Last week, I ran into a woman who was more senior than I was when I started at my company over a decade ago. In the first couple years, I went to her many times for guidance and support. Since then, I have gone on to be promoted multiple times, and progressed to a fairly senior role in my company. On the other hand, she was still at the exact same level. In fact, she applied for a job posting to report to me a few years ago, and I turned her down (yes, it’s still awkward). Anyway, it got me thinking about why why our career paths diverged. Upon reflection, I realized she suffered from some basic Career Killers.
Career Killers are undesirable professional or personal traits that result in a slower progression of someone’s career.
They are insidious; often people do not even realize what is going on. Years later, they may look around and realize everyone has been promoted, and — at least — moved along to different roles.
We have talked in a previous post about Blunders. While those can certainly instantaneously ruin someone’s career, “Career Killers” usually result in a slow death.
In this post, I will identify the 5 Key Career Killers I typically see. To be honest, there are a ton of posts about Career Killers (see Kiplinger, for example). I probably can’t add too much more in terms of what these Career Killers are.
Instead, what I think I can do to help my readers is go 1 step further…
…I will explain HOW to address each of these Career Killers.
I do hope you find this helpful!
Mrs. Type A’s Top 5 Career Killers and HOW to overcome them:
1. Missing Deadlines
Not making a deadline can have a direct impact on the business; it could result in generating less revenue or higher cost. While that is an undesirable impact on your reputation, what is worse is that you may be seen as unreliable.
If you can’t make deadlines, then maybe you shouldn’t have other responsibilities, such as managing people, controlling a budget, and interacting with customers. As such, it is a Career Killer.
So, what can you do about missing deadlines?
I think that actions here fall in 2 areas:
a. Stronger project planning: this one is probably obvious. If you have a tough time making deadlines, you should plan your projects better. It’s a fair takeaway, but most things that I do are planned as best as possible, and then something crazy happens that results in the scope and / or complexity increasing. So, while I don’t think improving your project planning is a waste of time, it will only do so much.
More important that stronger project planning is…
b. Improved communication: when you hit the inevitable snag in your planning, you need to be very proactive about communication. Often times, it’s not that you missed a deadline that is the problem. I’ve missed many in my career. And I’ve never been penalized if I proactively communicated the complication, impact to the project scope/complexity, and what a more realistic timeline is.
I would also typically develop options in this situation. So, Option 1 is to push out the deadline. Option 2 may be to reduce the scope (i.e., launch 1 product instead of 2) and have that done on the original timing.
Once I communicate these Options to my senior leaders and my recommendation to push out the timeline, everyone is usually surprisingly chill that I missed a deadline.
2. Not taking feedback
Every one of us gets feedback on how to improve to either get to the next level, or to perform to expectations. Throughout your career, you will likely receive both types of feedback at least once.
Your response to this feedback is very important. A big challenge can arise if you react poorly to getting the feedback by either being defensive or accusatory. Also, it can be problematic (though less dramatic) if you don’t take any steps to address the feedback you’ve been given.
What should you do to ensure you take feedback?
I cover what to do when you get a Bad Review in this post. I think the key advice holds true for getting any feedback (not just in a formal review)…
First, you should show appreciation for the feedback (this doesn’t need to be more than “thank you.”
Second, acknowledge the feedback. Say something like, “if I’ve understood you, I need to improve my communication skills.” I suggest taking this 1 step further and ask, “what would good look like?” If you can’t get clarity, it’s a huge flag that your manager needs to do some more work (see my post on having a Bad Manager).
Third, develop a plan to do exactly what they said good looked like. You may need training, a mentor, or practice. It’s important to get a plan and get your manager’s feedback. I suggest this because some areas of development are really hard to change. So, you may not change your ways overnight or at all. However, to avoid having this be a huge Career Killer, you need to demonstrate your interest and intent to make a change. Usually that is enough to avoid any issues.
I have seen many staff crash and burn because they felt entitled to a promotion or bigger responsibility. Recently, a leadership position opened up in my department. A very eager, and — I do say — capable employee (named Jesse) expressed his interest in that role, despite it being 3 levels higher than his current role.
At first, the leadership team reacted positively to Jesse’s interest, thinking he may need a few more years but at least we have a successor to the person who will be hired into that role next.
Within a matter of a few days, Jesse’s eagerness turned into him telling senior leaders he would leave if he wasn’t selected for this promotion. He had delivered well for the organization and, as such, felt he deserved to be promoted up 3 levels.
Well, Jesse didn’t get the promotion. And he’s probably not going to get another one any time soon; the complete lack of judgement he showed when demanding a position resulted in people thinking he may show lack of judgement elsewhere too.
At this time, no one feels comfortable giving him more responsibility. In summary, his sense of entitlement raised concerns about his judgement that didn’t exist before.
So, how to avoid being entitled?
I do think it’s fair to want and express interest in new roles, even if they are a stretch. If you get feedback that you aren’t ready, I think you can still even disagree with it. I suggest writing down the gaps that have been communicated to you, and then documenting what you have done for each and what you intend to do to be ready for the job. Check in periodically with your leadership to review your progress.
Even if you don’t get the near-term promotion, you may be more likely to get another great opportunity that may be stretch given the maturity and professionalism you displayed throughout the process.
4. Being a victim
If nothing ever goes your way and it’s never your fault, you could be jeopardizing your career by playing victim.
Countless times I’ve had direct reports sit in my office and say that XYZ did go well because the another department didn’t do their job. Or we missed a sales target because a snowstorm stopped a distributor from delivering on product on time.
Wait a minute, do you think I hired you for this position because it was easy?
The truth is that basics of many corporate jobs do not require more than maybe a few years’ experience. If a job requires more than that, then I would expect there to be challenges that require your experience. Otherwise I’d find someone 2 years out of school at half the salary!
As a leader, I understand that circumstances change and unexpected issues arise (see #1), but have a solution to still meet your objective.
If you don’t deliver, it’s never your fault, and you’re not proactive about updating plans, then you’re playing victim and that will stall your career.
How can you avoid being a victim?
Have a plan! Even if something doesn’t go your way and is outside your control…still take ownership to develop a solution. As a leader, I can tell you that I appreciate this almost more than anything else. Yes, issues come up…and if you can proactive address without my having to get involved….well, you’re hired!
5. Looking unprofessional
The fact that I think your professional attire is important shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone reading this blog. In other posts, I define what it means to look professional and give many suggestions on options (see links below).
Why does it matter? Well, honestly, if you look messy, people may think your disorganized. Or if you dress unprofessionally / too casually, people may think you aren’t serious about your job and — even worse — may question your judgement.
So, how should you go about dressing professionally?
You’ve come to the right place! Lots of tips in these posts:
- How do Fortune’s 40 Under 40 Women Dress for Success?
- Knock ‘em Dead with a Killer Outfit: – Part 1: Blouses
- Knock ‘em Dead with a Killer Outfit – Part 2: Pants & Skirts
- Knock ‘em Dead with a Killer Outfit – Part 3: Blazers and Cardigans
- How do Fortune’s Most Powerful Women dress for success?
In conclusion, you need to watch our for these 5 career killers. I hope the tips in this post provide some guidance on how to address them. I’d love to hear your thoughts on career killers in comments!
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