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Common career mistakes you must avoid (Part 2)

5. Being reckless

Pride comes before a fall. Everyone knows that, yet how many heed it? And where does pride come in at work? Basically, when we think we know better than our boss. Now, don’t get me wrong; many of us DO know more than our boss. But he is the boss for a reason, and the worst thing we can do is be reckless with our career and clash with him/her. It does not matter that you are right; in organisational politics, when you challenge your boss regardless if you are right, you are wrong. It reminds me of a not-so-hilarious placard that reads,

Office Rules

Rule #1: The boss is always right

Rule #2: If the boss is wrong, see Rule #1

While it is supposed to be used tongue-in-cheek-ly, it is not-so-hilarious because it is right. And if someone forgets that and judges the boss to be incompetent and a lousy leader, he might find himself at the receiving end of a dismissal. And that dismissal may well be engineered by the boss himself. He might either make things very difficult for you that you capitulate and quit, or he might dish out all kinds of performance issues against you that he fires you. Either way, you lose! You must NEVER lose control of your career navigator. Even if you work for an incompetent boss who makes unreasonable demands on you, stay the course. Do well. Rise above the politics. It can be done as it has been done many times before. Focus on why you are there – it is to build your career. There must be a reason why you chose that job in the first place, so focus on that; and now that you are in there, you have to fulfill the requirements of the job despite your boss. You are not there for your boss, you are there for yourself. Never lose sight of that.

Remember, you cannot control having a good or bad boss, but you can control your response to such a boss. Always keep your response professional and focused on building value for the company. Then, when you have created positive ROI for both you and the company, you can leave. This would not derail you from your Career Intent and instead will build great resilience and career experience for you. There is still a win-win in such situations. Just don’t let your pride take over your rationalization, and don’t be reckless with your career. And never, ever, threaten to quit your job without having secured one. And even if you have secured one, never, ever, burn bridges. The market is always small, and people will talk about you. Once they shut you out, you are out!

6. No compelling value

Yes, we acknowledge that there is a myriad of jobs out there, and a roti prata dough mixer is one of them. Now, I don’t mean to knock the roti prata dough mixers of this world, and I, for one, love a great roti prata as much as the other person. But let’s be honest, if you are one, how much value would this job provide you if indeed your career intention is to be an aerospace engineer? Not much, right? So, this goes to show that what you do today will have an impact of whether you get to do what you want tomorrow. A professional roti prata dough mixer will never be able to secure as his next job, a senior professional engineer at Rolls Royce (unless of course, he did have a senior professional engineer position in another aerospace firm earlier and was just moving between jobs. But that is a different story unrelated to a professional roti prata dough mixer.)

Firstly, how are the two jobs linked? And secondly, what compelling value does the roti prata dough mixer job have for Rolls Royce? Now if the roti prata dough mixer wanted to be a top-class chef in a Michelin starred restaurant, then yes, there is inherent value in that job. Perhaps not a lot to start with, but higher than the Rolls Royce job. So, do you get it now? Whatever job you are doing now must have compelling value for the next hiring manager, otherwise he will treat you as a new entrant, no matter what you are currently earning, no matter at what level. What this means is that you have to create a fluent, stepped career story where one job leads to another, where each job holds a compelling value for the employer of the next job. On and on it goes. So, if you cannot link your current job to your career intent (assuming you have one already), then you have to seriously think about positioning yourself to get to your intent. The earlier you start, the earlier you will get there.

7. Ignoring economics

Everything is driven by demand and supply; even your salary. A person can be paid $20,000 a month simply because the demand for the person’s skills far outstrips the supply in the market. If you are the only defence economics professor in the country, then your value to defence contractors is very high, and they will have to outbid each other to hire you. Conversely, if there are many people in your country offering the same skillset, then your value will be determined by the market; regardless of whether you were the best in your class. Many people make the mistake of thinking that they have very high-value skills; and try to use these to move onto a higher job position or to a new industry.

They sometimes fail to recognize that their competition comes not just from people who have experience, but also those who are fresh graduates. The larger the pool of candidates, the lower would be your value. This again reinforces the point that we have to remain ahead of the curve, to be the front runner in our career, to create value where others have not seen it. If we are able to differentiate ourselves to the point that there is only a supply of one but with a demand of, say, 20, then we basically set the price. But also remember, this might quickly turn against you, because someone else may come in to redefine the boundaries of this market, and you swiftly move from price setter to price taker; or worse, to no price at all! You must therefore always be aware of how big your market is and be aware of the forces that try to shift that away from you. It only takes one disruption to move you from hero to zero; and vice versa. Again, be on top of your game!

8. Being anonymous

There is a wise saying that goes, “It is not who you know that’s important, but who knows you.” That is very true. For instance, I know Richard Branson, I know James Dyson, I know Jack Ma. Unfortunately, they don’t know me. So, it really does nothing for my career if they don’t know I even exist. If you want to increase your value, create your market, grow your competencies, and be rewarded for that, you need to grow your network. You cannot simply sit back and wait for people to take notice of you.

Most people are too busy with their own worries, with their own careers, to notice yours. Only when you can add value to them will they remember you. This means you have to be active in creating and selling your value. One good way is through LinkedIn. You might not like to be on social media, but others do. And they try to suss you out there. If you are not online, and you are not creating your value there – in other words, you are being anonymous – then don’t be surprised that no one knows you. And if no one knows you, then no one can help you. Don’t be the world’s best kept engineering professional secret; go out there and advertise your talents, your differentiated value proposition. It is only in marketing yourself will people come to listen and take notice.

To be continued ......

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