The Biggest Mistakes We Do About Our Career Development 

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❇️ Mistake #1: Thinking of Vertical Development Only

The most common thought of many is that career development means a vertical shift to leadership or managerial roles. And this is not a surprise, mostly we have been taught that building up your career literally means “building it UP”, so vertically. And when young people start in their jobs and ask what the career opportunities are there for me in this company, they might hear that one day they can become senior professionals in their roles and then, later on, become team leads, and then, when everything goes well, – even heads of their departments. 

🌿 So what is wrong with thinking of “vertical” career development? 

First of all, not every professional in the world has to become a manager. When this would be the only track that people were pursuing, then we might struggle to have those best core principal engineers who create innovation or the best salespeople, who bring millions of new revenue, or any person who contributes to a product or service creation with their skills and hands-on work.

🌿 How you can benefit from thinking in other directions and what are they? 

When I work with my clients to help them build their career vision or make tough career decisions, I always encourage them to work through and prepare several career options. This gives you a variety of options that you can follow in case circumstances change. Imagine that you have prepared yourself for vertical career development, but at some point, your company is lacking funding and growth is no longer is invested in. Or your direct manager, whose role you wish to take over, is not transitioning or leaving the company for the next 10 years. 

I have developed a tailored coaching program “My Career Vision” which has exactly this purpose at its core – to design your career options and identify the track that is aligned with your personal vision of your future. During this program we work through several career choices: 

  1. 🌿 Stabilize your career: helps you figure out the way how to be more successful, content, and happy with your current role in the current organization. 
  2. 🌿 Internal Search:  helps you find a better role that suits your skills and career aspirations within the current organization. A step that is very often skipped by so many people. And it shouldn’t be skipped, since you may find the right role for you among people that already know you and appreciate you as a professional. 
  3. 🌿 Stretch your career: helps you use your best strengths and continue doing what you love, but search for another organization where you can do it best, or find a new form of engagement (free-lance, consultancy, etc.) and receive the appreciation and compensation you deserve. 
  4. 🌿 Transform your career: helps you search for a completely new role in the new organization. Sometimes we really need a shift to truly unlock our potential and get to the place where we can achieve things we are truly proud of. 

What I would like to encourage you to do, is to think of several career options, understand and envision really well how each of them will affect you when they are implemented, and decide which of these visions is the most exciting for you. Only then you can plan for the future and identify the right steps you can start making today to get to that perfect vision.

❇️ Mistake #2: Leaving It Up to Company Policies 

The latest McKinsey report is showing us that the top reason to quit a previous job is a lack of career development. I have heard this multiple times in my HR career and can confirm this is and was one of the top reasons for years now.

As a Head of HR, my role was always focused on creating career opportunities for people on the team and making sure there are always enough opportunities to offer to our team members. I have to admit that sometimes, especially in startups or small companies by design, it is quite difficult to generate enough career opportunities for everyone. Imagine, the org chart is yet not in place, a startup is quite small and everyone needs to wear so “many hats” every day, so that cool role that you want to grow into is just not yet existing there. And that’s what usually startups use very wisely – they hire you to do the tough job today, so that one day, when the business scales, you can be promoted to a VP of something. Well, quite a few people do get what they were promised, others just see how their startup hires more experienced VPs when the time comes, because that is what attracts VCs better and overall looks way better for employer brand.

Another example you can see in more established companies is when career development is prescribed by the policy – there is a specific career level you are at at the moment and you have a clear path that you can take from this spot unless you want to shift the role completely.

As an HR I would say that both these options are focused to suit those businesses and their needs:

  • While startup management truly cannot offer you anything specific in the future, because everything is changing too fast and the business itself has to survive and scale,
  • A more mature organization would think about structuring career development in a way that it would work as a policy, clear to everyone, where career levels are prescribed for you already. You just need to work hard, follow through, and fit in those boxes.

As a coach, though, I have to say that companies should be more focused on the needs of their people. And it is only possible when the management understands what are the people’s needs in career development. My own research that I have done as an HR in previous companies had shown that when people are asked why they are not satisfied with career development and what they would want to change the most, most of them mention:

  • 🌿 “I have stopped learning new things”
  • 🌿 “I don’t see the value of what I do anymore”
  • 🌿 “I am sure I can do more than I do today in the current role”
  • 🌿 “I am ready for a bigger challenge”
  • 🌿 “I want to be appreciated more (more benefits, higher salary, authority level, etc.)”

And now look at this list of reasons and answer me – how can this be solved with the career grading systems or career leveling?

We have to create organizations that give people the opportunity to learn and develop constantly, create an environment for people to create great things, and reward them accordingly for their contributions. Now, when it is your career we are talking about, I am encouraging every one of you to think about your personal learning, development, and achievements you want to be proud of in the future and consistently go towards what you envision for yourself. When it is something that doesn’t fit those career grades, described in your company policy, but you are confident in what you want – talk to your manager and your team, and ask whether they see benefits in what you would like to do. Usually, there are much more opportunities that we can see in company policies.

❇️ Mistake #3: Not Building Up on Your Strengths 

As much as it seems obvious and more pleasant to focus on your strengths, not everyone is truly investing in their strengths as the core of their future career achievements. This has several reasons:

  • A lot of managers tend to give feedback to their team members based on what is not yet working well and therefore push you to develop those areas which you may call your weaknesses, rather than your strengths.
  • At times, it may feel like our strengths are something we already have and won’t lose, but for our career development, we should develop something new, something we are not doing successfully today.

Both of the above may be correct and have some sense when you are absolutely sure that for the future career or the future role that you pursue strengthening something of your weaknesses is necessary. Otherwise, look into what are your strengths, because most of the time they are rooted in your core talents, core skills, and even your values. Developing them to the extent of excellence may be much more beneficial for you personally.

As an example, I can tell you a piece of my story. At the beginning of my career I have been working as a generalist quite a lot – when it came to scaling the team, I would be the one who would do the hiring, but then I would jump into onboarding, employing new team members, and making sure everything is set for success for those people on the team – starting from the employment contract and other paperwork, ending up with providing sales training, people analytics, organizational design and corporate events. This brought me to a great career development on paper – I have been managing and leading People & Culture teams, I have been managing business operations, I have been opening new offices, I have been launching new business, and so many more. Can I say that being a generalist is my strength? Maybe. But I now have a feeling that my biggest strenghts of empathy, a will to help and good project management skills had worked well for me. I have always been good at creating meaningful connections with people, supporting other people’s growth, mentorship, empathy, and support, and everything that lead me eventually to coaching.

Why was I good as a generalist? Because I never could say “no” to my management. And every time there were a bunch of tasks to do (even when they didn’t make any sense together) my strengths of being supportive, being “a helper”, and my abilty to respond quickly to help my management achive what is planned, – those were a set of strenghts that I have used. And of course, some level of curiosity and the intellectual challenge was also something I value a lot. But when I have reflected on “what is that I do the best” and realized that I have a strong capacity and a set of skills to help people, I knew where to direct that – coaching people and teams.

I don’t want to create a notion that you should only focus on your strengths. In one of my previous blog posts, “Strengths vs Weaknesses”, I am writing about how even our strengths can become our weaknesses and when it is important to work on both in balance. But when you are thinking about your future career and choosing the best track for you to achieve that career vision of yours, I highly recommend clearly assessing and being aware of your strengths, because they give you confidence and they are the roots for your best achievements. With my coaching clients, I often do the Strengths Profiling in order to help them identify that unique set of strengths that will help them become more confident and build their success on their core natural talents.

❇️ Mistake #4: Leaving “Personal” Out of the Equation 

I think this is an easy one to admit as a mistake, but not that easy to avoid. When we are thinking about our career or our job – for some amount of people it is like a separate part of their lives. There is “home”, “personal”, “family”, and then there is – “career”, something that would be great to build in in your life and be happy with it, but hard to actually find such a job that won’t interfere with your wish to just stay home, be with your family, or travel.

I know it is not always possible to truly “find what you love to do so that you won’t work any day of your life”. This results in so many people being just unhappy with their jobs, burning out, or “quietly quitting”. And it terrifies me how many people are actually struggling to enjoy their lives because 5 days a week they have to do something that doesn’t bring satisfaction and happiness.

This is the core purpose of what I do as a coach – I want to help people become truly happy and content with their professional lives! I want everyone to be their whole self everywhere – whether it is a living room, while you are with your family, or it is a meeting room full of executives or colleagues. And the first step that I work on with my clients is working on the awareness that our “job-selves” and our “personal-selves” are the same “self” and it deserves to have the freedom to stick to their core values, needs, and dreams everywhere you go.

Now imagine you are planning a career shift or you would like to negotiate a promotion. It may be that something is expected of you in a new role that will have consequences on your personal life:

  • a new work schedule
  • longer commute, relocation, on-site job (after you got used to working from home)
  • a new manager (could be more demanding, having different values)
  • new skills or certifications expected, so you have to invest in education
  • could be so many more different changes

After we are assessing these changes in terms of our career and how great it would look in our CVs for future job opportunities, I encourage you to always put your personal needs in the equation as well – how it will affect the time you spend with your family, how it will affect your well-being, psychological safety, how well you may be able to satisfy your other personal needs. When after a detailed consideration you feel that the needs of “your whole self” will be satisfied – then you have just spend about 5-10 min to confirm it 🙂 But when you feel that some of your personal needs won’t be satisfied, think of considering a wider range of choices (stabilize, stretch, transform your career, or do an internal search for new roles, as I have mentioned in the section above “Mistake #1”).

❇️ Mistake #5: “The Grass is Always Greener”

The idea that there is always something better out there that we are missing today “here” (wherever it is our current job, our relationships, the town that we live in) had caught even the best of us. It is quite common and normal to want an improvement in your life, but at times, our will to change is driven by illusions and it is very dangerous, since it may not lead to job satisfaction ever.

In the last two and a half years of the Pandemic, it got even harder to assess the new work environment and conditions during the interview process. Imagine that you want to leave your current job because of the toxic culture. You have probably experienced toxicity over the set of events and over some amount of time. All those emails, in which you can now identify passive aggressiveness of your boss between the lines, or those unproductive Zoom weekly meetings, where everyone switched off cameras and is not engaging in the conversation or your Slack posts that got ignored and not responded to. On top of that, it is quite unclear how you can get a promotion because it is impossible to catch your boss online for a deep conversation and one-on-one.

While all of the above are valid concerns, they are just an example of those triggers we can get frustrated of, for example, with the company culture and communication. Now when you will get into the interview process with other organizations, you will try to assess what is the culture out there: how do they communicate with each other, are they nice to me, what they truly value, do they speak well about their colleagues and management. And 99% of the time you will hear great things about the concerns on your list. Most and foremost because this is one of the main goals for the interviews – to promote the role and the organization overall. It is quite rare that you may hear some bluntly honest feedback on the culture from your interviewers.

I would like to encourage you to think about the following few steps when you feel like “I am fed up with this company, and need to find a new job”:

  1. List your concerns as precisely as you can. Don’t forget even small things that annoy or bother you.
  2. ✅ For each item on the list write down one of the chosen options (don’t think about actions yet, just try to evaluate honestly whether this thing on the list is or is not in your area of influence):
    • 🌿 I can control and change this myself
    • 🌿 I can influence this (for example, speak with my manager or my team, I can submit a request, I can call for a meeting and speak up about the problem, etc.)
    • 🌿 I can neither control nor influence this
  3. Try to influence a change. Most of the things usually fall into the second category, as a lot of the things that are frustrating to us, we can at least influence to change. It is your decision whether you want to put an effort into it, but starting with this before going into a new job search could be very rewarding.
My ConcernsMy Levels
Of Influence
My Actions
1. I didn’t get a salary raise in 3 years.
I don’t stand a chance to earn more in thsi company.
I can influence this
(maybe I still can get a raise)
• Ask for 1-on-1 with my boss
• Speak up, raise my concern that the salary review process is not clear
– Ask how can I get a salary raise: if it is possible overall, what should I do for it, how.
2. I am constantly overtiming.I can influence this
(maybe I can get help or a shifted deadline)
• Speak with my team lead about the problem
• Ask for help on this project or for a postponed deadline.
3. The company is downsizing. I am not sure whether my role is secure. I can influence this
(I can try getting some clarity on the stability of my role)
• Speak with my management and voice my concerns and fears
• State that I need to plan for my future, and I would appreciate to know some of the company plans and whether my role is secure with it.
• Ask whether I am secure in this role, considering my performanec and my results?
• Ask for honesty – whether I would need to look for a job.
• When “yes” – then agree on the transition time that will suit me.
My Concerns & Actions (example)

Quite a lot of times, when we truly put an effort to bring a change to our organizations, our managers can hear us more clearly. When the team doesn’t have an effective feedback process and enough psychological safety for the feedback culture to develop, managers in such organizations operate blindly and have no idea what is actually happening in their teams’ minds: what motivates them and what frustrates them. So opening up, speaking up, and providing feedback even to your manager – are very simple, but at times become very transformative events.

Now let’s imagine you have tried to bring the change to your current organization but it didn’t work out. It can happen and it will only convince you completely, that you need a change. When you prepare yourself for the interviews, take that list of concerns and think about how you will assess those things in other organizations. And how you will validate for yourself that you are not going to join a team with the same frustrations you had just the last time.

When you feel you might need help in planning your career, shifting to a new role, or influencing the change in your current organization, I am here to help. I am coaching where “personal” meets “professional”. I help these two live in harmony and help you bring your whole content self everywhere you go, whether it is a career development conversation with your manager or a family dinner.

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