Career Advice: My Biggest Mistake and What I Learned from It (Part 2)
April 28, 2023
IndustryWeek’s Talent Advisory Board answers April’s question: What’s the biggest mistake you made early in your career, and what did you learn from that experience? Part 2 of 2.
IW Staff What’s the biggest mistake you made early in your career, and what did you learn from that experience? Beware Big Paychecks, Fancy Titles Bill Good, Vice President Supply Chain, GE Appliances One of my biggest mistakes came early in my career, when I left a manufacturing company to pursue an opportunity at a small, tier-one automotive supplier. On the surface it looked like a great opportunity that offered me a bigger title and a 50% increase in compensation. For an early career manufacturing leader, a 50% compensation increase was massive. I was so enamored with the title and the compensation that I fell woefully short of doing adequate research on the company. Within one month, I realized I had made a tremendous mistake. It became increasingly clear why the company was paying at the higher end of the scale and put the title of division manager on a role that was actually smaller than the one I left. What I quickly discovered was the company was poorly led and had a culture that was unproductive, confrontational and extremely combative. Everyone spent more time arguing and covering themselves than working collaboratively toward winning goals. Once in my new role, I soon felt I was stuck for a couple of years because I wanted to prove I could be successful even in the most dire circumstances. After two years passed, I allowed myself to return some recruiting calls for better opportunities that aligned more closely with my values. Needless to say, I never made the mistake of chasing a title or compensation again in my career. Since this early mistake, I have been very intentional in doing my due diligence about the company and overall culture first before I ever consider the role or compensation. Always take the time to ask questions in the interview process to evaluate for yourself if you are the right fit for the company culture. The salary and title will come through hard work, perseverance and building a broad-based business acumen as well as your personal brand..
Every step in your career might not be a promotion. It’s OK to leave a company for a great career opportunity, but stay focused on the big picture and mapping your career path along the way without getting caught up in the emotion of short-term gains. Negotiate for What You Need Audrey Van de Castle, Director of Digital Transformation – Operations Excellence, Stanley Black & Decker Inc. My biggest mistake was NOT negotiating! Early in my career, I did not really understand that negotiating things like salary, vacation time and bonuses were the norm when job hunting. I was afraid that I would get turned down! I was lucky enough to have a mentor who helped give me the confidence to negotiate for a higher salary with a company I had an offer from. I gave it a shot, and they didn’t even hesitate—they gave me what I asked for right away! After that I realized, wow, I had left some money on the table in the past for sure. Moral of the story—it can’t hurt to ask. Work with a Team Saso Krstovski, Master Black Belt, Ford Motor Co. The biggest mistake I made early in my career was feeling that I had to solve issues all by myself to justify my relevance to management. Early in my career, I made many mistakes, and I continue to make mistakes. Judgment errors should not be looked at as mistakes, but more like experiments. In experimentation, you try something and based on the outcome, you either accept it or change it to ensure the desired outcome is achieved. As I matured in my career, I made fewer mistakes and learned not to repeat the same mistake. In addition, I became less sensitive to fearing previous errors in judgment would prevent me from making critical decisions. As a novice engineer, I enjoyed the challenge as a problem-solver and felt my relevance was to quickly and single-handedly resolve any concern that was in front of me. Very quickly, I learned on several occasions that I either did not have the knowledge or capability to resolve something on my own and needed help. It became clear that teamwork is more effective, and the solutions that arise from it, more innovative. Teamwork and collaboration are two components necessary in any field for success. As a seasoned professional, I can assure you the term “credit” is significantly misused. Getting acknowledged in a team environment is more rewarding than individualized recognition.
Find a Mentor, Meet Regularly Tara Binn, Process Improvement Specialist, Bakelite Synthetics Proactively seek out and formalize mentorship. I had a lot of great informal mentors in my early career and always worked to engage and network with others, but I made the mistake of not intentionally seeking out and formalizing mentors. While so much of an early professional career role is learning and development and less direct value creation, I felt cautious to seek even more mentorship and the time of leaders. I look back now and can think of several people who I would have learned even more from if I had established a reoccurring mentorship with intention. Even if formalizing is as casual as a quick coffee once a quarter, you have it on the calendar and you are both accountable to it. Now on the flipside, I have had the opportunity to be a mentor. It is greatly fulfilling, introspective and not a burden.