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Home > Reading Room > Bad Career Habits: Why Great People Have Not-So-Great Careers

SPJ Reading Room

Bad Career Habits: Why Great People Have Not-So-Great Careers

By Ross Macpherson

Working in the career industry, I see literally hundreds of resumes and hundreds of people on a regular basis, and I'm never short of amazed and fascinated at the degree of talent, training and expertise out there. And then, I ask myself, "If there are so many above-average people out there, why are so many getting below-average results in their career?"

If I could answer this question, I thought, I'd have the basis for a very good article (if I could bottle it, I could make millions and retire!).

The problem actually has nothing to do with how well people do their jobs; rather, the problem lies in the practice of poor career habits. We go to school, get our degrees, upgrade our skills and earn professional certification. But no one ever taught us how to succeed. We stay at the very forefront of our respective industries but then shoot ourselves in the foot because either we don't know what to do with this knowledge and experience, or we keep employing the same poor habits in our career, hoping that one day we'll get a different result.

Well, now is the time to change, and the first step is to identify the habits that are getting in our way.

1. Lack of enthusiasm
How many of you wake up refreshed, invigorated and ready to take on the day with a smile, an abundance of energy and an "attitude of gratitude"? My guess is, not many. And yet, the most successful people in our world achieve what they do because they bring to it the right passion and the right level of enthusiasm. The problem is, most people approach each day with very little enthusiasm — they crawl out of bed, drag themselves around the house getting ready, travel to work in silence, drag themselves home, fumble through dinner, watch television, pass out and then look forward to repeating the whole process again tomorrow. No wonder you lack enthusiasm!

Solution: Do what you can to wake up invigorated, and let those first few hours set the tone for the rest of your day. Sing in the shower, smile to the first person you see, tickle your kids, walk to work (or at least part of the way), listen to music that gets you moving, walk with your head up high (not looking down) and approach your day like it's going to the best yet. If you really want energy, start an exercise regime and improve your diet. It sounds simple, but if it's so simple, then why isn't everyone doing it? You'd be amazed what you can accomplish when you bring this kind of enthusiasm and energy to each day!

2. Wishy-washy goals and no plan
Someone once said, "A goal is just a dream if it's not written down." Many of us have goals, but they are in our head, they're not specific, and we have no concrete actionable plan to get there — it's just something we want. If you want it badly enough, set the wheels in motion by writing down your goal and putting a sequenced, action-oriented plan together for how and when you will achieve it. The most successful people always have a plan — you should too.

Solution: Let's say you want to be the managing editor for yourlocal newspaper. Put together a plan for what you will need to achieve in order to make that happen, and be sure to include a deadline for achieving it. Then, break down what steps you can start taking now to get there, and give each of these steps a deadline too. Then be sure to schedule these steps into your day timer or whatever method would work best for you to stick to it. It doesn't matter how big or small the step is. As long as it's on the right path, you'll get there!

3. Poor self-marketing
Many people approach their career as if someone else is responsible for their success. It's the boss's fault if you don't get a promotion or raise, it's the market's fault if your resume is not getting results, it's the interviewer's fault for not asking the right questions, and so on. In order to be successful, you must realize that you are responsible for marketing yourself, and you have to market yourself! Too many talented people either fail to market themselves or try to do it using outmoded techniques. Your resume and cover letter have to be spectacular and market your value, you must be able to communicate this value in an interview no matter how competent or incompetent the interviewer is, and you must make certain that you and your achievements are known by the right people. Once you employ and master effective self-marketing in your career, you become the person in charge of your career, and the doors start opening.

Solution: Make certain that all of your career marketing documents are top-notch and up to date. If you feel your communication skills could improve, take a class or get some coaching to make certain that you can sell yourself at the drop of a hat. And lastly, make certain that the right people know who you are, what you've done, and what you can do. Believe it or not, your boss doesn't necessarily have the best insight into your achievements and value, so let him/her know as you achieve them, volunteer for projects that get you in front of top people, and start marketing yourself!

4. Trying to do it all alone
Somewhere along the way, while no one ever told us how to have a successful and rewarding career, we nevertheless came up with the idea that we have to do it all by ourselves. We don't necessarily think we need to fix our cars by ourselves, or repatch the roof, but somehow people think that their own personal and professional success is a solitary venture. The truth is that successful people almost always have a supporting team of individuals to help them reach their goals. They also surround themselves with positive and enthusiastic people who can keep the fires burning inside — a negative group can deflate you even faster than a positive group can inspire you.

Solution: Get yourself a mentor, a coach, group of colleagues, etc., to help you achieve your career goals, surround yourself with positive people, and get assistance where you think you need it. Essentially, you're building what I call a success team — an invaluable resource to help you achieve your dreams.

5. Giving into fear
Without question, the biggest thing that keeps talented people from achieving their goals is their own self-imposed fears — fear of failure, of success, of embarrassment or humiliation, or of just trying something they've never tried before. The fears and doubts that keep us from taking any action will not go away unless you refuse to listen to them.

Shakespeare said, "Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt."

It was true 400 years ago, and it's true now.

Solution: Change your mindset. Instead of thinking about what could go wrong if you did take action, take a good look at what would happen if you didn't. Really think about it and the consequences. If you don't take a bold new step to get that new job, what will happen, or not happen? Don't fear trying; fear not trying, because that's the real failure. Be strong, be willing to fall down occasionally, be willing to learn from mistakes, be ready to enjoy your successes, stay positive and boldly move in the direction of your career dreams. Once you start, it creates a chain reaction and a momentum that will move you in the direction of your dreams faster than you can imagine.

Ross Macpherson is the President of Career Quest, a certified professional resume writer, and a career success coach who has helped thousands of professionals advance their careers. Get your copy of his free report "The 7 Most Powerful Strategies for Job Search Success" and receive his e-newsletter Career Accelerator by visiting yourcareerquest.com.

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