5 Career Killers You Must Absolutely Avoid

Here are a couple of obvious ways to get yourself in trouble: Insult your boss on Facebook, and look for a new job on company time. But as annoyed as your boss might get over those, they’re usually survivable mistakes, at least as long as you don’t repeat them.

Old Axe stuck in a chopping block with splintersThe real dangers that could lead to your involuntary unemployment are more insidious. They’re not dramatic, and they get worse over time. They’re kind of like rust.

No. 1: Letting Your Skills Slide

One day you’re on the top of the world and the next you realize you really do need experience with Hadoop, mobile app development, security or virtualization. When that happens, your career and earning power are already descending. The drop may begin subtly but depending on your job or company, it might nose dive without much warning.

You’re in technology. Technology changes all the time. If you don’t keep your skills up to date, you’re falling behind as surely as the old technology you grew up on. If you’re in this position, the solution is obvious: Get up to speed on the new tools you’ll need.

And by the way: Don’t allow yourself to believe people who say new skills, new languages and new tools are all “flavors of the month” that aren’t worth paying attention to. They’re wrong. Sure, some tools have less use than others. The challenge here is to determine which ones hold the most value for you.

No. 2: Overstating Your Abilities

Don’t volunteer to rescue a troubled project unless you’re sure you can succeed. Making false claims on your resume or inflating your technical abilities and experience can backfire and keep you from landing the job. Consistently over-promising and under-delivering damages your credibility, and your credibility is a big chunk of your success. When a lot’s on the line, your boss and co-workers won’t trust you. Be confident but honest when describing your skills, experience, ability to meet aggressive project schedules and budgets. Those who select projects carefully and effectively manage expectations tend to be more successful over time.

No. 3: Not Tracking Your Business Impact

You can have the greatest skills in the world, but they won’t help you all that much of you don’t apply them correctly. You won’t be able to get a raise, promotion or new job unless you can tie your talents and daily activities to increases in productivity, output, revenues and profits. So keep a list and remember to monetize your tasks and accomplishments.

No. 4: Resting on Your Laurels

Scott McNealy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and current chairman of Wayin, once compared the shelf-life of technology to a banana. What does that mean to you? It means that you could be out of a job sooner rather than later if you haven’t logged a major achievement in the past 12 months. Revel in the glory of your latest accomplishment for no more than 30 days, then jump into another high visibility project.

No. 5: Failing to Connect

Don’t expect kudos or a bonus for steadily working hard and cranking out high volumes of code. You need to tactfully and strategically self-promote, connect with co-workers and stakeholders and build a professional network in order to have a vibrant career. You don’t have to be in someone’s face, but you do need to be recognized as an expert in your field by blogging, attending conferences, and yes, occasionally pointing out how well you’ve done something. After all, there’s no benefit in keeping your accomplishments to yourself. Isolation is a career killer that you should absolutely avoid.

8 Responses to “5 Career Killers You Must Absolutely Avoid”

  1. Excellent advice. I’ve seen many bad programmers self promote and advance and seen many good programmers simply have more and more work thrown on them and never be promoted. There seems to be a direct correlation with how non-technical the management is. I think programming is unique because I can’t imagine major construction projects or other major engineering projects being managed by non-engineers.

  2. This was great advice. I have experianced No. 5 and yes it will kill your career to be “monofocused”. The overall working atmosphere is one to embrace, interact with, and to work hard at. I wish I read this two years ago!

  3. Excuse me, Ms. Huffman. I do believe there is a grammar check in # 1 “Letting your Skills Slide”
    Third paragraph, “And by the way……read the whole sentence, again. Suffice to say, I did like your article and you are correct.

  4. Great Article! A lot of us (Technical-Engineering-Coders) have issues with #3 – Monetize your impact and #5 – Failing to connect. Many organizations have a divergence in the structure of Budget owners and the Technical Management, so while you may be doing all-right with Technical Management, the Budget and Re-Organizations are dangers to your job. It is hard to keep track of this aspect.

  5. AmyInNH

    I find this article naive.

    No. 1: Letting Your Skills Slide, is inevitable. The challenge is not a matter of correctly guessing which technology du jour is flavor of the month and which is long haul. The obstacle is emerging technology positions ask for previous experience, not training. For example the Hadoop ads embedded in this article: “Hands on experience with Map/Reduce and HBase on Hadoop”.

    No. 4: Resting on Your Laurels advising jump into another high visibility project, believing you dictate what projects you work on. As a manager of staff, I can tell you that isn’t the case.

    I agree that these problems are career killers but I don’t believe it’s due to the (in)actions of the engineers but the nature of the tech. industry.

  6. With all due respect to the author, this article is negative.
    Here is how I would write this:

    1. Upgrade your skills every 6 months, and continue to take management or supervisory courses.
    2. Promote your self constantly and do give yourself credit for all your accomplishments.
    3. Make sure your project makes your department look good so you can keep your job.
    4. Always be on the lookout for more challenging projects, within your organization or outside.
    5. Grow your social networks with colleagues in all countries and cultures.