Top 5 Mistakes I See Engineers Make in Their Careers
#1 – Forgetting that life is about networking, making connections and not burning bridges.
I see too many people who don’t think ahead about how their actions will affect their career in the future. When you work, you are a part of a team; you have to collaborate, work well with others and be helpful to eachother. The people who tend to find jobs most easily are those who have the biggest networks and positive interactions with their current and former coworkers. Behavior at work that is off-putting to your supervisors and colleagues will lead to a lack of networking opportunities and a shortage of references when you need them most.
#2 - Not progressing your skill set or learning new things.
For an engineer this means learning new technologies and working on different problems. Try taking advantage of opportunities in and outside of work; reading, conferences, Meet-Ups, training, side projects, open source work – they all help you grow professionally. You need to be responsible for progressing your own skill set and not leaving that responsibility to your current employer. Your skill set is what keeps you marketable and valuable to current and future employers.
#3 – Chasing the money.
As a recruiter, this is the pitfall I see the most. Too many people evaluate which job to take or when to leave a job based primarily on money. This is almost always a huge mistake. Yes, money is very important and should be a main criteria when thinking about career choices, but you need to consider what will be most rewarding and valuable, and what will benefit your career most (both short- and long-term). It’s valid to want to leave a job for financial reasons, just be sure to take all the decision points into account before making your choice, and don’t become overly influenced by the financial impact of a job change.
#4 – Focusing too much on the “destination” rather than the “journey”.
Sometimes people focus too much on trying to climb the ladder rather than building a skill set, learning their craft and adding value to their organizations. I often encounter people who want to get that Director or VP title long before they are qualified or ready – simply to reach that peak in their career. It is natural to want to progress, and being goal-oriented is a good thing when kept in balance. Being too focused on progression in title and stature often backfires and damages your career, and in some cases it can take years to overcome those mistakes. You also miss out on the valuable experiences you would have gained along a more normal growth path. Be patient, and live in the moment. Remember that over the long-term you will be rewarded for what you learn and contribute more than you will for the title hold.
#5 – Making career choices too quickly or with a lack of information.
When you make a decision without enough research, you could make a mistake with long-lasting effects. For example, putting too much stock in what one friend or colleague tells you or not doing enough research and going simply on “gut-feel.” I often encounter people who ignore mountains of negative data simply because someone they trust tells them otherwise. Another pitfall is looking only at the short- or long-term and not taking both into account. Lastly, I often see people make a rushed and bad choice because of a desire to run away from the job they have. They skip steps because of the pain or anxiety they feel about their situation. It is possible to conduct a very rapid job search without compromising the end result – you just have to be mindful of the research that needs to be done. In the end, you need to take a number of things into account when you make a career decision – even if that includes taking on a new role with your current company. Try to get the perspective of lots of people in your network, not just one or a few – do your due diligence. Finally, consider both the logical and emotional perspectives when making your final choice.
Avoiding these pitfalls and taking deliberate and thoughtful steps to grow your career will enable you to achieve both short- and long term career success.