Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Six Ways People Inadvertently Hold Themselves Back In Their Careers

I often meet people who, I assess as I am interviewing them, should be farther ahead in their careers.  Some are actually quite senior, but could be doing better.  Some are more junior but are directionless. I have looked at the ways why this happens and have come up with these six.

1)    They push their salaries too high, too soon
For whatever the reason, most people think they are being paid too little, especially early in their career.  They may push themselves up by changing jobs and often take positions they are not yet qualified for. They talk themselves into getting hired for jobs that they should not be in.  Consequently, they are unable to perform up to the expectations of the job and often get fired. Then they take a second job at a too high a salary (because they become accustomed to living on what they have been making) and the same thing happens.  Their career spirals downward and they end up with poor references.  It may take many years for them to get back to where they should be.

2)    They take jobs they cannot succeed in
I was once warned not to take a job at a bad agency, but the title (head of account management) was appealing.  I honestly believed I could change the place.  I could not.  Part of maturity is realizing that you cannot do everything.  If a company tells you that they want to change, you must question this with all the company's principals at length to make sure that they are all on the same page and whether they will give you the tools necessary to accomplish the change – otherwise you cannot succeed.  You also must find out what criteria will be used to measure your success.  If success eludes you, it is difficult to get back on track.

3)    They stay in jobs too long
Many people are change averse, so they stay and stay and stay, even though many know that they are underpaid.  It is vital for career building that we get new experiences on a frequent basis.  (This doesn’t mean job-hopping ever six months or a year.) Unless you are in a job where you get promoted and get salary increases on a very regular basis, it is important to change jobs.  It is also important that you realize whether promised raises and promotions will come on a timely basis.  Discretion is the better part of valor and leaving may be good for your career. Most potential employers want to know that you can function in a variety of cultures and situations.  Many people who spend ten, fifteen or twenty years at a company cannot adapt well to new situations.

4)    As they take new jobs they do not ask themselves critical questions about their new jobs
Many people become so anxious to leave jobs that they fail to evaluate the impact of a new job on their career. The questions you must ask yourself before accepting any job are:
“What if this job is a dud?  What will it give me that I did not have before?  And, what will it give me that a new employer would want?” As a result of not asking these questions, jobs often prove to be a dead-end because other employers are not interested in the experience.

5)    They have not thought out or planned their careers
When an interviewer asks where you would like to be in five years, there is no right answer, but the answer to the question indicates whether you have plotted out your career. A career is like a road map.  You can make all kinds of stops and detours, but if you don’t know where you are going you cannot get there.  For each person, that road map may be different.  I knew I wanted to run an ad agency; I also looked at the successful people in the business and knew what kinds of experiences they had so that I could imitate where appropriate for me.  I created a formula for myself and went for it.  Sadly, many people tell me what they want to do and go, but don't have a plan and are unable to take actions to get themselves there.

6)    You must have savings to sustain you if you are out of work
Savings are critical to people’s success.  In this economy, everyone gets terminated at one time or another.  People who do not have enough savings – six months, minimum – rush into new jobs because they need the money.  They often do not think about the impact those jobs might have on their career.  See 1 through five above. Think of savings as an expense.


  1. #4 is very true. I once took a job with a big title, big salary, at a big agency, on a big, national name brand/franchise (a famous round shaped one that has a name like a British salutation). Huge high visibility account, should have been the one in the agency everyone wanted. Yet they went outside, and brought me in. It became clear why...no one internally wanted the job. My role didn't last long, like the person before me, and the one after...

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. The other part of this is that if you are on an account like that and can last for four, five or more years, it can be great for your resume, but if it turns out to be terrible and you have to leave in a year or two, your next potential employer, unless they are totally familiar with the business and situation, will think that you could not succeed.

  2. This is old thinking. Nobody works anywhere these days for more than 2-3 years, for 1,000 possible reasons.

    1. It may seem that way, and I agree that there is a lot of turnover. However, at some point people do hit a wall in their careers. Potential employers are looking for stability.


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