How to Guides

Avoid These 15 Career Mistakes If You Want to Get and Keep a Job

Written by Kate Lopaze

If love is a battlefield (and we all know it is, thanks to Pat Benatar), then the career world is a minefield. There’s the resume and interview process, but the dangers don’t end once you’re hired and installed comfortably in a cubicle somewhere. Let’s take a look at some of the most common career mistakes throughout the job cycle, and what you can do to try to avoid them.

1. Before You’re Hired

2. On the Job

3. On Your Way Out

4. Your Future Career

Before You’re Hired

The clock for potential missteps kicks off the second you decide to apply for a job. Here’s what you should be wary of doing:

1. Making blatant mistakes in the cover letter/resume.

In many cases, your cover letter is your first chance to make an impression on the recruiter or hiring manager. If you go in with a bunch of obvious errors (or one really egregious one), this suggests that you might be as sloppy an employee as you appear as a candidate. Always check everything thoroughly for typos, and if possible, have a trusted friend or family member read over any materials you’re going to release to the world.

I have a friend who made the most horrible typo possible, accidentally leaving a super-vulgar mistyped word in a cover letter to a company that, shall we say, wasn’t very likely to laugh off such a word appearing in communication with them. Needless to say, he never got a call for an interview at that place. Trust me, it’s worth it to spend the time to write and revise your resume, engineering it down to every word.

2. Addressing the wrong person/company.

Dear Sir at Widget Company, I was excited to hear about an opening at your company. I’ve always wanted to work at Widgets R Us. I anxiously await your response. [Spoiler alert: no interview forthcoming.]

3. Phoning-in the interview.

Whether you don’t really want this job after all, or you think you can coast because you’re very qualified, don’t take anything for granted. Always bring your A-game to any interview. Even if the job is unlikely to pan out, it’s good practice, and the people who take the time to talk with you about the job will appreciate your engagement and enthusiasm.

4. Not following up with a thank you.

Whether the interview went awesome or terribly, always follow up quickly with a thank you note. Manners go a long way, and you never know when you’ll come across the same people in the course of a future job search.

5. Being too aggressive (or not aggressive enough).

The Goldilocks approach works here. Don’t go in, all iron-grip handshake and unblinking eye contact. Also don’t go in looking at the floor and answering only direct questions. Try to find a happy medium where you’re confident, but not challenging every interviewer you meet to a staring contest.

6. Talk money too early in the hiring process.

As the old saying goes, “he who shoots first, loses.” If you bring up salary before the company is ready to make an offer, you can come off as mercenary—or worse, you can unintentionally limit your negotiating power after you have an offer in hand. Leave the interview process for getting to know the job and presenting yourself as the best candidate, and keep the negotiating for later. There’s no real upside to discussing money early in the process, and many opportunities for it to blow back on you.

7. Not negotiating at all.

No matter how grateful you are to get a job, always try to negotiate the best possible salary and benefits. Companies expect this, and as long as your requests are reasonable, it’s a must-do once you have a job offer. If you don’t negotiate and try to build on the initial offer, the only one you’re hurting is yourself.

On the Job

Once you’ve got the job, don’t get too complacent—you still need to be careful about making mistakes. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be perfect at all times, and that errors won’t sometimes happen in the course of your job. These are more the situations to avoid in the workplace.

8. Making decisions purely based on money.

If you love your job but jump ship for the first opportunity that comes along and pays better, you could live to regret that. Make sure that major decisions (like accepting a job somewhere else or deciding to leave) are backed up by a number of factors you’ve considered, including salary, benefits, your overall level of happiness, and your career goals

9. Keeping your head down.

Working hard is super important, but you know what else is too? Connecting with coworkers. You don’t have to be best buds, but making a nominal effort to get your coworkers can really help you later on. Not only do you get comfortable with people whose faces you see every day, but you never know when an ally will come in handy in the office. Quash those introvert tendencies and make small talk the next time you find yourself waiting at the copier with “Tim…uh, Something from accounting.”

10. Limiting your network to people you work with.

It’s great to get to know people at every level in your company (see #9). However, don’t fall into a trap where your entire active network is located within your office’s four walls. Part of the beauty of having a network is getting information and opportunities from other places, so why limit yourself? If your LinkedIn profile is mostly people you see at least four times a week at the watercooler, it’s time to branch out and start making connections with people at other companies.

11. Avoiding difficult situations.

Challenges are excellent experience builders. Fear of failing can make us more likely to avoid taking on unfamiliar projects and goals, but you could be hurting yourself in the long run to keep things smooth in the short term. You’re unlikely to learn new skills or gain experience if you stick narrowly to your job description. It’ll also leave you with fewer instances where you can point to genuine growth and problem solving skills.

12. Not owning up to mistakes.

Not wanting to get in trouble with the boss is a pretty valid feeling. However, I’m assuming that you’re human. And accordingly, mistakes will happen at some point. It’s how you deal with those that can make or break your reputation. Don’t be the person who starts looking for someone to throw under the bus when things are going wrong. Be the one who says, “this is what’s wrong, here’s how we’re going to approach this, and here’s how this will be handled moving forward.”

Not only that, but you also don’t want to earn a reputation as someone who trashes coworkers to make yourself look better. If you’re leading a group and others dropped the ball, it shows better leadership skills to take responsibility for the group’s performance and move on than to sit there pointing fingers at everyone else.

13. Saying yes to everything.

This is a tough one. You want to seem like an uber-employee, able to handle everything that comes your way. However part of being that uber-employee is knowing your limits, and being able to manage priorities. Getting overwhelmed is never going to be helpful—not for you, and not for anyone who’s counting on you to do the things you said you’d do.

On Your Way Out

Oh, did you think that once you’ve decided to leave your job, it no longer matters what you do? Nope, you’re still on the hook. There’s still potential for things to go awry.

14. Burning bridges.

This popsicle stand may be blown (or about to be), but no matter how resentful or angry you feel about your soon-to-be-former job, it’s in your best interest to be gracious until your last second in the office. You never know who you’ll come across again in the future, so you don’t want the lingering impression to be, “Oh, I remember that person. What a jerk!”

Your Future Career

There’s one more mistake you don’t want to make, and this one has nothing to do with what you’re currently doing; it has to do with limiting your future career options.

15. Letting inertia get the better of you.

Are you still at your job because you don’t want to rock the boat and try to leave? Are you sacrificing career goals in the interest of stability? According to Forbes’s Liz Ryan, this “falling asleep” is one of the deadliest things that can happen in your career. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities, and find ways to make these opportunities work so that you can take advantage.

Taken individually, none of these career mistakes are likely to translate into being career killers. But if you’re more aware of the consequences of even the smallest career pitfalls, you’ll be that more adept in getting right around them.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.