RSS
The 5 most common career mistakes
Job seekers often overvalue salary and undervalue the quality of their future colleagues
"A" players actually make fewer job jumps in their bid for the top.
"A" players actually make fewer job jumps in their bid for the top. (Thinkstock)

I've posted about the top five career regrets but what are the most common career mistakes people make?

To shed light on individual behavior during job changes, we conducted a survey of over 400 search consultants from more than 50 industries in mid-2008. The respondents, 67 percent of whom had more than 10 years of experience and 70 percent of whom recruited stars at the senior-executive level or higher, were asked to specify the most common mistakes individuals make when contemplating a job change and the reasons for such mistakes. Also, over 500 C-level executives were interviewed from more than 40 countries in late 2008 about their experiences managing their own human capital. Finally, we posed similar questions to the heads of human resources at 15 multinational companies in mid-2009. [Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance]

The job-change mistakes most frequently identified by recruiters were (1) doing inadequate research; (2) being swayed excessively by money; (3) moving "from" rather than "to"; (4) overestimating oneself; and (5) thinking short term.

Let's dig in and analyze each.

Mistake 1: Doing inadequate research

Research isn't just a good idea before the interview.

It's necessary to understand whether the new company is someplace you're really going to be happy.

Job seekers often fail to "sufficiently [research] the field to know where they might make a good fit," one recruiter said. "They haven't taken stock of their strengths and weaknesses." …Recruiters repeatedly observed that people fail to request specific performance metrics, assuming that the job title sufficiently describes the job. Companies sometimes sweeten job titles to attract top talent — and new recruits at badly managed companies could find themselves in ill-defined jobs whose formal titles are meaningless. [Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance]

Mistake 2: Leaving for money

Because money is an easy measuring stick of success, people often ignore less quantifiable metrics like fulfillment, respect, and good co-workers.

This leads to a bigger salary but less overall happiness.

Money is a scorecard, and people who lack awareness of their true priorities and success factors can be blinded by it. "[ Job seekers] get consumed by compensation and not by fit, so they keep moving, mistaking compensation for recognition, personal satisfaction, et cetera," one recruiter pointed out. "They don't take any time for introspection to understand why they are unhappy where they are." [Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance]

Mistake 3: Moving "from" rather than "to"

This is one of the most common career mistakes I've seen personally: Some people are so eager to escape where they're at, they don't pay much attention to where they're headed.

The third mistake identified by recruiters is allowing discontent in one's present position to build to the point that, as one recruiter put it, "instead of planning their career moves, they lurch from one crisis to the next." [Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance]

Mistake 4: Overestimating oneself

I've posted about overconfidence many times.

People often overestimate their ability to tackle challenges in a new role. Combined with Mistake #1, this can have devastating results.

They are "looking at the current company as being the problem and not acknowledging that they themselves may be a part of the problem," one recruiter said… An inflated self-image also leads job seekers to overestimate their capacity to cope in the new position. [Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance]

Mistake 5: Not taking a long-term perspective

We think of star employees as jumping around, taking bigger and better offers when it suits them.

Research shows A-players actually move to competitors less frequently.

Many stars recognize the value inherent in colleagues, context, and relationships and are smart enough to stick with a good thing.

Our finding that stars move to competitors less frequently than do non-stars (though they probably receive more overtures) suggests that those who have a record of performance to protect may be more cautious, at least in this respect, than those who are still on the ascent and possibly impatient to prove themselves. [Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance]

So what should you do?

Work for the best company you can.

Sounds obvious but it's not. As described above, people's most common career mistakes often involve being lured by salary, titles, or sheer impulsiveness.

Working for top firms makes it easier to become a star in the first place, and the longer people stay, the better they do.

When B-players move to A-level firms, they don't suffer a decrease in performance.

When A-players step down to B-firms, they have the biggest declines.

For ambitious professionals it clearly makes sense to affiliate with, and stick with, the highest-quality organizations. That it is far easier to achieve stardom in the first place at certain employers is an important observation with obvious applicability to individual careers. We also found that though longevity at an employer promotes better performance, the quality of the employer is very important when it comes to fostering first-rate performance. Furthermore, those who moved from lesser firms to superior firms were able to maintain their performance without penalty, while those who left the best firms suffered the greatest declines. Taken together, these findings strongly suggest that choosing an organization that offers high-quality colleagues and first-rate technical and supportive resources is of decisive importance in achieving and maintaining outstanding performance.[Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance]

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

More from Barking up the Wrong Tree

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week