Few things are more frustrating than feeling like you've reached a plateau in your career. Perhaps you're waiting for a promotion and can't understand why there's a hold-up. Maybe you've been in the same role for years and can't see a clear path ahead. It can be hard to pinpoint the reason why you're not hitting your goals, so to gain some clarity, we called on nine inspiring entrepreneurs who took part in our Career Code series. Smart, savvy, and skilled, these women are industry leaders who have seen their share of talented employees and ones who have fallen behind from rookie errors. Take note—these common career mistakes could be holding you back.
If you're struggling to move into your dream role, Sally Singer, creative digital director at Vogue.com, says the problem could be your goals. "Entry-level employees can get too ambitious for the wrong things—titles, masthead placement, external markers of success—and forget to value their actual experience and opportunities to make interesting things," she told our sister site Who What Wear. "What people call you, unless it is directly linked to a substantial rise in salary, doesn’t matter a whit."
Try this: Rather than focus on the title of your dream role, consider the skills and responsibilities that appeal to you. Then, research how you can learn those skills, be it through books, apps, or online courses.
"At the leadership level, I think some executives believe that sugarcoating things is more productive than being transparent," says Susan Feldman, co-founder of One Kings Lane. "At the end of the day, being transparent will build strong, and more trusting relationships with your team."
Try this: If you're a manager, schedule a regular meeting with your team to offer feedback and check in with them. Share two constructive comments about their work—one task you've noticed they excelled at and an area you'd like them to work more on. Be transparent with your feedback, and balance constructive criticism with positive comments.
Designer and celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe says she often sees people in her industry share unprofessional information, which can sabotage your career in the long run. "In regard to my peers, a common mistake is talking badly about their competition. It’s so important to always be mindful of what you are saying, and to whom," she says.
Try this: Next time you're tempted to talk about a competitor, try to reframe your comment. Rather than be resentful, focus on what you could learn from their efforts. This will show your colleagues that you're open to fair competition and are always looking for ways to improve your skills, rather than bring others down.
Katia Beauchamp, co-founder and CEO of Birchbox, says a thirst for knowledge is vital to build your skillset and advance your career. "When I graduated college, we didn't have enough access to information," she says, noting that millennials don't face that challenge, thanks to the multitude of online resources. "The amount of knowledge people consume—even at age 22—impacts who can contribute more to the larger organization."
Try this: Think about the ways you can improve your knowledge outside work hours. Something as simple as subscribing to industry newsletters or reading relevant news during your commute will make you a well-rounded employee—and give you something of value to discuss when you bump into the CEO in the elevator.
Asking questions and being comfortable to raise issues with your manager is an important skill, but Michelle Lee, editor in chief at Allure, says there's one quality that sets a good employee apart from an excellent one. "I think people get stuck in a complainer's mind-set. Don't come to me with problems; come to me with solutions," she told Byrdie. While that might sound harsh, she's quick to note that the key here is showing that you've taken the initiative to problem-solve. "You don't necessarily need to know the final solution, but I appreciate that you've thought about how to possibly solve an issue," she says.
Try this: Before you raise an issue with your team or enter your performance review with a problem, take 10 minutes adopt a manager's mind-set. Ask yourself, How would I solve this issue? Simply coming to the meeting with a potential resolution shows respect for their time.
Even if you're exceptional at your job, not knowing how to describe your skill set and talent can be a major hindrance. This includes knowing how to deliver an elevator pitch, but also extends to all areas of your digital presence, such as your LinkedIn profile or website. Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, co-founders of theSkimm, told MyDomaine that not knowing how to communicate your value to a potential employee could come at a serious cost. "We recently had a candidate list 'professional millennial' on her résumé," the pair shared. Suffice to say the unlucky hopeful didn't secure the job.
Try this: Set reminders to review your digital profile every six months. Even if you're still in the same role, think carefully about how your skills have developed, and make that clear.
When asked what the top mistake she notices entry-level employees make, Bumble CEO and founder Whitney Wolfe pinpointed one key issue: "Trying too hard to be perfect." The inspiring tech entrepreneur says that's something that governs her hiring process, too. "Think outside of the box and innovate; don't try to fit some mold. I would rather an entry-level employee suggest a disruptive idea with zero structure than try and be organized in a boring spread sheet with no room for growth or innovation," she says.
Try this: Set your alarm forward so you arrive at the office 15 minutes early. Then, rather than delve into unopened emails or start your to-do list, use that time to focus on creativity. It might not seem like a priority, but encouraging yourself to think about tasks or projects with a different mind-set could prove more valuable than ticking off a never-ending list.
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Jen Atkin, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Ouai, told Byrdie there's one quality she can't stand in employees: "A delayed sense of urgency!" The seasoned pro says those who thrive in her industry can prioritize with ease, and know when it's important to be on-call. "I'm someone who is constantly checking my emails and phone. I need staff that are quick to react. If someone doesn't answer a text for hours, the job won't get done, or they can miss out on a major opportunity," she says.
Try this: Filter emails for spam, newsletters, or any messages that don't impact your day-to-day deliverables. That way, when you receive an email, you know that it's important and needs to be answered with haste.
Anna Brockway, co-founder and president of Chairish, says she looks for employees that aren't just "yes people." "The pacing of business is so fast, now that folks just dive into executing their to-do list ASAP without much thoughtfulness," she told MyDomaine. "We often miss the important, subtle clues that ultimately can determine if all our work is successful or not."
Try this: Before you start an assigned project, take the time to ask why. Think strategically about the approach that's been chosen, and don't be afraid to question it (if only internally) to see if you could find a fresh solution.
Purchase a copy of Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power's new book, The Career Code, today, and tell us about the biggest career mistake you've noticed among your peers.