Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch


February 11, 2000

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The best you can do with the mistakes in your life is learn from them. It is even better, though much harder, when you can learn from the mistakes of others. Mistakes happen to us all, but when we make mistakes in our career it can effect all aspects of our lives. When mistakes happen it is important to review them, quickly, learn what we can and then move on. Unfortunately, too many people skip the middle step and repeat the same mistakes over and over. Here are a few of the biggest career mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Being too important (or thinking you are.)

One of the largest career mistakes is believing you are more important to your employer than you really are. Even the best companies view their employees as interchangeable parts that can be easily swapped in and out. Most companies will resist the idea of your being overly important to the company.

Acknowledging that you are important puts them in the unpleasant position of being dependent on you. No company wants to feel its fortunes ride on one person. In some cases, companies will actually fire someone who is becoming too important to remove this dependency. Certainly not a smart way to run a business, but it does happen.

Over time you can develop of sense of arrogance even if that is not your normal -personality. You like to be needed, but there is a time you must be humble and seek to include those around you in your success. An old saying goes, "those who stick their heads above the clouds are the first to be struck by lightning." There is no problem with being important, but sometimes you have to act as if you don't know it. Arrogance can often lead us to make outrageous demands or threaten to leave. Any time you make a threat to leave the company you had better be prepared to take that step as companies will often use that threat as reason to let you go.

Finally, you want to avoid truly becoming indispensable in any one position. The more identified you are with a certain area or position, the less likely you will ever be promoted. In a case like this you want to insure that you are developing your own replacement. Then when you want to move into a new, higher, position your company will have less of a reason to worry or deny the promotion.

Choosing the wrong job

Don't take one position in a company as a stepping stone to another unless there is a clear career path. Too often people are so eager to get a "foot in the door" that they will take any job available. While this seems like a good idea the reality is not as pleasant. Once you establish yourself in one position or department you will be identified with that job forever. It is not fair nor right, but this is the way it works in most companies.

Moving from one department to another is difficult. Moving from one discipline to another is nearly impossible. In most cases, I have seen people leave the company so that they can work in their new discipline and gather some experience. Only then can they return to their original company having divorced themselves from their previous work label. Choosing the wrong job can delay your career goals for years. It is much like choosing the wrong path in a maze. It doesn't stop you entirely, but it certainly slows you down while you retrace your steps and start over.

Staying in a job you hate

Too many careers have been ruined entirely by people who remain in a job, or even a career, that they have grown to hate. If you are constantly dissatisfied with your job this will be clear to your managers and co-workers. It is better to find a new career that you do enjoy rather than building up a host of bad evaluations, poor promotions and personal enmities that will follow you around for the rest of your life. Granted, it is both difficult and frightening to find a new job or career, but isn't it more frightening to know that with every passing day you are digging yourself deeper into a hole; a hole from which you might never be able to crawl out.

Too often the relative comfort of having a job, even one that you hate, can override making decisions that are in your own best interest. If you are constantly unhappy at your work you need to do some very hard thinking. Is it the job? Is it the people? Is it the career? Whatever the cause, you need to remove yourself before you get trapped there forever.

Carefully evaluate the career mistakes you make and learn from those around you. Your work is a major portion of your life and it should be treated with the same clarity of thinking you apply to your personal life. Mistakes are one of the most important ways we learn. Don't ignore them. Take them as the hard-knock lessons they are intended to be.


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