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Seven career mistakes you need to stop making

Rachel Burge for

Have you been passed over for promotion? Even people who are great at what they do can sabotage their careers. Here are just some of the mistakes you need to stop making.

1. Not asking for what you want
No one likes an overbearing bully but equally if you don't ask, you don't get - especially in the competitive world of work.

'Too many people repress asking for what they want because they are either too timid, afraid that the answer will be no, or would prefer to be self-sacrificing rather than risk potential conflict,' says Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management.

'Never be afraid to ask for what you want. If you want the company to invest in your career development, give you a pay rise or a day off - ask for it.

'In your career you need to create opportunities and take advantage of them - you can't expect them to land fully-formed in your lap. Speak up and put yourself forward, whether that's volunteering for a new project or talking to someone you don't know at a conference.'

2. Not maintaining your network
Think networking is something you do when you need a new job? Think again. If you only contact people when you want something, they may be less inclined to help you.

'Stay in touch with your contacts even when you don't need them for help,' advises Clare Whitmell who blogs on careers at

'To raise your profile, attend industry events and participate in "industry chat" online - commenting on blog posts, contributing to conversations on Twitter and joining group discussions on LinkedIn.

'Don't forget the number one rule of networking: "pay it forward" and help others. That means putting people in touch with each other, giving recommendations and passing on information. That way, your contacts will be far more inclined to return the favour.'

3. Being too much of a perfectionist
'Trying never to make a mistake is a flawed strategy,' warns John Lees, career coach and author of "How To Get A Job You'll Love". 'Mistakes often enable us to learn - and not making mistakes can mean we're not taking risks and growing.

'The pace of work means that you need to deliver "good enough" most of the time rather than lingering over the details and always producing perfection. The exception is when it really matters - when you (or your boss) need to impress. 

'Getting bogged down in small details can also mean that you miss the big picture - the stuff that really matters. This is why perfectionists can get passed over for promotion - they are busy checking the fine print on projects that don't really matter.

'Remember that hanging your reputation on perfection is a tough call - one slip, which may be out of your control, and your record's smashed.'

4. Being anti-management
It can be easy to get into a negative cycle at work and while moaning about management may be your favourite topic of conversation there are good reasons to break the habit.

'Forget the "them" and "us" mentality at work,' warns Mills. 'Routinely slagging off "the management" is not going to position you as promotion material and your negativity can be demoralising both for yourself and for those around you.

'You can still disagree with decisions, but make this specific to the issue, rather than being seen as someone who is "anti-management".

5. Not keeping track of your achievements
Have you ever been stuck for achievements to include on your CV - or struggled to think of a success story when asked at interview? It's time to get organised.

'Each time you complete a project or carry out a complicated or challenging task, make a note,' says Whitmell. 'Think about what made the task difficult, what you did to make it successful and the impact your work had.

'Did you save money, increase profits, slash production times, reduce inefficiencies? Did you do the task quicker than the industry/company average? Did it help others? Was your work notable because of difficult circumstances?

'The more detailed your notes are, the greater the opportunity to turn them into a variety of success stories. You can use one achievement to prove a variety of skills or character traits - whether that's organisational, communication or working-under-pressure type skills.'

6. Working harder, not smarter
'Success is often not about what you do, but how far you are seen to be doing the things that matter by key decision-makers in the organisation - people who will influence your future,' says Lees.

'Remember that those who make decisions about your career future often do so on the basis of limited information - where you have made a presentation or led a highly visible team, for example - so think carefully about doing things that are important and noticed. 

'Managing how others see you is a critical step. This often means taking advantage of special opportunities, unusual projects or new teams, and usually means that you need to be flexible about what you will take on.

'Sticking to your job description is the surest career-limiting action (CLA) of all.'

7. Not learning how to talk to your boss
Another CLA is not working out your boss's communication style - does she want things in writing, in advance, or is she happy to discuss big issues at the drop of a hat?

'When it comes to emails, always think twice before pressing 'send' on anything that involves humour, personal references or questionable attachments,' warns Lees. Even if your boss isn't on the cc-list you never know when something will be sent on.

'Generally you should only ever write in an email what you would be happy to write on a postcard left for all to see in the post tray.'

Finally, Lee warns that making yourself indispensable to your manager is critical. 'Learn to anticipate problems, invent short cuts and when you have to bother your manager with an issue, go to her with solutions, not problems.'

Image: © Robert Kneschke -

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