6 Career Mistakes Even Smart People Make

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By Robin Madell

Career management is essential to reaching your full potential at work. While you may currently be in a position where your job feels stable and your next steps are clear, anything can change – and quickly. Taking the right steps to guide your career forward and avoid common pitfalls can mean the difference between success and failure.

No matter how well you do your job, you'd be wise to avoid these six career missteps that can derail even top employees:1. They stop networking. It's easy to grow complacent about networking when you've worked with one employer for a while. But knowing who you need to know within the four walls of your company isn't enough – as you may quickly discover when you lose your job or need to seek opportunities outside your firm for other reasons.

"Failure to network can be detrimental when the time comes for an employee to find a new job," says Jennifer Brown, founder of PeopleTactics, a human resources firm that helps small businesses. "Employees need to ensure they continue to network throughout their careers so that they can stay in contact and connected with people who are able to help them, should they want or need to switch jobs."

2. They assume good work will be recognized. If you're a talented worker who goes the extra mile, you'll be rewarded when your boss sees what you've done to help the company, right? Not necessarily.

Corrie Shanahan, owner of The Beara Group LLC, notes that doing your job really well and expecting that you will be automatically noticed and promoted because of it can be disastrous. "This is particularly common with women but affects men, too," she says. "Many smart and talented people have watched less talented colleagues progress, because they are better at letting superiors know about their accomplishments."

3. They don't know their worth. Research shows that women are less likely than men to request a raise. Failing to ask for the level of pay you're worth can keep you in a vicious cycle of salary depression that carries over from employer to employer.

While the discrepancy may not seem dramatic in any one position, economist Linda Babcock noted in an NPR article that not effectively negotiating salary at the start of your career can amount to as much as $1.5 million in lost lifetime earnings.

Author and speaker Elizabeth Lions suggests that female candidates in particular should know their market worth. "Ask for a 10- to 15-percent raise when you make a job change," she adds.

4. They stay invisible. In the hours available each day, it's often difficult just to get the job done that you're paid to do, much less take on career-related extracurriculars.

However, according to Cheryl Palmer, founder of the career coaching firm Call to Career, you should get involved in committees to increase your visibility in the organization and make a contribution outside your department. "Many large companies have committees to review processes or improve employee retention," she says. "Joining such a committee can expose you to other people in a large organization that you might not otherwise meet and can open the door for future job opportunities."

5. They overshare. When you get along with your boss, it's easy to slip into a comfort zone in your communications. But don't let that sharing morph into indiscretion that could come back to haunt you.

"One mistake I have seen people make in their careers is sharing too much about their personal lives with their manager," says career and business coach Jason Dukes. "It is easy to slip into the comfort zone of having buddy-buddy casual conversations with a manager, especially if there is not a huge age gap. However, if you share too much about your passions outside of work and say, for instance, something goes wrong on the job, your boss has immediate reasons for your lackluster performance."

Dukes adds that the best way to avoid oversharing is to keep conversations with your manager focused on work. "When your manager digresses to personal stories, smile and be engaging, but don't add too much to the conversation," he says.

6. They're too negative. No one's arguing that there isn't plenty to complain about in almost any office setting. But venting about this to those around you can signal a red flag to your boss or employer that you're not right for the company.

Dave Conrad, associate professor at the Augsburg MBA program in Rochester, Minnesota, notes that even associating with negative people in your workplace can hurt your career.

"Employees must set boundaries and standards and not lower their standards to connect with negative people," he says. "Even in the face of an argument, employees must not lose their head and sink down into the negativity that surrounds them. Being critical is one thing, but being overtly and harshly negative is a career destroyer."
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