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10 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Career

You may be surprised by the kinds of mistakes that can cost you big in your career. (Here’s a hint, not one of them has anything to do with the fact that you’re reading this article right now at work.)

Photo: Getty/ The Nest

Ready for a shocker? Working hard--and being pretty good at what you do--isn’t the way to get a raise or promotion. The real secret is avoiding these on-the-job traps.

You’re keeping a low profile. You think you’re being smart by keeping your head down and working hard. But here’s the thing: Staying under your boss’s radar may help if you’re just looking to get by, but to get ahead, you need to get noticed, says Lois Frankel, president of Corporate Coaching International and author of Pushback: How Smart Women Ask--and Stand Up--for What They Want. So put yourself out there: volunteer for that extra project, speak up in meetings and rally for an after-work happy hour.

You’re asking the wrong people for advice. Don’t get us wrong: mom and dad are good for many things, but career advice? Not so much. “The feedback they provide is usually based on what they would choose for themselves, rather than what’s best for your unique career situation and personal priorities,” says career coach Maret McCoy. A better bet? Go get yourself a mentor who’s been where you are, moved up to the next level and can steer you in the right direction. Someday you’ll repay the favor by mentoring somebody else.

You think pointing out your accomplishments is bragging. Here’s the difference, bragging is when you tell your co-workers how you came in 10% under budget and a week early (co-workers, who by the way, didn’t ask); pointing out your accomplishments is when you tell your boss (whether she asks or not). “Good work doesn’t speak for itself,” says Frankel. “You need to call attention to what you’re doing.” Send your boss a memo highlighting your major accomplishments six weeks before your performance review. “Simply say, ‘I don’t expect you to remember everything I accomplished over the past year, so I’ve listed out my key accomplishments,” advises Frankel. What boss will refuse anything that helps her get through that time drain known as performance reviews?

You’re avoiding office politics. We’re not talking about the Devil Wears Prada-like backbiting, gossip and clique-y behavior that happens in some workplaces. We mean understanding what other people need, helping them to achieve it, then having the right to ask for what you need. “It’s simply quid pro quo, and it’s the way the world works,” says Frankel. So instead of skipping that office happy hour again, go and get to know your co-workers. Just keep in mind that overdoing it on the booze and dancing on the tables will get you recognized—as someone who can’t handle her booze. Not exactly manager material.

You’re failing to think ahead. The “Where do you see yourself in five years?” interview question is a little cheesy—but considering it often can help you stay on track. “A common mistake people make is focusing narrowly on their current job to the exclusion of their overall career,” says McCoy. “While it’s very important to do your best every day in your current position, you also want to focus on the future. Keep your resume up to date, your professional network strong and your skills sharp. That way you’ll be prepared to take the next step when the opportunity presents itself.”

You don’t like asking for help. Newsflash: you don’t have it all figured out--no one does. Getting opinions, advice or an extra hand on something isn’t going to make you look bad; but not finding a solution or finishing a job is.

You’re too sensitive. If you regularly take offense at a colleague’s slight or a perceived criticism from your boss, it’s time to lighten up. “When a co-worker says something you perceive as being critical, it may simply be they’re having a bad day and their behavior has nothing to do with you,” says McCoy. “Let any perceived criticism roll off your back. Your colleagues will appreciate your maturity, self-confidence and the loyalty you display by not turning your back on them.” And maybe you’ll finally drop your rep as that touchy girl.

You’re afraid to leave a steady (if not-so-fulfilling) job. Look at it this way, the average retirement age is about 65, do you really want to do something you don’t love for the next, oh say 35 years?! Hmm, didn’t think so. “I don’t hate my job,” isn’t enough of a reason to stay in a position. Yes, it’s scary, especially when you have friends at your job, and it’s tough, but it’s worth it.

You’re becoming too specialized. Let’s be honest: you’re not usually the one who volunteers to do things that “aren’t in your job description.” Well, that might be good in the short term, as in very short term, since it means you can head out at the stroke of 5 p.m. without worrying that you didn’t get everything done. But, you’re inadvertently making yourself less qualified for your next job. You know the one that pays more and that you may like better. “People who can do a little bit of everything are making out well,” says Frankel. “Companies don’t have the luxury of specialists for everything.”

You pooh-pooh praise. There’s nothing wrong with accepting a compliment. Erase ‘Oh, it was nothing’ from your vocabulary advises Frankel. “Replace it with ‘Thank you for noticing, I worked hard on it and appreciate the feedback.’” Accepting the compliment shows that you’re confident in your talents and abilities.

-- Lisa Milbrand has written about love and relationships (and a host of other less important topics) for The Knot, The Nest and The Bump, among dozens of other publications

See More: Career Coach