7 Career Mistakes You'll Want to Avoid

Throughout your career you'll be making many decisions; some will be done consciously, but other choices, actions or things said might be less thought out. You want to be sure you don't make blunders that take your career off-course. Even little mistakes can make a difference and present you in a bad light. 

7 Career Mistakes You'll Want to Avoid


Want to prevent doing damage to your professional reputation? Do you want to enjoy solid career growth and avoid missing out on good opportunities? You'll want to steer clear of making these common mistakes.

1. Not keeping an eye on industry trends

Are you content in your job and don't bother taking the time to keep your resume updated? Do you have a pulse on your industry for job leads? If you don't, you should. You never know when you could miss the boat on an exciting new opportunity. Or, alternatively, your company may downsize, close shop or let people go for other reasons. Along with keeping an eye on trends, stay up-to-speed in your industry—take continuing education, pursue certifications, anything to remain up-to-date in both knowledge and skills. You never know what's around the corner, so think like the Boy Scouts do and "Be Prepared.”

2. Spending the workday cyberloafing

Spending time online doing non-work related business hurts productivity and wastes company resources. Do you do the following during the workday?

  •  Hang out on social media.
  •  Read and respond to personal emails.
  •  Run to websites to keep up with favorite sports teams.
  •  Bank, shop or pay your bills.

These activities, collectively called "cyberloafing," cost businesses in the United States as much as $85 billion a year according to a 2016 report by the Wall Street Journal.  The WSJ cited a study, conducted by the University of Nevada, which found people admitted to spending from 60 to 80 percent of their at work time cyberloafing.

If you spend more than a few moments a day on these activities, employers typically don't like it— and they're taking notice. Ultimately, this could come back to bite you.

3. Not being a team member

Work environments today are highly team-centric. If you're actively working solo in your job, you might become viewed as someone who isn't a team player. Most organizations have at least one, so don't be "that person." If you aren't sharing information or knowledge with colleagues, ask yourself why, and take steps to rectify the situation. If you aren't holding information back but simply don't offer ideas or other feedback, this is another question to ask yourself. Not contributing does you a disservice, and you could be losing opportunities to be noticed.

4. Making yourself indispensable

Are you qualified, highly productive and well-liked, yet you still aren’t getting promoted? It might be because you've made yourself indispensable. It sounds weird, but by doing a good job you could actually be hurting your career. This isn't to say you should start slacking off. You can fix this by making some changes in your work habits:

  • Learn how to share your tacit knowledge.
  • Delegate work and learn to trust others.
  • If in management, surround yourself with people who can handle your tasks.

The above goes hand-in-hand with being a team member. Don't make yourself unable to take those vacations or sick days. Don't be the person who is too "needed' to be considered for any upward movement.

5. Lacking professionalism

Professionalism is a broad term ranging from dress to behavior and everything in between. That being said, there are some generalizations associated with keeping a professional appearance. Some habits or attributes that can make you appear unprofessional include:

  •  Not following through on promised deliverables or communicating problems that arise.
  •  Proving to be incompetent at managing tasks.
  •  Poorly constructed emails and other written communications.
  •  Weak verbal skills, either in person or on the telephone; the language you choose matters.
  •  Posting risqué photos or words on social media (even on private accounts).
  •  Repeated lack of punctuality, either arriving at work or for meetings.
  •  Not following an organization's code of conduct.

Another unprofessional behavior is engaging in office gossip, but this should really be its own mistake because it's a biggie.

6. Engaging in office gossip

Office gossip tends to contribute to toxic workplaces because it causes suspicion, discord and unpleasantness. A few minutes of thoughtless idle chatter can damage a person's reputation and career. Don't be the one associated with spreading gossip—you'll put a wedge between yourself and your colleagues. You'll probably also become known as an untrustworthy person, which could follow you in your career. Never get involved in office drama, it doesn't matter if the talk is true, untrue, related to work or unrelated to work—just stay out of it.

7. Applying for any job

It's seldom a good idea to apply for jobs you aren't really interested in or qualified to do. If you currently have a job, try to limit job searches to specific ones you really want. If you don't have a job, start with the best-fitting ones, and move on from there. You don't want to have your resume show up repeatedly in front of the same hiring managers. What do you do if you land a job you really didn't want, and a better opportunity comes up? Do you quit or stay put? If you constantly switch jobs that don't show upward movement, you could self-sabotage. Try to be someplace you really want to be in the first place.

Other actions that can hurt your career include dwelling on mistakes (own it, apologize, fix it and move on), introducing your personal problems to the workplace and lying on your resume.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market