You can be at any point in your IT career — a newbie who simply wants to hang onto his job, a veteran who needs to prove her worth to her boss, a mid-career pro looking to move on to a new company. No matter where you fall, there are several big mistakes that can send your career into a skid. Avoid them, and you can keep your career trajectory soaring instead of sinking.
Let Your Skills Slide
Has your IT department shrunk since the recession? Your manager’s marching orders may be “do more with less.” You likely find yourself stretched thin, wondering how you will get everything done in a day. No matter how busy you get, it’s vital not to let your skills deteriorate. You may think you don’t have time to spare for building your skills, but you should find some. Today you have more training options than ever. Even if your firm isn’t willing to foot the bill for skills updates, consider investing in yourself. Set aside part of your monthly budget for training. This could pay off in the long run with more than just a salary bump. These efforts can show initiative to your current employer and savvy to prospective future employers.
When looking for a new job or asking for additional responsibility at your current job, you may be tempted to follow the axiom of “fake it until you make it.” This strategy can backfire. Overstating or misrepresenting your qualifications can get you in deep trouble with an employer if you cannot deliver what you promised. At best, you could find your reputation damaged; at worst, you could end up unemployed. Be honest about what you know — and what you don’t. If you want to try something new, your best bet is to communicate to your employer that you are up for a new challenge. Point to past successes with other projects. This will demonstrate that they can trust you to manage a challenging project.
Be a Know-It-All
Almost as dangerous as faking it, an overinflated ego has its own pitfalls. Arrogance can be a career killer. Personal skill and talent will take you far in your job, but the importance of working well with others cannot be overstated. Those who come off as arrogant are often pegged as being difficult and poor team players. Managers and coworkers will often make excuses to avoid working with such people. If that happens often enough, the manager won’t be able to justify keeping such an employee around. If you notice yourself tipping from self-confidence into arrogance, there are a few steps you can take. When referring to personal achievements, also make note of specific contributions other teammates have made. Ask for feedback from trusted friends who can alert you when you may be displaying a know-it-all attitude. Don’t fear vulnerability. People trust others who will openly share their mistakes and limitations.
This one is tricky. Will being certified help your career? The definitive answer to that question is… maybe. The key to this may be to get a feel for what your manager and firm think about certification. Is your manager certified? In the past, has he supported staff who sought certification? Does your firm need certified workers to maintain specific partner relationships? Does your company use certified employees to demonstrate and market expertise to customers? If you can answer those questions affirmatively, certification may be a sensible option for you to pursue.
Stay Under the Radar
In nearly three years of a faltering economy, layoffs have not abated. In this day and age, going unnoticed may seem like a reasonable tactic, but this action can backfire. The right kind of notice can help you hold onto the job you have and possibly earn more or gain a promotion. High-profile initiatives at your firm can offer a prime opportunity to prove your value and demonstrate skills to managers and coworkers. Quantifiable achievements give you something to point to during annual performance and raise reviews.
Don’t Have a Strategy
No one cares more about your career than you do. Critically analyze your skills. Are they in demand? Will demand for those skills remain high? Where are the gaps? How can you bridge them? Make a plan for bolstering the in-demand skills you have and for bridging the gaps. Actions can include training or taking on projects that demonstrate your experience. Develop a plan with concrete and measurable objectives that will elevate your skills to the next level.
Ignore Your Competition
You may be content with your current job, and your employers may be entirely satisfied with your performance. However, as quickly as circumstances change, you cannot rely on the status quo. If you find yourself on the hunt for a new job, you won’t be alone. Prepare now by scanning advertised jobs. If you lost your job today, how would you compare to others in the job pool? What skills are being asked for? Do your current abilities align with employer needs? Have you fallen behind in certain technologies? Do you need a sought-after certification? Do you have the soft skills that would give you an edge over more technically focused applicants? Define areas that need improvement and then develop a solid action plan that will help you become a more attractive job candidate.
Contributed by Ronda Swaney for the Global Knowledge newsletter on June 28, 2011