Five mistakes to avoid when making a career move

by MSM Coaching on 28th January 2013

How long have you spent time thinking about yourself during your career? Or did you just get on that roller coaster and years later wonder where the time went?

Preparing for the next step, and any job move, takes a lot of planning. You need to be ready and feeling confident.

Research shows us there are five commonly made mistakes by executives when making a crucial career move.

Mistake 1: Not doing enough research.

Firstly, job hunters often don't do their homework on the job-market realities for their industry or function. Since they're not fully informed, they have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the search.

Second, they don't pay enough attention to a potential employer's financial stability and market position. Executives who would scrutinize the balance sheet of any firm they might acquire nevertheless assume that companies offering them a job must be on solid ground. Yet plenty of businesses will hire for senior jobs even when they know there's trouble ahead, so it's up to the applicant to assess how likely it is that the new job will still exist in six months.

Third, executives fail to consider cultural fit. Although hiring managers are supposed to attend to that, they often don't-and it's the new hire who will suffer most if the fit is a poor one.

Fourth, recruits assume that the official job title and description accurately reflect the role. Companies have been known to sweeten a title to attract top talent. Additionally, in a badly managed organisation, people may find themselves in ill-defined jobs that have little relationship to their formal titles. One executive described his worst career move as leaving one company for a much smaller firm, where he was given the CFO title even though the bulk of his duties were really those of a COO. He found it hard to establish the credibility he needed to get the job done, given the misalignment of his tasks and title.

Mistake 2: Leaving for money.

It's easy to fall for a financially attractive offer. Many executives contemplating a job change rank income fourth or fifth in terms of importance but bump it to first place when making their decision. A Vice President has said "I was doing the identical role for $10K more, but leaving behind the relationships and connections was just not worth it in hindsight." Excessive focus on money is a frequently cited reason for inadequate research.

Mistake 3: Going "from" rather than "to."

Often, job seekers have become so unhappy with their present positions that they are desperate to get out. Instead of planning their career moves, they lurch from one place to the next, applying artificial urgency to the job hunt rather than waiting for the right offer. Candidates not only skimp on research in the belief that the grass has to be greener elsewhere but also fail to look strategically at their current companies for opportunities that might still exist for them.

Mistake 4: Overestimating yourself.

Sometimes job seekers can have an unrealistic view of their skills, their prospects, and occasionally their culpability. They often can't identify the sources of success and failure at their existing jobs. Candidates can look at the current company as being the problem and not acknowledge that they themselves may be a part of the problem. People fail to be realistic and self-critical, and think that external circumstances and environments have more to do with their frustrations or failures than their own issues.

This leads them to underestimate how long a job search will take and what the switching costs will be. Such job seekers also overestimate the salary they can command and their capacity to deal with the challenges of the new position-particularly the difficulty of creating change in a large organisation. One software CFO regretted taking a job at a large multinational, where it was "so much bigger, more unwieldy, difficult to make an impact, and impersonal," he says. "No matter what I did, it didn't make a difference."

Mistake 5: Thinking short term.

Having a short-term perspective can feed into each of the other four mistakes. For instance, if you overestimate yourself, you may believe you deserve rewards now, not in five years. Leaving a firm because of money and going "from" rather than "to" are both overly influenced by immediate information and considerations. "How much money can I make right now?" the executive wonders. "How can I escape an unpleasant work environment?" Still, short-term thinking is a serious career misstep in its own right-citing it separately, not just including it as a footnote to the other mistakes.

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