7 Pitfalls to Avoid as You Launch Your Career - America's Future Foundation

October 28, 2019

Career Advice

7 Pitfalls to Avoid as You Launch Your Career

By: Claire Kittle Dixon

As I look back on my early career, I can’t believe I’m not stuck working at a place like Chotchkie’s. Why? Well, I made a lot of boneheaded decisions and missed out on some great opportunities. And mostly because I just didn’t know any better.

Such is the case for many recent graduates. After all, the transition from college to career is a bumpy one at best. It’s riddled with opportunities to make mistakes. The good news, though, is that most of these blunders can be avoided easily.

With that in mind, here are 7 pitfalls young professionals should steer clear of as they launch their careers.

1. Being unwilling to leave your comfort zone
After college, it’s tempting to head back to your hometown and start a new life — and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you’re itching to launch a career that advances liberty, that might be hard to do if your hometown is like mine was (one stoplight, population 987).

Arguably, you’ll never be more “free” to experience what the world has to offer than immediately after your undergraduate studies. Now is the time to take a chance, to move somewhere new and exciting, and to expand your horizons. Remember, you can always go back home. And when you do, you’ll go back knowing you weren’t afraid to leave your comfort zone.

2. Pigeonholing yourself
Early in your career, it’s easy to follow a shiny object down a career path that doesn’t make sense for your skills. Case in point: would you believe all three Talent Marketeers (Lauren, Katy, and yours truly) originally thought we wanted to go into policy analysis when we launched our liberty careers? Looking back, it seems obvious that policy isn’t the best fit for our skills. And yet, policy is the area that so many recent graduates have in mind when they commence their careers.

Of course, there are countless other options in the liberty space: development, communications, media, project management, law, coalitions, finance, operations, advocacy, etc. Before you commit to a path, make sure you think through your skills and interests and the requirements for different roles. Still not sure? Reach out to Katy (our resident early career expert) for advice!

3. Not having a long-sighted view of “grunt work”
Have you ever met a young professional who says, “Grunt work? I LOVE grunt work. Pile it on! I can’t get enough!” Yeah, me either.
But the reality is that grunt work (data entry, event logistics, scrubbing data, etc.) is often part of early-career jobs.

Is it sexy? No. But it is often very important work. Don’t believe me? Put the decimal point for that $100,000.00 gift in the wrong place in the database and watch the spark fly!

Ultimately, this grunt work will give you a firm understanding of what it takes to have reliable data in your database, an event that runs like a well-oiled machine, etc. Most importantly, this foundation of knowledge sets the stage for managing and building things later in your career.

And the more quickly you master the grunt work, the more quickly you’ll be asked to move on to more challenging tasks!

4. Thinking you know everything
I thought my first boss was clueless. I couldn’t understand why he made the decisions he did, and my inner voice was fond of asking: “How is this dude still in business?”

But the reality is I was the clueless one. I didn’t know the first thing about the business he was running. I just parachuted in from college life; so, my expertise didn’t extend beyond keg stands and beer pong. Instead of questioning his every move, I should have been soaking up his expertise.

The danger of thinking you know everything is immense: if you believe you have all the answers, you won’t be open to learning from those around you. And if you don’t learn from others, your career trajectory will nosedive faster than you can say “beer pong is not a marketable skill.”

5. Job jumping without good reason
Early in your career, it’s tempting to change jobs in exchange for a little bump in salary, flexibility in hours, or more vacation. And it can be tempting to do it again. And again. And maybe even again.

If you’re not careful, your resume could end up being a train wreck of short tenures: 6 months here, 18 months there, a year here, 9 months there.

And before you know it, your resume might actually prevent you from getting a job. I cannot tell you how many hiring managers have told me they won’t even interview a candidate because the person has made too many job moves. Not only does a resume like this show a lack of commitment, it also demonstrates a lack of depth (because you can’t become an expert in 6 months unless your job is making subs at Jersey Mike’s).

6. Asking for a raise too early
As you likely know, one of the biggest gripes senior managers have about about Millennials is that they are entitled. Unfortunately, it’s hard to dissuade managers of this notion when an average-performing entry level staff member asks for a raise three months into the job. Now, I’m a capitalist pig and want you to maximize your income, but let’s be smart about it.

Before asking for a raise, make sure these things are true:
-You have been with the organization for a respectable period of time (say, a year; if there are extraordinary circumstances involved, you may shorten the time frame)
-You have been exceeding (not just meeting) expectations
-Market research tells you that you should be earning more

Finally, remember that your personal desires (to buy a new Beemer or take weekend concert trips to Red Rocks) should NOT factor into the equation. Your salary should be based on the value you bring to your organization. Period.

7. Forgetting the importance of reputation
From the moment you begin your first job, you have started building your reputation. Every deadline you meet, report you nail, and project you execute flawlessly will help shape a positive reputation. Conversely, every meeting you miss, project you slack off on, and work event in which you over-serve yourself will tarnish your reputation. Eventually your reputation will be far more important than your resume, so make sure to create a positive one!

We hope this list is helpful. Remember: if you avoid these 7 pitfalls, you’ll never have to wear 37 pieces of flair.

This post originally appeared at talentmarket.org.