crumped paper

More work mistakes – and more lessons learned

Work blunders can be painful. But dang, you can learn a lot from them.

A few months ago I wrote about three particular mistakes I made at work

  • Not bargaining for higher pay or more benefits.
  • Not speaking up about something that you’re unhappy about.
  • Gossiping. (Read the full post here.)

But let’s not pretend that these were the only mistakes that I’ve ever made. C’mon now.

The following round out my top-10 list. (Who doesn’t love lists on the Internet?) You’re welcome to cringe and/or roll your eyes, but my big ask:

Learn from my mistakes.

4. Not adequately proofreading job application materials. Here’s an example of my stellar proofreading skills in one particular cover letter: Nov. 11, 213. In case you were wondering: no, I did not get that job.

5. Overpreparing for an interview: With graduation looming and no job in sight, I sent resumes and job applications out as fast as I could, all while writing my master’s thesis and taking graduate-level coursework. Good times, as you can imagine. I finally scored an interview for what seemed like a perfect job for me, and with what seemed like an overwhelmingly high (to me) advertised salary. So in the week I had between when I scheduled the interview and actually interviewed, I did everything you’re supposed to do: Internet stalked the interviewers, studied up on the organization, talked through the job with a mentor, practice interviewed with my delightfully tough partner, read a bazillion how-to interview articles. I even stuck post-it notes of talking points to refer to on my drive there, arrived to my appointment 15 minutes early. All good. But due to having to contend with the whole grad school thing, I put an absurd amount of pressure on myself–because I needed to get this perfect job. This general wound-up-ness didn’t help in the least. I felt stiff, stilted, and I spit out rambling, unfocused answers that the interviewers eventually stopped jotting down in their notes. While I did everything right in terms of preparing for the interview, I forgot to relax. Make no mistake: you need to do your homework, you need to practice, you want to do your best–but it’s a damn conversation with whomever is interviewing you. And you’re also interviewing these folks, too. You’re there to impress them, but they need to impress you, too. In retrospect, those particular interviewers were mildly disorganized and not too interested in me, it seemed–one of them uttered an alarmingly audible sigh as he entered the conference room (thanks?)–and had I noticed that, I’d have probably paid more attention to my skepticism radar and less to my sweat glands.

6. Not making an effort to get to know coworkers in a new workplace. If you’re new to a job, always accept any and all invitations to lunch, coffee, happy house. You need to get to know the people you’re working with, and stepping out of your office to do so is an efficient way to do just that. I’m obscenely introverted and socially flakey, so the idea of a 20-minute coffee break with a group of eight extroverts makes me cringe. I skipped many of these coffee breaks in one particular job… but I also did not bond that group for a quite a while. Not that you’re trying to be great friends with your coworkers. But understanding the group dynamics at play and learning how to interact with individuals cannot be learned any other way than being in contact with these coworkers.  you need to figure out who these people are and how you can work together. Just do it.

7. Expecting to be BFFs with your coworkers. Tagging on to the last point–yes, you’ll be spending a great deal of time around these people. But expecting to be instant BFFs with any or all of them is setting yourself up for disappointment and not establishing good boundaries. There’s a good chance you’ll meet wonderful people at work. Some of my dearest friends and generally favorite humans are people I’ve met at work. But relationships take time. Don’t force something that isn’t there.

8. Not having a solution. Don’t idly complain about something at work to your boss without having a solution. In my current job, I used to have a task that I hated. Why did it take months for it to be dropped from my list of responsibilities? Because it took me months to come up with a plan to provide my managers to implement that would shift responsibility elsewhere.

9. Letting a job define me. Detailed elsewhere on this blog, this was a huge problem for me for a long time. A career can be no-big deal for some and immensely important to others, but your job is not you. You are you. I thought my $13/hour job as a reporter and profession as a journalist was intrinsic to my being to the point where I held myself back from other exciting opportunities that paid better and would still let me be creative and feel important.

10. Not preparing enough for a presentation. The best advice I’ve received about presentations is to prepare as much as you can and then wing it. You’ll know your stuff but your audience will be wowed by your natural delivery. This I did not do during my master’s thesis defense. I certainly had enough other crap to deal with at that point in time (applying to post-graduation jobs, tip-toe-ing around the possibility of a meltdown as I prepared for a single job interview, revising essays with titles like “Cicero, Isocrates and the liberal arts tradition,” etc. But this isn’t an excuse for not putting in the time to prepare. Consequently, the presentation did not go smoothly. I dropped way too many “um”s. I sweat a lot (yes, this is a theme). Did the world end? No. Did I pass? Yes. Was this particular experience of my graduate career a good lesson? Hell, yes. I’ve had high-stakes presentations since with executives and other bigwigs at my current organization, and I worked my ass off to prepare for all of those. And they all have gone incredibly well.

I have one more thing to ask. What mistakes have you made at work? And what did you learn from them?

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