from the start.

7. Having the same year every year

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character wakes up in the same day every day. It is easy to get caught in rut cycles that feel like that. If you are doing the same things at the same time every year eventually you will probably start to feel like you are just going through the motions. The banality of that can really get you down.

I’m a big fan of having a plan at the start of each year. Even people who are not ambitious usually need some sense of growth and positive momentum each year. You have to go looking for this. You need to take charge of your own life and career. Nobody else is going to do that for you.

*Shane Rodgers is Chief Operating Officer at Australian Industry Group (Ai Group)

*This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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