Everybody makes mistakes. Making a mistake is not a big deal, as long as you learn from the experience.
I can’t even count the mistakes I’ve made in my career so far, and I plan to make lots more of them! The key is to pick yourself up after a mistake and ask “What was that stumble supposed to teach me?”
Here are the five worst career mistakes — and how to recover from each one. Have you made any of these career mistakes yet?
Hint: Number five is the most common mistake of all!
1. Burning a bridge
2. Letting someone else make career decisions for you
3. Putting your career ahead of your life
4. Getting mad at reality
5. Falling asleep on your career
I speak to college kids very often and I tell them “Take chances! It is hard to make a big career mistake before age twenty-five.”
You can take the wrong job and quickly leave. You can explore career possibilities. No one will judge you for that — or at least, anyone who would judge you is not someone whose opinion matters anyway.
You don’t have to put a short-term job on your resume.
You can recover from almost career mistake.
The one mistake that I hope you will avoid as a young person (or at any age) is to burn a bridge. You burn a bridge when someone has been kind to you and you repay them by stabbing them in the back. Here are a few examples:
1. Your roommate expends a lot of energy and risks their reputation getting you a job with their company. Once you have the job, you destroy your friend’s reputation by doing a poor job and calling in sick every time you go out drinking the night before. Finally, you get fired. Getting fired is not such a big deal — but squandering your friend’s assistance and hurting them professionally is!
2. You take a job working for a terrific boss who is also a mentor to you. You tell your boss “Put me in charge of a high-priority project in 2017 — I will make it successful!” However, another manager in the company tells you that you can rise faster in his department, so you move to the other manager’s department with one week’s notice. Then realize your new manager is a phony and a liar. Now you’ve burned a bridge and it’s too late to go back!
3. Your boss sits down with you for a planning session and tells you “I want to support your career goals — what are they?” You say “I’d like to work for you for two more years and then go to law school. Does that sound good? Will you write me a letter of recommendation for law school?” Your boss says “Of course! What kinds of projects in the department will best prepare you for law school?” You and your boss talk about it. You dive into your new projects — then two months later you change your mind and suddenly quit — leaving your boss in the lurch.
You don’t have to beat yourself up if you’ve burned a bridge or suspect that you might have. Beating yourself up won’t help. You have a different assignment — to repair the bridge you burned!
A hand-written note is a more thoughtful gesture than an email (or text message) in this electronic age. Send a note to the person with whom you burned a bridge, like this:
I was thinking about you today and I wanted to let you know. I am so grateful for your teaching and mentoring when I was an intern in your department back in 2014. I left the company suddenly, and I feel badly about that decision in retrospect. I hold you in great esteem and hope that our paths may cross again in the future.
All the best,
Never take the step of repairing (or attempting to repair) a burnt bridge at a time when you need help from the person you’re trying to reconnect with.
That is a cynical move that signals “I wouldn’t bother repairing the bridge I burned except that I need your help right now!”
Many people you meet on your path will try to tell you what your career should look like or what your next career move should be. Some of them will give you tests to complete. Others will tell you that all the smart people are getting into some hot field or another.