And, how to remedy them

5 Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Career

by Shannon Dauphin

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Everyone makes mistakes, right? But for those who want to further their career, these mistakes can mean the difference between a fulfilling job and a position that leaves you unhappy, unproductive and uninspired.

But there's good news: These five career mistakes are easily remedied. Read on to find out which ones you have fallen victim to and how you can turn them around.

Mistake #1: Failing to take charge

It's not enough to be good at your job. You have to be in control of where you are and where you're going. "Taking charge of your career means making a commitment to learning, finding mentors and creating a solid and healthy professional network," advised Charles Purdy, Senior Editor of "Networking is crucial both in career development and in finding a job, and you can't wait until you need something and then start asking contacts for favors. You have to make a commitment to offering value and staying involved with your contacts."

Mistake #2: Not protecting your reputation

Something that seriously damages your reputation can hold you down like an anchor. Doing something unethical, being consistently tough to work with, or having a falling-out with a coworker are all mistakes that can hang around forever. "Your reputation is what gets you hired and what gets you ahead in your career, and a blot on your background can be difficult to erase," Purdy said.

Career coach Rita Friedman of agreed. "Being rude to colleagues, calling in 'sick' too often, not taking initiative or going beyond the job description, clocking in and clocking out, doing sloppy work -- all of these little things add up and show an employer (and your coworkers) that you don't take your job seriously."

And remember that in the age of social media, too much information can mean career suicide. Take steps to protect your reputation at all times, even when it's your "downtime."

Mistake #3: Just going with the flow

You're cruising along in a good job that you enjoy. How could that be a mistake? Riding along with the current can make you a bit too comfortable, and that can mean your advancement prospects come to a standstill.

"It's one thing to take advantages of opportunities as they come along, but another thing to develop a career strategy and to create opportunities for yourself," Friedman said. "While your boss may see the value you bring to the organization in your strong administrative skills, if you really want to focus on customer service, a promotion to a reporting role probably won't feel all that fulfilling."

Mistake #4: Letting your education slide

Just because you've got a great job that makes you happy doesn't mean that your learning can stop. Many people get stuck in a rut and decide that since they can handle their job with aplomb, they have the skill set to move forward in their company. But as the company grows, you should grow, too.

"Nowadays, you really have to be responsible for your own career development," Purdy said. "Don't rely on your employer to make sure your skills are up to date or that you're advancing."

When relevant training is offered at work, take it. Peruse the offerings at your local community college or online schools to find courses that further your career. Take advanced classes to build your knowledge. If you don't have the higher degree you need to advance to the top levels of your company, now is the time to earn it.

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Mistake #5: Not having a plan

Do you know where you will be in one year? Five? Ten? Setting career goals and making plans to get there should continue throughout your career, no matter how comfortable you are in your current position.

"I strongly recommend that employees do a mini career self-assessment every six months," Friedman said. "Take a step back, look over what you've accomplished in the last six months, figure out your goals for the immediate and long-term future, and come up with a plan to achieve those goals."

The ultimate mistake

Though you might be able to recover from most career mistakes, there are a few missteps that are simply too far overboard. Terminable offenses, such as doing drugs, drinking on the job, stealing from your employer or a sexual harassment charge can haunt you for the rest of your career.

"Work-related criminal activity is pretty hard to recover from," Purdy said. "If you've embezzled money or something like that, you're going to have a really hard time bouncing back. But even that's not impossible to recover from; it might just require a career change or re-focus."

But don't think that a change of scenery will mean the slate is wiped clean. "Even if your former employer does not explicitly tell a prospective employer why you were terminated, major breaches of protocol and illegal activities are excellent fodder for gossip and something a contact may tell a prospective employer off the record," Friedman advised.

Reviewed June 2017

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