I made a few of these mistakes early on in my career and I’m so grateful they didn’t ruin me. They certainly could have. Every young professional enters the working world with a head full of steam about how they’ll do things and what they’ll accomplish. But you just don’t know what you don’t know, and newbies don’t know how their industry works. It’s common for young professionals to think that they can apply the same values and practices of their social life to their professional life. Nope. This is, quite truly, a whole different ball game with a whole new set of rules. No matter what industry you work in, there are unspoken practices around how to handle professional relationships that everyone must follow, and that rookies tend to learn the hard way.
Simply not being nice
Be nice to everyone you meet. Really—everyone. Be nice to that nervous, eager intern who is sort of bugging you with too many questions and got your coffee order wrong. She could be your boss one day. Be nice to that stranger in the elevator: she could be your new long-term partner on a project, brought in from an outside company. Be nice to everyone because you never know who they’ll wind up being or who they know. Also, be nice because, why wouldn’t you be?
Lying about your resume
Young professionals might try to inflate their resumes, making their titles or positions in past jobs sound larger than they were, or even adding experience that isn’t true. Should anyone ever discover this is a lie—and they usually will—you could be blacklisted at that company, or even in your industry. Word spreads fast.
Saying no if you’re only 90 % ready
This is a delicate line to walk but, women in general will only apply to a job if they feel they are 100 percent qualified, whereas men will apply if they just feel they are around 60 percent qualified. If you feel that you’re just about prepared for a role, go for it. Teach yourself on the job.
Biting off more than you can chew
I mentioned that last thing was delicate because some rookies swing too far in the opposite direction, applying blindly to anything they want to do, when they are vastly underprepared. Doing this can get you fired, many times, quickly, which doesn’t bode will for your reputation. Research every skill required in the job description and truly ask yourself if you are knowledgeable in it.
Not getting a mentor
The mentor/mentee relationship can really pay off over time if you make the most of it. And there are a lot of generous, successful professionals who would be happy to pass on their wisdom. Make use of them.
Failing to collaborate
New professionals often have this, “I can do it all on my own” mentality, turning down offers for collaboration. Don’t do that. Work with your peers. They will be your peers for life. If you think of it like high school, this is your graduating class. It’s worth it to work with them. Maybe you should do that presentation with another person, even if it means sharing the accolades.
Not participating in the social aspect
If you think you can sit out the social aspect, you’re wrong. Go to the networking happy hour. Join the kickball league. Make some friends. Most professional deals are made amongst people who have more than a professional relationship.
Trying to social climb, professionally
Now, to be clear, don’t be a snake when it comes to networking. Keep in mind that there are good and bad ways to do this. Don’t pretend to like someone socially whom you do not like, all because she can help you professionally. Make genuine friendships within your industry, and just wait: they will pay off over time in ways you cannot possibly predict or manipulate. Being a fake social climber will bite you in the *ss.
Burning a bridge
Never burn a bridge. It’s okay to quietly and subconsciously decide that you’d no longer like to affiliate with somebody. That’s fine. But you don’t need to send her a nasty email detailing all of her flaws and officially declaring that relationship dead. Your industry is smaller than you know. You will, one day, wish that that burnt bridge was still standing.
Social media sloppiness
Clean up your social media. Really go through your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and everything else you have. Do you have any aggressive political rants? Take them down. Provocative photos? Take them down. What about posts promoting the company that is in direct competition with the one you’re applying to? Get rid of it.
Impatience around response time
When you’re new to the professional world, you don’t realize how incredibly busy people are because you’re not very busy yet. So, you’ll follow up with someone who doesn’t respond within 48 hours, annoying them. Give professional contacts a week to respond before following up. Maybe they did forget, but reaching out again two days later will just bother them.
Making an ask that is too big
It’s hard to know that it’s too big because you’re brand new, but this is where a mentor comes in handy. You may want to ask that one person you briefly met once at a networking event to give you this job or that referral, not realizing that’s a huge favor you’re asking of someone who owes a lot of people she knows much better than you such a favor. It makes you look grabby and naïve.
Learn what a true relationship is
Just know that everyone is very busy and even if they were nice to you at a happy hour one time doesn’t mean they would help you or even remember you. If they’ve been in the game years longer than you, they have about 100 people ahead of you in line for any favor they’d give out. You can ask someone a favor if you’ve had repeated positive interactions for at least a year and if you have, or could, offer them a favor in return. You’ll notice most new professionals won’t have any favors to offer in return, so it’s limiting.
Failing to know who’s who
This is another time a mentor will come in handy. The top dogs don’t mean to have an ego, but it’s hard for a CEO who has been featured in Forbes magazine to have the new assistant (i.e. you) ask who she is and what she does for a living. She may feel very annoyed, and make a mental note that she doesn’t like you.
Being a know-it-all
It’s tempting to act cocky out of nervousness. But don’t enter your industry with a head full of steam, wanting to prove everyone wrong and show ‘em what you got. Go in with the attitude of, “I am learning. I am new. I am grateful to anyone who is willing to share their wisdom with me.”