The 5 most common mistakes people make with their career

by | Sep 17, 2013 | Interviews

Takeaway: Be mindful of the five most common career mistakes people make: not looking to add value, thinking only about yourself, not being a guru in your sweet spot, having a sense of entitlement, and not constantly learning.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 30s.


A little over a month ago I published a guide on how to network based on an interview I conducted with Chris O’Gorman. O’Gorman works for telecom giant Alcatel-Lucent, where he oversees Talent and Organizational Development for North and South America, where about 17,500 of the company’s 70,000 employees reside.

Chris has seen countless people succeed and fail in the workplace, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pick his brain about the career mistakes people make! The five most common ones are below.

1. Not looking to add value

O’Gorman gave some solid advice about helping out where you work, even when it’s not in your job description. “Look to help. Look to add value. Look to help make people’s lives better. Whether it’s by goofing around and setting a good tone for the area that you sit in, or coming up with some good comments and thinking outside the box for how you can help other people, even if it’s not in your direct job description, you should always be looking to help and add value.”

The people who “go above and beyond their call of duty are the ones who stand out”.

2. Thinking only about yourself

Though helping out, adding value, and making people’s lives better can help you build a reputation and advance in your career, according to O’Gorman you should do it because you genuinely want to help; not out of self-interest. “Do it out of the goodness of your heart. When you help out and don’t look for a payback, you’ll find that paybacks naturally find their way to you.

3. Not being a guru in your sweet spot

To O’Gorman, the number one thing that sets high-performers apart from everyone else is that they’re a guru in their sweet spot. “If you’re a hardware engineer, software designer, marketer, salesperson, whatever, strive to be the very best at it.”

“A lot of people don’t. A lot of people ‘tick the box’ and they only go surface-deep, but you gotta be really deep, and toe-to-toe with the best. If you focus on that, a lot of the rest, though not everything, will take care of itself.” Taking the time to develop skills in your sweet spot is one of the most powerful ways to advance your career.

4. Having a sense of entitlement

According to O’Gorman, many of the mistakes people make with their career have to do with their mindset. “If you have a sense of entitlement, that’s often very obvious to colleagues, bosses, and peers. If you have a sense that your company owes you a living – people get frustrated because they work very hard and don’t get recognized, and then their attitude takes a turn for the worse. Attitude is something you can’t underestimate the importance of.”

Even if you’re world-class, “if your attitude is cynical, negative, or if you’re not someone other people like to be around and work with, you’re going to struggle”.

5. Not constantly learning

O’Gorman spoke about how important it is to integrate learning into your week. “I think people make the mistake of viewing training and learning as separate from work.”

“If you’re not smarter than you were last week, you’re probably not focusing enough on new knowledge you can get, information other people have”, and so on.

“Not that there isn’t a place for separate training days, but if you’re not sucking up knowledge through conversations as much as you can, you’re not going to perform to your full potential.” Like helping out and making people’s lives better, “learning is a mindset – you have to be always looking for knowledge, and there’s a lot of it out there.”

Summing up

Being mindful of these career pitfalls will not only help you avoid them, but will also help you advance in your career. 

During his 11-year tenure at Alcatel-Lucent, Chris has seen countless employees succeed and fail, and according to him, not looking to add value, thinking only about yourself, not being a guru in your sweet spot, having a sense of entitlement, and not constantly learning are five of the biggest pitfalls to avoid when it comes to your career.

I personally think that it’s worth reflecting on every single one of these things to see what you can improve on.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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