Ask any veteran professional what mistakes you should avoid throughout your career, and chances are they could easily come up with at least a dozen.
Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be late. Don’t forget to network. And for heaven’s sake, negotiate.
But let’s get real — nobody is perfect. At some point in your career, you will likely trip up at least once or twice (or more, sadly). Accept it. Own it. And, comfort yourself with this knowledge: when you do finally make a misstep in your career, it isn’t impossible to bounce back.
With some guidance from two rockstar career consultants, we’ve come up with some tips to help you recover from common career mistakes:
Whoops. I was too chicken to forgot to negotiate.
We know negotiating a job offer is essential to laying the right foundation for your career. But more than half of Americans admit that they take the first salary their employer offers, according to a recent survey by Payscale.
If you feel like you passed up an opportunity to negotiate your salary before accepting a job, there are steps you can take to renegotiate. The downside is that you probably won’t get another opportunity for at least six to 12 months, says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn spokesperson and founder of WORKS, a New York City-based career consulting firm.
“There’s nothing that pissses a boss off more than you showing up at their doorstep saying ‘Hey, I wish I had negotiated before’ right after they hire you,” Williams says. “It makes you look naive and it shows a lack of sophistication.”
While you’re waiting for your chance to revisit the compensation question, your job is simple: make sure your manager wants to give you a raise when you finally ask for one.
“Because you haven’t negotiated your salary and because chances are that you’re going to want more than your average increase, you’re going to have to really outperform,” Williams says. “Stay late, get in early, and know what your expectations are so you can beat them.”
Lastly, don’t apologize for your weak negotiations skills. Frame the discussion around your raise in a way that makes it seem like you’ve taken on so much more responsibility that it would be insane for them not to give you a raise.
You’re too afraid to “cheat” on your job.
Having a job doesn’t mean you have job security. Williams tells all her clients to keep their eyes open for other opportunities, even if they are working full time. That way, you not only have backup plans in the works if you lose your job, but you’ll be able to keep tabs on what employers are looking for (and what they’re willing to pay for it).
“You never know when you’ll get a call and that means having your resume always updated,” says Mindy Thomas, a career consultant based in Philadelphia. “At the very least, update your LinkedIn profile. Recruiters are on there 24/7 and the ones that have the profiles together look like stars out there.”
If you’ve blown off a recruiter’s email or tip about a new gig, you haven’t necessarily screwed yourself over entirely. Circle back to them and quickly explain why you didn’t initially respond — maybe you were swamped with work or had family responsibilities. Then tell them you’re open for a discussion now. If it’s relevant for your particular field, perhaps include a few recent examples of your work to remind them why they were pursuing you in the first place.
“Just be graceful about it,” Williams says. “Ultimately, if they were interested in you then, they are probably going to be interested now.”
You became the office pariah.
We can all be competitive and in the grand scheme of things, competitiveness can pay off in big ways. But when we step into “over-competitive” territory, we can quickly earn a reputation for being the resident jerk at the office. You might diminish a coworker’s contribution to a project, refuse to work with others, or get defensive when peers give you constructive criticism.
If you’re the boss, then awesome. Your employees will just have to learn to deal with your aggressive approach (although it may not look so great for you when they all up and quit one day). If you’re lower on the totem pole, however, it pays to play nice.
“Perception is everything, and it takes a long time to change it,” says Thomas.
So, how do you repair your reputation? Slowly and strategically.
Learn to say “thank you” when your peers or manager critique your work. Suck it up and ask for input on your next group project. If people have already learned to stop asking you to work in groups, then you’ll have to be the one to initiate that conversation. And when you update your manager on your progress, give key players the kudos they deserve.
“It’s going above and beyond and volunteering to help others and showing the goodness that you have,” says Thomas.
You say yes to a new job opportunity and later realize it’s not the right fit.
If you’re a freelancer or work on a contract basis, it can be easy to over-promise yourself to potential clients. Sometimes, you simply don’t know what you’re really getting yourself into until after you’ve already said yes and realize you simply don’t have the bandwidth for the job. You can extract yourself from these situations, but you have to do it tactfully.
“As soon as you know in the process that you’re not interested, then tell them,” Williams says. “It’s uncomfortable, but the further you go down the line, the more invested they’re going to be in you.”
Tell the potential employer or client that you appreciate their interest and explain why your mind has changed. Maybe you’ve realized you can’t juggle your new gig with other personal commitments.
“People feel less insulted when it’s not another project you’re turning them down for, but a personal issue,” Williams says.
You over-indulged at the office happy hour.
There are real benefits to being part of the office social scene. But when booze is flowing and your guard is down, it can be easy to cross the line from being just one of the gang to being the bum who gets wasted on a Wednesday night.
If you overindulged with your coworkers (or worse, your boss) and think you may have embarrassed yourself, the only way to save face is to show up the next day prepared to work harder than ever. No one needs to hear you whine about how hung over you are or see you fumbling through the first-aid kit for aspirin on your lunch break. And the absolute worst thing you can do is call in “sick.”
“This is a situation in which you want to forget it as quickly as possible and you want other people to forget it as quickly as possible, too,” Williams says. “You don’t complain. You show up early and you leave late. You want them to know this was just a one-off incident.
The bottom line: Nobody likes to make mistakes, but sometimes tripping up along the way is the best form of learning there can be.
“Mistakes are critical,” Williams says. “They can imprint on you at such a significant level that once you’ve made that mistake the likelihood of making it again is really slim.”
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