Whether you are at your first post-college job, or have a few years of experience under your belt, figuring out your first few career moves can be difficult. It is especially difficult if you cannot discern the validity of career advice that you are probably regularly bombarded with by people who want to help you i.e. your parents, grandparents, significant others, friends etc. To assist you with deciphering fact from fiction, below are some common mistakes and misconceptions of young professionals and how to avoid them.
You must stay at a company for “X” number of years
This is by far the most common misconception of young professionals. Many people have a preconceived notion that you must stay at a company for “X” number of years before moving on to another opportunity. The belief is that if you don’t stay at a job long enough, you will look like a “job hopper”. While it is certainly not good to appear like a “job hopper” when you are looking for a new job, the truth is, there is no magic number of years you need to stay at a prior role to prevent such a notion. Also, more importantly, you should be articulate why, for every job change you have made in your career, you decided to make the transition, no matter how long you have stayed in the role. Companies today no longer expect their employees to be “lifers”. Instead, they want to know that if and when you decide to move on, you will do so with rational intentions. Some very reasonable explanations for an employee, no matter the experience level, to move on from a position include, feeling stagnated in growth potential, relocating for personal reasons, the company was no longer a good cultural fit, or wanting to pursue interests and goals in ways that did not fit into the scope and needs of the team etc. If you feel a compelling reason to move on from you current role, do it! Just be prepared to explain to your next employer why you felt like it was the right time to move on.
Only going for jobs that you are 100% qualified for
Young professionals often find job descriptions intimidating when they are looking to make a job change. Thus, due to feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by job descriptions, a common mistake that less experienced professionals make is only applying to jobs that they feel they are 100% qualified for. This is pitfall to avoid because taking this approach can significantly slow down your career growth. A job description will always describe an employer’s ideal perfect candidate. When interviewing though, every hiring manager knows that each candidate will come with pros and cons – there is no such thing as the perfect hire. Rarely will an employer find a hire that satisfies 100% of what they are looking for. Therefore, as a general rule of thumb, if you are someone who can demonstrate strong problem solving and adaptive capabilities, you can and should apply to jobs that are about 30-40% out of your reach. By doing so, you will accelerate your career growth because you will always be working in roles that challenge you. Also, by consistently taking on roles that are slightly beyond your reach, you will then be presented with more opportunities that will push your boundaries, which will then further accelerate your growth in a snowball effect. The most sought after business skill is adaptability to change. What is required in the role today may be completely different 6 months from now. Thus, leverage your ability to adapt and learn quickly to seek job opportunities that are slightly beyond your reach. This is the tried and true recipe for career growth acceleration.
Not negotiating job offers
Another common mistake of young professionals is not negotiating their early career job offers. A lot of young professionals think that negotiating their earlier job offers can come across as being rude and ungrateful, and that they should only negotiate when they get to the “higher levels”. This is a huge misconception. In fact, the reality is that rather than coming across as rude, 99% of the time, employers will actually expect a counter when they present a job offer to a job candidate. Furthermore, failing to negotiate in your early years can cost you up to $600,000 in income over the lifetime of your career (https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/negotiate-mistake-600000/). Do not fall into this self-defeating, downward spiraling trap! Most people are afraid to negotiate because they fear that they may lose their job offer if they start negotiating. Typically, however, there is usually a 10-15% leeway in every offer you receive so do not be afraid to always try to ask for a little more. Also, the employer has already invested thousands of dollars in interview, HR, and legal time to get to know you. So, remember that if an offer was extended to you, you are indeed the employer’s top choice; don’t be afraid of asking for a little more – you will not lose your offer.
Not asking questions at work
Many young professionals believe that they must figure everything out on their own and are afraid of asking too many questions relating to their assignments at work. This is also one of the biggest career mistakes one can make in the workplace. Rather than looking stupid for asking too many questions, you will actually look more inadequate if you present poor quality work with no questions asked. The truth is, the best way to learn and be successful in the workplace is to ask the right questions, to the right person, at the right time (/3-traits-top-millennial-employee/). If you are in a skill-based role, most of the tasks assigned to you will likely be problems that you had never encountered before. Again, the biggest asset to any workforce is the ability to adapt and problem solve and part of being able to adapt and problem solve is knowing when and how to ask for help. Therefore, do not be afraid to ask your manager or your peers for help when you get stuck, especially when you are just starting out. As a general rule of thumb, if you are stuck on the same issue for more than a work day, you should communicate this to your manager and seek help. By working closely with those who are more experienced than you, you will improve your problem solving skills and which pitfalls to watch out for. Asking the right questions is how you will quickly accelerate your career success.
Fear of Networking
The concept of networking is often nerve wracking to both new and seasoned professionals and therefore many people avoid it for most of their careers. Not networking, however, is unfortunately a surefire way to guarantee slower career progression. I’ve found that the least intimidating way to approach networking is to think of it as making new friends and/or finding new mentors. You also don’t need to feel like you have to add every new individual you meet into your network. Just as when meeting and making new friends, be genuine and authentic when are getting to know people for the purpose of expanding your network. The relationships in your network need not feel forced. You should only add someone to your network if you feel like you “click” with them and the relationships in your network should be built upon the foundations of any good relationship – trust and respect. Build a strong supportive network around you by becoming known as the one who is always genuinely open to meeting new people and the one that is just an overall a supportive, helpful person. You will find that taking this approach to networking will help ensure that the people who become part of your network will genuinely want to support you and lift you up as well. In short, networking need not cause anxiety, is it really just about building and maintaining healthy and supportive relationships with people that you cross paths with throughout your career.
Feeling the “imposter syndrome” is bad
As you advance in your career, you may have, at some point, felt the “imposter syndrome”. The “imposter syndrome” is a psychological phenomenon by which an individual is constantly doubting their accomplishments and lives in fear of being exposed as a fraud. It is common to be ashamed of feeling the “imposter syndrome”, however, the biggest secret that we don’t talk about enough is that everybody, even those who are very very accomplished, feels the “imposter syndrome” come and go throughout their entire careers. It is a natural consequence of being a humble human being so it is definitely nothing to be ashamed of. The challenge is taking control of the feelings, owning it, and not letting it hold you back. Whenever you start feeling like you are an “imposter” remind yourself that it is okay to feel this way and that you have gotten to where you are because of the work you have put in and the opportunities you’ve seized along the way. Don’t let the “imposter syndrome” hold you back; embrace it and own it!
Taking a gap year, or any time off, will set you back in life
The last common misconception we will cover is the concept of taking a “gap year”, or time off, from work. Many people believe that taking time off from working full-time will cause you to fall behind in your career. Stop this belief; life is long and your career is just one aspect of it. Taking time away from work can not only help you gain new life experiences that broaden your perspectives, it can also help you acquire new skills and insights that can complement your career journey as well. Always remember that behind every employer is a group of human beings who will be able to understand that, sometimes, working full-time just isn’t life’s top priority. It is important that if, and when, you decide time off, you do so with a specific goal in mind. Just as you would explain your job changes throughout your career in a job interview, as long as you can articulate why you decided to take time off between certain jobs and explain what you accomplished, what you learned, and why you are a good fit for the role you are applying to, you should be able to take a “gap year” or “gap months” throughout your career without running into any major issues. Practically speaking, taking 6 months to a year off throughout the course of your career is completely understandable, so don’t be afraid to take some time off throughout your career to explore other life aspirations and goals!
The above summarizes seven common mistakes and misconceptions of young professionals. If there is a point that you would like me to elaborate or if you have questions or concerns regarding anything that I have mentioned, please don’t hesitate to reach out by leaving a comment below or sending me an email. I hope that the insights shared in this article can help accelerate you towards your goals!