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Common career mistakes you must avoid (Part 1)

No matter at what stage you are now in your career, you can always go higher. I was just speaking to the former CEO of a large manufacturing company with 5,000 people working for him. He had just left his job after many successful years, and no sooner had he stepped out of the office building, a headhunter called him and talked him into taking another, larger CEO role. In the Middle East! And how old is he now? 64 years young!

This just goes to show that if we manage our career right, we will constantly be sought after, we would constantly get a better job. It is an upward trajectory!

Of course, for every such successful CEO, there might well be 50 (or even 5,000!) less successful careerists; people who struggle to overcome a downsizing exercise or a job migration. These are the people who have faithfully come to work for the company for the past 20 years or so, and who have been ignominiously given the pink slip and asked to leave.

Suddenly, their reason for waking up early in the morning, for giving up their weekend to meet a deadline, for missing their kids’ every developmental milestone just flew out the window. And with that, their self-worth. So for all of us who might be staring at such an eventuality (and you will never know when that will strike!), take heed of these 12 common career mistakes you must avoid – and start correcting them TODAY!

1. Not having a career intent (or goal)

This is one of the biggest culprits for people not going to where they want, or should, go. That is because they have no clue where they should be in the first place! When someone does not have a career intent - or goal - they will go where opportunity takes them. This is akin to gambling with your career; sure, you may be lucky, but can you be lucky ALL THE TIME?

Relying on luck to make your career decisions is extremely reckless, something that you have no control over. Your career is one of the most important things in your life, since it provides earning power to live out your dreams and gives you a sense of self-worth. I am sure you have met people who had suddenly lost their job; they lose a little bit of themselves each passing week, and over time, they lose their self-confidence.

Don’t let this happen to you. You need to have a clear career purpose - your career intent - and keep that focused in front of you as you build your steps toward this intent. The intent cannot be a simple one; it has to be a calling, something you will strive for over time.

For me, my career intent is to be the best organisational business consultant in Singapore. Of course, in order to be one, I would have to be a CEO (because if I have not been a CEO and understood all the vagaries of a CEO, how can I consult? I need to be authentic!) And in order to be a CEO, I would have to work my way up, perhaps as a COO. And before that, I would have to be a senior manager or director. And true to my career intent, I had been all these, from director to COO to CEO. And now, am I the best organisational business consultant in Singapore? Well, I am not so sure. I am consulting, for sure, but not in Singapore. I am currently consulting in Qatar! And I am enlarging my experience and knowledge and value in so many more ways than one! So, one might say I have met my career intent; but I won’t say that I have. I am not nearly at the level of consultant I want to be. This therefore pushes me on, giving me the drive to build the next stage of my career! And the next…

So, for those of you who have always relied on luck, or your family and friends, to help you out in your job search, it is time to create your own luck by identifying your Career Intent, and from there, work your way back to where you are now. This will become your Career Map – the path you need to navigate from where you are to get to where you want to be. Nothing good will ever come to one who just sat around and waited for his Career Goal to fall on his lap!

2. Giving everything to your employer

I am sure many of you have bought into the “lies” that have been told to you, either by the big corporations, the government, your friends, or even your parents. The “lie” is this: study hard, do well in school, get a great job, work hard and don’t create trouble for your boss. Then, after 35 years with them, you can retire and live well. Happily ever after! I say it is a “lie” because while it may have been true 30 years ago, it no longer is.

Yet, many people today still believe it to be true, and many corporations still try to tout it as the truth! In reality, loyalty these days has little value. No sooner will your employer drop you for a newer model, a cheaper version, a more updated employee, when you no longer hold value for them. They just pay you one month’s salary for every year you worked, then they push you out into the cold to fend for yourself. But what can you do if you have been working in the same role or the same company for the past 20 years? Who will value your contribution now if you don’t have career versatility?

If your repertoire is narrow, you may well be obsolete compared with all the fresh entrants to the market (Imagine that! The kids are now graduating with AI development capabilities as well as business insider and marketing capabilities! They can identify your market segment, know who the best customers are, what they spend their money on, and more importantly, what they are going to spend on NEXT, even before they enter your company!). You are therefore older, more expensive, slower, set in your ways and probably not current. Why would anyone want to hire you amidst your competition? Even if you were willing to start from scratch, you will never be able to beat the young ones who are just entering the market! The motive to hire the newbies are much stronger than keeping you under employment. And so, they will let you go.

The reality is that there is NO loyalty, either from employer or employee, these days. Your employer will not feel bad if you left them after 3 to 5 years, just as they won’t feel bad asking you to leave, so you should not feel bad leaving them. After you have developed new skills, accomplished greater things, added value to your company, returned them a good ROI for your employment, it would be time for you to leave.

By creating a wide repertoire of skills and accomplishments, you are guaranteeing yourself Career Resilience; you are making yourself a better hire, not a poorer one. These days, no one frowns on someone who hops from one job to the next; they only frown on one who cannot add value both to the company and to oneself. So if you have been in your job for some time now, or if you are still in your first job after more than 5 years, do think about this seriously; find a new job or new employer (or both) who will give you a leg up on your career path. This is the only sure bet against being redundant – not just from your company, but from your life!

3. Not being current

This brings me to the next point. Many people are comfortable to just coast in their job because they don’t really have to exert and apply themselves; to constantly have to adapt and learn. They are happy to do what they have always done; so long as it remains relevant to the business, they are happy to continue to do that. There is no need to keep up with the times; no need to learn and relearn. They can then focus on other things in life like buying expensive cars, enjoying exotic lifestyle, creating a wonderful social life. If this sounds like you, be careful.

All these are well and good, so long as your company needs your skills; until they don’t. When that day comes, when your job is no longer relevant because the business has moved onto something else, and they can’t redeploy you for lack of career diversity, they will say to you, “Thank you and goodbye.” And what are you left with? Decades-old skills that have little or no market value. If right now you don’t know what machine learning, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, fintech, blockchain, additive manufacturing, or lot-size-of-one are, you are in serious risk of being redundant.

It is your responsibility to remain current with the new technologies of your time, to embrace them and to use them; you will have no one to blame but yourself if you lose your job and your career relevance because your failed to remain current. Start being interested in emerging technology because that will help you remain relevant and valuable. 4. Being complacent / Having no ambition

Just as we discussed in the previous point, when we are complacent in our job or we are not the ambitious type (because we may think that ambitious people are arrogant, manipulative and ruthless), we will not extend ourselves and drive ourselves to the next level. Whilst I am not against someone being contented in their life, there is a fine line between being contented and being complacent. A contented person is happy in whatever job position they are in; a complacent person thinks that job position will always be there for him. And when we couple complacency with a lack of ambition, we have the perfect recipe for someone becoming obsolete very fast. The thing is, such obsolescence used to come after about 10 to 15 years; so we could coast through two or three jobs and retire nicely.

Unfortunately, the pace of change is breathtaking now such that obsolescence can even set in within 5 years; certainly within 10! This returns us to the point of staying relevant. The pace of change is such that we will definitely be hit by changes in the business operating system; and if we cannot keep pace because we are complacent in our job, then we will find that the job too, will be hit by the change. The message here is, therefore, that we cannot just sit back and be contented; we need to be ambitious in our career! Indeed, no one will be interested in your career, no one will be ambitious for you, except you. Your next job will go to the hungry wolf, not the laid-back sloth.

Question is, which are you?

To be continued....

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