10 career mistakes you should avoid

By Robert Half on 9th February 2015

Do you ever wonder why some professionals surge up the career ladder, while you get stuck on the bottom rung? You can take two similarly talented individuals, with roughly the same amount of raw potential, but see completely different outcomes over the course of their working lives as one makes more career mistakes than the other.

The reality is, it takes more than talent alone to experience professional success. There are a number of other key qualities you need to progress and reach the senior ranks. Crucially, you need to be willing to put in the hard yards, by investing in your career plan, working hard for opportunities and taking the steps necessary to earn your promotions. One of the biggest career mistakes people make is waiting for their career to develop on its own, it is these people who get left behind.

But similarly, you've got to know how to identify roles, apply for jobs and wow employers at interview. Individuals who ignore common career advice and etiquette when applying for jobs may find they hit a brick wall, and make the biggest career mistake.

If this sounds like you, then you need to know where you're going wrong. So make sure you haven’t made any of these ten disastrous career mistakes:

1. Apply for unrealistic roles

If you spend your whole time applying for roles you're not qualified for, you'll be lucky to secure any interviews let alone job offers. You might think the percentages will work in your favour, and eventually somebody will take a punt on you. But in all likelihood, you're wrong. Employers don't like to take risks with candidates who appear to lack the requisite skills and experience, even those who avoid making major interview mistakes. This is particularly the case if we're talking about senior roles with high remuneration.

2. Ask for too much money

You can write a great CV, wow employers in interviews and receive job offers every time, but if you're salary demands are unrealistic, employers will opt for another candidate. You've got to be really great, possess highly niche skills and offer a proven return on investment to command a large premium. And even then, some employers will prefer to go for the next-best candidate, if they are more affordable. Make sure you are consistently benchmarking yourself against resources like the Robert Half Salary Guide so you can negotiate a pay rise or job offer effectively.

3. Send the same CV to each employer

Clicking ‘send to all’ is a crime - and one of the biggest CV mistakes, you will likely face a wall of silence from hiring managers and recruiters. Every time you submit a CV, it should be tailored to the role you have applied for, with a clear focus on the most relevant skills, qualifications and experiences. Otherwise you are in danger of underselling your capability for the job, and seeing your application rejected at the first stage of the recruitment process.

4. Switch jobs too frequently

If you switch jobs as often as you change your shirt, this inevitably reflects badly upon you, and is a career mistake that is hard to undo. Employers are wary of the risks posed by 'job hoppers' - knowing how much it costs to recruit, onboard and train each new member of staff. According to our research, employers said they are inclined to remove such job seekers from consideration. It's therefore important to show that you are committed to working in one place, rather than using job opportunities as stepping stones to try and climb the career ladder.

5. Stay in the same job too long

While switching jobs too frequently can mark you out as being disloyal and 'in it for yourself', remaining in the same role too long can also hold you back. If you simply go into work each day and perform the same tasks for years on end without developing, it becomes more difficult to move up the jobs ladder. Once you've gone stale and got stuck in a career rut, it can be tricky to drag yourself out again. To avoid making the career mistake of switching too frequently and not changing, speak to a recruitment specialist who can give you advice. 

6. Fail to use your skills

If you've got niche skills and specialist understanding of a particular area, then you've got to make sure you use them. This is your strength - your unique selling proposition. Demand for specialist skills is always high, and employers are often willing to pay more for people who can do the things that others can't. Your unique abilities can differentiate you from other candidates, but you've got to work at your specialty, keep it up to date and learn how to market it effectively to prospective employers.

7. Fall out with your bosses

It's never wise to cause arguments with professionals, even if you're leaving their organisation. You never know when you might run into the same people again - it could be at an interview for a new role. And it isn't just managers and directors who you need to keep on-side. You may come across and ex-colleague, with similar skills to yourself, who progresses into a senior role at some point in the future. If you couldn't get on with them first time around, they aren't going to be interested in working with you again.

8. Quit without securing a new role

However desperate you are to leave your current role and move to another organisation, it's best to wait until you've received an offer from elsewhere. If you start applying for roles as an unemployed professional, there will be all sorts of awkward questions to answer in an interview. Put simply, you might not be such an attractive proposition for a hiring organisation as someone who already has a job and a wage. As far as they are concerned, you might be applying for every role that is available. Whereas individuals who already have a job will have targeted their vacancy specifically.

9. Value the wrong things

One career mistake you want to avoid making is not knowing what you want from your career and not having a plan in place for achieving your goals. But you've got to be wary of chasing the wrong things, and skewing your priorities. If money is your sole concern, at the expense of all else, then there may be many other things you miss out on in your professional life. Your career might last 40 years or more, so it's important to do something you love. There needs to be some element of job satisfaction and intrinsic reward, as well as salary and other benefits.

Related: Practical steps to finding a job with purpose

10. Go it alone in the jobs market

If you want to avoid making career mistakes that you will regret and chase career progress without external support, then you might miss out on some of the best opportunities. Instead of going it alone, why not contact us, we may be able to help you secure your dream job. Recruiters have close ties with many of the top employers, and are often charged with identifying and headhunting suitable job candidates. If you're on the books at a recruitment agency, you may have the chance to apply for vacancies nobody else knows about, giving you have an advantage in the jobs market.

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