You show up to the office on time, you’ve never missed a project deadline, and you always refill the coffee pot when you’re done.
What could you possibly be doing wrong?
Maybe nothing. After all, we don't want to make you paranoid. But, just for peace of mind, check out this list to see if you're unwittingly doing anything that could be derailing your full career potential. We spoke with career experts to find out the five biggest mistakes that employees make, as well as suggestions on how to fix them.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
1. Handling Upsets Poorly
If you’re an overly motivated worker, dealing with setbacks at the office—like losing an important account or having your (surely awesome) ideas passed over in an important meeting—can be daunting. “Most ambitious, well-educated folks are very hard on themselves; they’re overly perfectionistic,” says Glo Harris, an executive coach and organizational consultant. “So, when they feel they have made a mistake, or ‘failed’ in their self opinion, it’s both disheartening and paralyzing.”
Disappointments at work can stop you from asking crucial questions or taking on responsibilities that could potentially move you ahead in your job. It’s unrealistic to believe you’ll never make mistakes in a long career, though, and the ability to recover quickly is what can set you apart from the pack.
What to do instead: Change your mind-set, suggests Harris. “Tell yourself that taking the risk, whatever the outcome, is success enough,” she says. Instead of being scared to put yourself out there at work for fear of failure, set an objective to attempt at least one undertaking a month that is outside your comfort zone.
For example, suggesting a new avenue of advertising for your company could turn out to be a flop, or offering to take the lead on pitching a new client might go awry if the client just won’t budge. But, over time, you’ll learn how to move on from your mistakes, whether that means asking for feedback on a presentation or planning for a better one next time.
2. Failing to Self-Promote
In most work environments, it’s up to you to toot your own horn from time to time when it comes to a job well done. This is especially important when you’ve completed a task worthy of praise and your bosses don’t even seem to notice. “Sometimes [a lack of self-praise] is explained by an employee’s belief that self-promotion is somehow unprofessional,” says Todd Dewett, a leadership development coach and author of “The Little Black Book of Leadership.” “Other times it’s because a person has wrongly assumed the boss or others are aware of their good work.”
What to do instead: Unless your boss comes out and tells you you’ve done a good job, don’t just assume that she’s taken notice. “Most workplaces are highly competitive,” says Dewett. “The more you rise in the ranks, the more intelligence and experience becomes similar across people.” In other words, leaving your hard work unmentioned allows other similarly qualified coworkers to swoop in and reap the benefits of a boss who’s forced to take notice.
The next time you ask to take on a particularly demanding task at work, assure your boss that you are up to the job by reminding her of past performances that went off without a hitch. Dewett suggests saying something like, “Jan, let me throw my hat in the ring for the Acme account. I’m wrapping the Johnson account about that time, and those two have a very similar industry focus. I’d love to make another win with Acme if the team needs me.” Keep your self-promotion targeted and low-key to make it the most effective.
3. Thinking “Me” Instead of “We”
Taking an active role in your advancement at work is important. But when you focus only on your personal success or recognition, you’re making your work about individual goals rather than goals that are good for the overall group. Think of it this way: Your boss’s boss isn’t interested in your personal gain—he’s worried about what’s best for the company. If your actions appear to benefit the overall health of the company, you’ll be integral to helping them achieve their bottom line, which in turn will make them more likely to want to keep you on and promote you.
What to do instead: Before taking any action at work, ask yourself what the benefit will be for the team as a whole, suggests Patti Johnson, a career and workplace expert and C.E.O. of PeopleResults.
"One of the worst things you can do is to show up and give the signal that you have all the answers."
"One of the worst things you can do is to show up and give the signal that you have all the answers," she said. “This is a surefire way to keep others out if you need them to play an active role in your work or idea.”
Always position yourself as a team player, someone who is ready and willing to take on group projects and work side-by-side with others for the betterment of everyone involved. Johnson suggests using language like, “Here are my ideas on this. What are you guys thinking?” and “Let’s plan to work on this together” to get the ball rolling.
4. Not Asking for Feedback
Most workers go through some form of annual employee evaluation, but you should be getting feedback more than once a year. “In most organizations, [formal evaluations] are not terribly valuable for the boss or the employee,” says Dewett. “The typical boss, even at many larger firms, is not trained to deliver an evaluation effectively … without training, they can just be exercises in unintentionally creating stress.” Evaluations also tend to put unnecessary focus on recent events or very large projects, leaving a great deal of your overall performance forgotten or unmentioned.
What to do instead: In order to become successful, it’s important to evaluate your efforts frequently, and to analyze what works and what doesn’t. “The most successful people know this and go beyond mere compliance to actively find one or two honest and forthright colleagues who will give them useful, constructive criticism,” says Dewett. “This type of occasional feedback-seeking behavior is one of the hallmarks of top professionals.”
Once you find the colleagues you feel comfortable talking with, Dewett suggests starting simple. “Ask them what one thing you can do to become a better version of yourself at work over the next year,” he suggests. “You can make it even easier on them by not asking them to answer immediately. If they are willing to help, tell them to think about it and drop by later when they have a minute to share their ideas.”
5. Declining to Take on New Roles
Just doing what you were hired to do and nothing more is a big no-no. “If all you do is what is listed in your job description, it’s impossible to get ahead,” says Dan Schawbel, author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.” Consider your workplace an even playing field. Everyone there has the same qualifications, the same hardworking attitude and the same attention to detail. Stepping out of your comfort zone could be just the push your boss needs to give you that promotion instead of your cube mate.
What to do instead: Rather than focusing on the typical tasks for someone in your position, ask yourself what accomplishments you’ll need to have under your belt before you can score that big promotion. “In order to justify salary increases and promotions, you have to think outside your job description and take on additional responsibilities,” says Schawbel. “After you master your current role, ask your manager for additional projects that are more challenging.” At the end of the day, a boss is more likely to take notice of and promote a person who goes above and beyond the call of duty—not the person who’s happy to stick to the status quo.
But keep in mind that any additional work you take on should help you develop your skills and lead to other high-level project opportunities; it shouldn’t all be busywork. And don’t bite off more than you can chew. Schawbel suggests taking stock of your current obligations first, and setting a limit for any extra work you take on based on how much time you estimate you’ll need to excel at all of your tasks.