Answer by Dandan Zhu, top billing headhunter, career coach, CEO and founder, Dandan Global:
As a headhunter helping countless professionals from CEO to analyst level make and negotiate their next position, here are the most common career mistakes I've seen candidates fall victim to:
#1. Aiming too low. Whether it's salary, title, or type of company, people are too intimidated by interviewers, scared of asking for what they want at every stage of the interview process, and suffer from imposter syndrome.
This is a direct result of decades of indoctrination by authoritative educational, parental, and societal institutions that tend to demolish your self-confidence in an effort to control you. This persistent lack of confidence is the #1 issue candidates suffer from when it comes to selling yourself effectively.
#2. Saying no to yourself. Because you feel that you lack the "qualifications" the job description asks for, you end up not going for the opportunity. This continued lack of self-confidence through self-discrimination, combined with the obsession of fulfilling requirements down to the last drop, handicaps good professionals from achieving career greatness.
Although job descriptions don't matter, many candidates still try to play by the rules. They don't understand that job search is like war. The victor obtains the spoils. It's every man and woman for themselves.
There are NO rules in job search! This is why often psychopaths and liars sometimes get the BEST jobs and offers. They understand manipulation.
Too often, the most accomplished candidates lose because they don't know the song and dance that is job search.
#3. Not understanding the modern job search ecosystem and process. There are 4 major hiring entities that you need to know how to manipulate, maneuver around, and negotiate with. The HR person, hiring manager, headhunter, and internal recruiter. Each person has a slightly different incentive, process, and interaction protocol. You should behave accordingly.
In addition, the process to job search is no longer: look on the web for listings, apply to jobs that you like, wait for feedback, go interview. The new process is: create your marketing documents (including your resume), master LinkedIn networking, leverage the 4 hiring entities mentioned above, utilize volume of interviews to your advantage, negotiate all throughout.
#4. Becoming a jack of all trades. The most dangerous problem candidates run into that seriously limits their market value and range of future career options is becoming a generalist. Corporations no longer value soldiers, willing to do any deed for pay. They want professionals, experts, and true masters of the industry and job vertical. They NEED these experts to remain viable and stay ahead of their competition.
No longer is being eager and willing to work for a firm for the next 25 years a valuable candidate trait. Firms want true market leaders. That means, specialization and experience within a niche skill is not only a good-to-have, but a MUST-HAVE to remain a relevant and desirable professional.
Lastly, #5. Having no financial plan nor power. Most professionals forget that they work largely to make a living. Since most people accumulate worse spending habits every year, people rely on their jobs more and more to fuel their lifestyle. This dependent relationship on a job quickly spirals out of control once their house of cards experiences even the smallest tremor.
Because of your deep reliance on your paycheck, your emotions run amuck when experiencing any type of career turbulence.
Since your financial woes are so heavy and over-leveraged, you can't see straight, let alone find a career you enjoy!
In most of these cases, professionals tend to work simply to chase the dollar, losing all meaning and passion for what they're working towards outside of living the highlife they buy with their post-tax dollars. They become money-mongers. Greed takes precedence. Career meaning, purpose, and ethical behavior quickly falls by the wayside when confronted by financial greed.
This is the #1 cause of corporate fraud, corruption, pollution, and general nastiness (think: Wolf of Wall Street, Enron, and Bernie Madoff). Individual greed driven by a need to keep up with the Joneses pollutes corporate cultures by attracting people who are in it just for the money.
Career problems aren't simply an amalgamation of your job's stressors. Your personal, financial, and professional problems, weaknesses, and vices will all meld together to gang up on you, if you let your guard down or stray off the righteous path of moral behavior.
Stay ahead of the game by learning, networking, and speaking with career experts, colleagues, mentors, and influencers that have the RIGHT advice to guide you.
Extra tip: Parents, while well-intentioned, are from a previous generation with very different market dynamics and understanding of what it takes to succeed in the next 30 years. Their strategies, while useful to them in their heyday, may not work for you.
Take what people from an older generation say with a massive grain of salt. If I listened to my old-school Chinese immigrant parents on what to do in my career, I would not have retired from corporate life at age 28, that's for sure!