The 5 Worst Career Mistakes — and How to Avoid Them

By Kentin Waits on 10 March 2015 0 comments

Figuring out how to get ahead in modern corporate environments can sometimes feel like an entirely separate (and full-time) career. Politics change, mergers reset the playing field, and bosses come and go. It's enough to make you want to pull out your hair. But stay on-track and get ahead by avoiding these five career-killing moves. (See also: 12 Ways to Finally Get That Promotion This Year)

1. Wearing Club Couture

Ever notice how business attire is gradually getting confused with clubwear? It's a strange phenomenon that new college graduates are especially susceptible to. In our hyper-casual culture, it's as if folks mistakenly conclude that anything better than jeans and a T-shirt must be formal wear. It's hard to succeed professionally when your clothing says, "Let's go to the VIP room, order a couple dirty martinis, and show each other our piercings." College administrators take note: There needs to be an entire semester-long course on proper business attire with a few hours of basic dining etiquette thrown in for good measure. Your students will thank you.

Dress to succeed by building an appropriate work wardrobe and avoiding anything too tight, too dramatic, too embellished, or too branded. Oh, and invest in a good iron and learn how to use it.

2. Over-Celebrating

Office parties can be a great way to get to know coworkers on a more casual level — just don't let things get too casual. Today, a temporary embarrassment can echo on social media forever. Avoid those drunken lampshade-wearing moments by being acutely aware of your personal thresholds with alcohol and embracing nearly puritanical limits during work celebrations.

3. Being Complacent

Even for those who do their jobs well, getting too comfortable in a role can be a career killer. While dependability matters, employers don't promote bookends. To get ahead, it helps to stay just a little bit hungry. Avoid complacency by going a few steps beyond what's required, anticipating and responding to needs that may technically be outside the scope of your role, and distinguishing yourself from the crowd subtly but consistently.

4. Getting Angry

Passion is good. Anger is bad. And while the two may overlap from time-to-time, an angry employee can quickly be dubbed a "loose cannon" and passed over for any role that involves managing people, clients, or complex projects. Learn how to manage powerful emotions and re-channel negative energy to create solutions that help improve communication and resolve conflict. Remember, effective and diplomatic peacemakers are rare animals. Their skills get noticed.

5. Going Solo

There's a fine line between distinguishing yourself (a must for career advancement) and being ruthlessly independent (a no-no in most situations). Employers reward effective team players who can "lead and lift." That means positively taking control of team dynamics and motivating others. Instead of tooting your own horn, demonstrate the effectiveness of your team. Share strategies that helped win a new account or meet an impossible deadline. The simple act of communicating this information will set you apart and show that you're tuned in to the power of positive group psychology.

No matter what field you're in, office politics goofs can set your career back years, and in tough economic times, that makes you an easy lay-off target. Remember, you invested a lot of effort and money in your degree and took the time to find the right — or at least okay for right now — job. Don't sabotage your success by falling prey to a single career-killer.

Have you ever made a career-killing move? How did you recover? What missteps have you seen in the workplace that sealed someone's fate?

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