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Common career mistakes and how to deal with them

Here is a guide to career mistakes to avoid (and some you should definitely make).

Career mistakes are essentially missteps or errors everyone makes on the job—and everyone does make one at least once. They can manifest in various forms, from communication slip-ups to strategic errors like choosing the wrong job or neglecting skill development.

Now, why should you care? Well, picture your career as a journey. Mistakes are the potholes and detours along the way. They might slow you down, but each one is a chance to learn and adjust your course. In fact, avoiding mistakes doesn’t guarantee a perfect journey; it might mean missing out on crucial experiences.

Understanding and acknowledging career mistakes is crucial for personal and professional development. It’s not just about avoiding pitfalls; it’s about gaining insights that shape a more resilient and informed career path. Let’s dive in.

Does your boss care about these slip-ups?

Firstly, it would, of course, depend on the magnitude of the slip-up. Making mistakes is incredibly common. In fact, it’s a fundamental aspect of the learning and growth process. Employers generally understand that mistakes happen, and they often view them as opportunities for employees to learn, develop, and improve. 

However, repeated or avoidable mistakes might raise concerns. Employers may question the employee’s ability to learn from experience or their attention to quality and detail.

From the employer’s perspective, there could be various viewpoints:

  • Many employers see mistakes as opportunities for learning and improvement. They appreciate employees who can analyse their errors, understand the root causes, and apply those lessons going forward.
  • Some employers encourage a culture where mistakes are viewed as a natural byproduct of experimentation and innovation. They believe that an environment where employees are not afraid to take risks often leads to groundbreaking ideas.
  • On the flip side, certain industries, like finance or healthcare, may prioritise precision and attention to detail. In such cases, repeated mistakes, especially those that impact critical operations, might be viewed more critically.
  • Employers often value how employees handle mistakes. If someone can proactively address and resolve an issue, it reflects positively on their problem-solving skills.

Here are a few common mess-ups to help you get a better understanding of the kind of mistakes your future employers might keep an eye on.

Communication challenges

Effective workplace communication isn’t just talk—it’s an art. Early in your career, you’ll need to adapt your communication style for colleagues.

Understanding the difference between how you communicate with friends and how you interact in a professional environment is key. Neglecting this distinction can hinder your progress. To navigate the professional landscape successfully, prioritise the development of clear, concise, and professional communication skills. It’s not just about the words you use; it’s about creating an environment conducive to effective teamwork and shared success.

Don’t underestimate the importance of effective communication. It’s a skill that will not only contribute to your personal growth but also set the stage for collaborative achievements in your professional endeavours. So, invest time in refining this skill—it’s a valuable asset on your career path.

Constantly missing deadlines

Consistently missing timelines accumulate consequences and can have cascading effects on work and professional relationships. It reflects poorly on your reliability, affecting the trust others place in you. Consistent delays may lead to project bottlenecks, affecting overall team productivity. It also puts additional stress on colleagues who might need your input to move forward.

Effective time management is the key to breaking the cycle. Break down tasks, set realistic timelines, and prioritise based on urgency and importance. Regularly assess your workload and communicate proactively if you foresee challenges in meeting deadlines. Seeking help or delegating when needed demonstrates responsibility. Embrace tools like calendars or project management software to stay organised and ensure tasks are completed on time. Remember, meeting deadlines isn’t just about fulfilling a duty; it’s a testament to your professionalism and reliability.

Not valuing personal growth

Neglecting personal growth can limit your career potential and hinder professional satisfaction. If you don’t invest in learning and development, you risk becoming stagnant in a rapidly evolving job market. It might lead to missed opportunities for career advancement and increased job satisfaction.

To avoid this, adopt a growth mindset. Recognise the value of continuous learning and seek opportunities for skill development. Attend workshops, pursue further education, and stay informed about industry trends. Embrace challenges as learning experiences and don’t shy away from making mistakes—they are crucial for growth. Set personal and professional development goals, and regularly assess your progress. By prioritising your growth, you not only enhance your skills but also demonstrate to employers that you are committed to staying relevant and contributing effectively to your team.

Refusing to network

Some of us are a bit anxious when it comes to social things but networking isn’t just a ‘social thing’. Networking is more than just shaking hands, having awkward small talk and exchanging business cards; it’s about building bridges that connect you to a world of opportunities.

Imagine being in the dark about the latest industry trends, job openings, or even the unwritten rules of professional growth. Networking is how you find mentors who share their wisdom, peers who understand your struggles, and potential employers who recognise your value. 

Without this social navigation, you risk sailing in isolation, missing the wind of new ideas and the waves of support that can propel your career forward. So, embrace networking as your guiding star, helping you chart a course through the dynamic waters of your professional journey.

Being overly self-critical

Constantly berating yourself for mistakes may lead to decreased confidence and hinder your overall performance. It creates a negative work environment, impacting both your mental well-being and relationships with colleagues.

It can be very fulfilling to embrace mistakes with a childlike curiosity, learning and growing from each experience. Shift your focus from dwelling on mistakes to finding solutions. They are opportunities for growth rather than permanent failures, and allow curiosity and learning to outweigh self-criticism. Set realistic expectations and understand that perfection is unattainable. Instead of dwelling on errors, focus on solutions and improvements. 

Seek constructive feedback and use it as a tool for development. By cultivating a positive attitude towards self-improvement, you’ll not only enhance your professional skills but also create a healthier work environment. 

Working too many hours

For some people, the traditional eight-hour workday is perfect. But let’s be honest, not everyone has the capacity to focus for eight hours straight! If you’re one of these types of people, then you’ll want to optimise your work hours for quality over quantity. Recognise that extended work hours don’t always translate to increased productivity and balance passion with practicality for a more sustainable approach.

Plus, a person’s ability to concentrate varies. Understand your work patterns, implement sprints, breaks, and optimise your evening focus. It’s not about the hours; it’s about efficient output.

Different tasks demand varied work styles. Recognise the importance of breaks between projects to maintain clarity and prevent burnout. Adapt your work habits to suit the nature of tasks in your field.

Shift your focus from hours to efficiency and output. Break down your work into sprints, emphasising the quality of output over time invested. Most importantly, remember that success is measured by impactful results.

Not setting boundaries

Strategically saying “yes” to tasks and/or new projects can open doors in your early career, showcasing your initiative and versatility. Cultivate a positive, can-do attitude. Undertake challenges beyond your job scope, focusing on a proactive approach. A positive attitude is a valuable asset, especially in the dynamic early stages of your career. 

However, it’s crucial to strike a balance and avoid overcommitting, which can lead to burnout and decreased efficiency.

This is why setting boundaries is equally important. Clearly define your capacity and prioritise tasks based on importance. This not only safeguards your well-being but also ensures optimal productivity. Understand that saying no when necessary is a sign of effective time management and self-awareness.

Embrace resourcefulness, but be mindful not to spread yourself too thin. Efficient time utilisation is key to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. By strategically saying yes and establishing boundaries, you create a path for sustained success in your professional journey.

Setting unrealistic expectations

Distinguish between career fantasies and reality by recognising the impact of media portrayals. TV shows and movies often present an idealised version of careers, creating unrealistic expectations. To make informed decisions, seek firsthand experience and explore different facets of potential career paths.

Realistic expectations set the foundation for a fulfilling professional journey. Understand that the actual day-to-day work may differ from glamorous depictions. By grounding your expectations in reality and gaining practical experience, you pave the way for more informed career choices and long-term satisfaction. It’s about aligning aspirations with the actualities of the professional world.

Avoiding diverse experiences

Diverse experiences are essential for career growth and avoiding them could actually stifle you instead of allowing you to soar. You don’t have to wait till you have a job to indulge in these experiences. Universities offer a unique window for exploration. You can try switching majors or degrees to discover your true calling.

Beyond the university setting, you can explore various facets of industries. In your career, embracing diverse experiences means actively seeking opportunities that broaden your skill set, expose you to different work environments, and expand your perspectives. Internships are especially great as they offer lower-stakes opportunities for career exploration.

As a professional, you can pursue cross-functional projects, take on roles outside your immediate expertise, or engage in lateral moves within your organisation. Actively seek challenges that may fall slightly outside your comfort zone. 

This approach fosters adaptability, enhances problem-solving skills, and positions you as a versatile asset within your field. Remember, the willingness to step into diverse experiences is a continuous process that contributes to long-term career development and success.

Pitting creativity against logic

Prioritising either creativity or logic exclusively can be a career mistake. Instead of seeing them as opposites, view them as complementary forces. Both creativity and logic bring unique strengths to the table.

In any field, finding a balance is key. Embrace creativity for innovative thinking and problem-solving, and leverage logic for structure and efficiency. Recognise situations that call for each, and don’t shy away from integrating both approaches.

Whether you’re in a creative field or a more analytical one, cultivating a balance ensures a well-rounded skill set. It makes you adaptable and valuable in diverse professional scenarios. So, embrace both creativity and logic to thrive in your career.

Disregarding feedback

Feedback is a valuable tool for improvement, providing insights that can elevate your skills and performance.

Overcoming a fear or dislike of feedback involves a shift in mindset. See feedback as a pathway to progress rather than criticism. Approach it with an open mind, focusing on the constructive elements. Understand that feedback is not a reflection of your worth but an opportunity for refinement.

To make the most of feedback, actively seek it out, both positive and constructive. Use it as a roadmap for continuous improvement. Embrace a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities to learn and evolve. By leveraging feedback, you turn it from a potential career mistake into a catalyst for success.

Should you avoid making career mistakes? 

The short answer is, no. You shouldn’t avoid it completely. See, it’s natural to feel anxious about mistakes, but making them, especially early in your career, is part of learning and growth. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to go out of your way to commit as many errors as possible; it just means you shouldn’t allow yourself to be riddled with fear over mistakes you might make down the road.

Mistakes teach valuable lessons, helping you refine skills, understand your strengths, and build resilience. In the early years, colleagues and employers often understand that you’re still developing expertise. 

It’s a time to explore, take calculated risks, and discover what truly aligns with your skills and interests. Embrace the learning process, seek feedback, and use each mistake as a stepping stone toward improvement. Remember, perfection isn’t the goal—progress is.

Are you ready to take the next step in your career? Book a call with us! Let’s talk about it. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for the latest career information, tips, and updates.



Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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