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Five Dangerous Assumptions Sabotaging Your Career
Published Friday, January 13, 2017

If you are good at your job, your career will blossom, right? Well, not always. Competency is a crucial ingredient for success, but it is not the only ingredient. A fulfilling career takes thought, nurturing, planning and focus.

Many of us seek career advice from our friends, family and bosses. We agonize over relocation, commute times, work/life balance and pay scales. We lament about how opportunities to move up never seem to happen or are delayed. And then we make assumptions that derail our best efforts to move ahead.

Here are five dangerous assumptions to avoid so you can grow your career.

Assumption #1:
“Someone else will help me get the next great job.”

Is someone else in charge of you?  While you may seek counsel from trusted advisors, you alone are in charge of your career path. It’s easy to blame a company or boss for not promoting you, but ultimately you play the key role. What have you been focusing on from a development perspective?  What did you learn from your last position that helped create a stronger personal presence?  Do you know what you don’t know about yourself?

Self-awareness is essential to a successful career. This key emotional intelligence skill will tune you in to your strengths and weaknesses, and can provide the impetus to create an action plan to enhance skills, expand your personal connections and plan your career path. You may not like what you learn, but as Winston Churchill once said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”

Action steps: Ask a few trusted colleagues, friends and family about your interpersonal style and how it impacts your career. Ask clarifying questions and just listen. No rebuttals allowed.

Write the answers down and reread them three days in a row. Then pick two or three steps you can take to leverage your strengths and address your weaknesses. If an aspect of your interpersonal style is holding you back, solicit advice about how you can improve on it. Seek coaching from friends, trusted colleagues or an executive or career coach.

Assumption #2:
“I network okay. It’s fine for my current job.”

Whether you are new or well tenured in your position, it’s easy to think you don’t have to network anymore now that you have a good job. You are wrong. Networking is an important way to meet leaders in your own organization, between divisions and across your industry or profession. If you don’t make networking a priority, you may not be connecting with key individuals. Who are the decision makers within your department, division and region? Who do you know that knows them and how can you ask them to introduce you?

Action steps:  Select two senior leaders and ask to meet each for lunch. Pick their brains about mentoring at your company to learn different skills within your industry or profession. Which industry leaders outside the organization do they know whom you could call? What conferences should you attend?

Even if you have to pay for a local monthly industry association meeting, do so to meet interesting people and learn about their career paths. And don’t forget to join LinkedIn and keep your profile up to date.

Assumption #3:
“I know enough technology to be successful.”

It’s hard to keep up in today’s technology whirlwind, but employers expect you to be technologically fluent. In the old days, it may have been good enough to rely on administrative help for basic webinar or Excel skills, but those days are gone. Everyone must know how to use leading workplace software and online tools.

Action steps: Pick two technology skills you may not need now but could use in the future. Do your database skills need improvement? Do you need to learn how to Skype? Do you know how to synch multiple calendars to keep business and personal schedules on track? Can you create a PowerPoint presentation or share your screen in a videoconference? Research the technology used in your industry and become familiar with it.

Assumption #4:
“My next job is likely to be close by.”

Think more broadly about the opportunities within the organization or even in a portfolio company. How can you learn about the opportunities that might use your skills in a slightly different way? Don’t get locked in to thinking you have to stay within your department, division or even your industry. What other industries could use your skills? If you feel you are stuck where you are, maybe its time to consider moving to another organization.

Action steps: Ask a senior level leader or the CEO how the organization could use your skills down the road. Present a few ideas or a key interest that may help him or her think of your capabilities in a new way. If you work for a larger enterprise, inquire about other offices or portfolio companies that might be a good fit for you. If you are ready to look outside the organization, make a list of potential companies and make a plan to contact them.

Assumption #5:
“Someone will contact me with the next opportunity. I can wait.”

Studies have shown that men will ask for a promotion before they are qualified for advancement because they think they can handle it. Meanwhile, women typically are qualified for a promotion a full year before they ask or are promoted. Remember: You don’t get what you don’t ask for.  

Some people have no trouble advocating for themselves, while others find it frightening. No matter what comes naturally, we all need to learn to be assertive so we can speak up and be ready for the next opportunity. Keep in mind, though, that being assertive is different from being aggressive.

Assertive people voice their opinions and ideas while listening to others; aggressive people attack others and tear down other’s ideas. Make sure you stay in balance by listening to the ideas of others while you are also advocating for yourself. When you do, your colleagues will feel connected to you.

Action steps: Practice with a trusted colleague and watch for verbal patterns that may show weakness, excessive deference, or on the other end, aggression. Once you feel confident in your communication, present one idea for your next role to your boss or boss’s boss. Focus on “I” language: I believe, I think, I have noticed. Ask for his or her opinions and feedback: What have you heard, noticed, believed?

A collaborative dialogue allows differing opinions and dissent while providing an opportunity for you to support and defend your own positions. Create dialogue and keep an open mind.

By avoiding misleading assumptions and taking an active role in nurturing your career, you can navigate pitfalls, build relationships, improve your productivity and become a more effective team member on the path to achieving your professional goals.

Jim Kimberly is president and founder of Sapphire Consulting in Amherst. It provides executive coaching, workforce performance consulting and training for clients throughout New England and the U.S., Canada and Europe. For more information, visit consultsapphire.com. Jim can be reached at jim@consultsapphire.com or 603-889-1099.

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