5 Career Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

Most creatives spend a significant amount of time and effort getting a job. They create a great resume and a compelling portfolio, and work to ace the interview process. But do you know how to thrive in that position once you have it? Whether you want that big promotion or dream project, success at work is more likely if you avoid major career mistakes—and learn from the ones you do make.

The truth is, a satisfying design career doesn’t typically happen by chance. The people who have managed to achieve the most fulfilling professional lives take the time to consider the implications of their work choices, both in the short and long term.

Following are five common mistakes that can subtly sabotage your career prospects—and tips for avoiding them.

1. Not grooming a successor. While it’s contrary to what you might think, becoming too indispensable in a position—or not training someone to take over your job—may actually limit your ability to be promoted. No company wants to feel its fortunes ride on one person. And if you’re the only one who can do the job, how are you going to move up—or free yourself to develop new skills? If you’re not already in a managerial position and you aspire to one, talk to your supervisor about growth opportunities in the company and discuss how you might delegate some of your responsibilities. If you’re a manager, identify and mentor your own successor—look for high achievers in your department who have expressed interest in what you do. If they’re interested in being trained for your job, start to give them more responsibilities. Your own manager will be more likely to promote you if she feels you have a second-in-command who can take your place.

2. Staying in a job you hate. If you’re truly miserable where you are, it inevitably shows up in your attitude and work. It’s better to find a job you’ll enjoy than to potentially receive bad evaluations and few recommendations for future positions. On the other hand, if you’re simply uninspired but enjoy your coworkers and elements of your job, take a closer look. Maybe a new project that presents a design challenge you’ve never encountered before would help; perhaps you need to know what your next move in your department is so you have a goal to work toward. Talk to your manager and present some of your ideas. Within reason, most supervisors will work with a valued employee to offer projects that will help him or her find more fulfillment in a position.

3. Being typecast … and not doing anything about it. Are you the designer everyone goes to when they need a clean, classic look to a piece, but not when they’re looking for a more cutting-edge idea? Often managers focus on an employee’s perceived strengths early on and funnel projects to them that match that perception. In some cases, this makes good sense and is based on that staff member’s true talents and desires. Sometimes, however, it’s based on a few isolated incidents and not on the person’s overall capabilities. If your talent has been pigeonholed, look for opportunities to demonstrate your ability to take on more challenging roles. For example, if you’re typically asked to work on traditional pieces, volunteer to take on an edgier project.

4. Not having a game plan. If you’ve been at your job for a year or longer and aren’t sure what your next step will be, establish a career goal. Identifying where you’d like to be in the future will help you focus your energy and keep you motivated. Remember, you don’t have to have a goal that entails moving up the career ladder; you might just want to make the time to take a class outside of work to hone your design skills. Whatever your ambition, write down the steps necessary to make it happen and track your progress.

5. Not being dependable. You’re the one your manager comes to with last-minute projects and you always do a first-rate job. However, if you have a long lead time with a project, you occasionally miss the deadline. No matter how good you are at your job, if you aren’t dependable, you won’t advance. That means arriving to work and meetings on time and following through on your commitments—if you say you’ll have a new brochure design by a certain date, make sure you do.

Keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes on the job. But the success of your career rides on how well you handle, recover and learn how to avoid them in the future.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.