Given the chance, who wouldn’t turn back the clock to give themselves some career advice? Whether it’s putting more focus on building a solid network or holding out for more money, we all have things we wish we’d done differently.
We can’t go back in time. But we can learn from other people’s mistakes—like these six from mid-career pros, who share what they wish they’d known earlier, and how it might have changed their professional trajectories.
“Don’t slack on pre-interview research.”
Dana Ryan, 33, PR manager in Langhorne, Penn.
“I’m not really the coulda-woulda-shoulda type, but I cringe when I think back to one glaring career mistake. When I was interviewing for my first job, I was a little overconfident. The position was with a major film studio, and I had great internships at big-name networks on my resume. I figured that’d be enough to impress the interviewer.
Wrong! I got a wake-up call when one of the first things she asked was my favorite movie they’d produced, and I blanked. The only thing I’d researched was the company’s address. Doing some light digging on their website would have helped me answer that question with ease. Instead, I completely embarrassed myself.
Ever since, I always over-prepare for interviews.”
“After receiving my first job offer, I was ecstatic. (They picked me!) I blindly accepted, failing to compare the salary to what similar professionals in my field were making in order to make a counteroffer.
I later realized what a mistake this was, as prospective employers often base their offers on your current salary. If you start out working for peanuts, you’ll always be playing catchup.
It wasn’t until about seven years later that I finally started earning what I felt I deserved. But had I not lowballed myself early on, I probably would have crossed the threshold much sooner.”
“Knowing how to write code is a huge entrepreneurial plus right now. Why? Being your own programmer allows you to do costly web development tasks in-house that you’d otherwise have to outsource.
I wasn’t exactly in tune with this part of the tech world when I was starting out. (I’d spent the first decade of my career in account management.) But co-founding my side business in 2012 made me wish I’d done it all differently.
We didn’t have a coder on the team, so we hired someone to do everything from building our site to helping with user flow and experience. These services didn’t come cheap; we shelled out $80,000 to an outside shop.
I firmly believe that learning a skillset beyond your typical job description has tremendous worth because it makes you more valuable in your current role and beyond. I’ve never heard of someone wishing they had fewer in-demand skills.”
“Make networking a priority.”
Alina Tubman, 32, campus recruitment strategist in San Clemente, Calif.
“Develop in-demand skills outside your regular responsibilities.”
Gene Caballero, 37, co-founder of a lawn care company in Nashville, Tenn.
“If there’s one career lesson I’ve learned over the years, it’s that talent and hard work can only get you so far—networking is the other critical piece of the puzzle. While skills and performance are definitely important, they really only serve as an entry ticket. Investing in genuine professional relationships is what will propel your career forward.
This is something I overlooked at my first company. I kept my head down and focused strictly on the work, instead of raising my hand and connecting with colleagues.
Had I done that, and attended more industry events, I think it would have been easier to meet mentors and navigate the industry more confidently. What’s more, I think my HR knowledge would be more expansive today.”
“Pursue internships in the city you want to live in.”
Cally Martin, 28, marketing specialist in Austin, Texas
“Whether you’re an undergrad or working toward a higher degree, making the transition from school to professional life has the same finish line: landing a great job. My goal was to move from central Michigan to Chicago after college graduation to do just that.
Internships, as we all know, are a great way to build your network and make connections. But instead of applying in Chicago, I took two local internships near my college out of convenience.
When I graduated, I had a ton of contacts and some viable job leads—in Michigan. This made moving to Chicago way more intimidating. I eventually made it to the Windy City a few years later (and have since moved on to Austin, a city I love), but I could have gone right away had I put some thought into my internships. Because I didn’t, I had a much tougher time finding a job I wanted.”
“Know your numbers.”
Glenn Phillips, 52, CEO of a real estate company and angel investor in Birmingham, Ala.
“When I launched a tech consulting firm in the early ’90s, I had my hands full with everything from R&D to marketing—so much so that I overlooked one key detail: really knowing my numbers, from projected revenue to monthly expenses.
This made it almost impossible to detect cash flow problems, which inevitably popped up. I eventually got my act together and started sticking to month-by-month financial budgeting and reporting plans.
Apparently the lesson hadn’t sunk in, though, because I made the same mistake years later when investing in a startup. In retrospect, their big-picture numbers—which they seriously overestimated—really weren’t robust enough for it to be a profitable investment, but I didn’t question it. They ended up going under—and taking my investment down with them.
The experience taught me—the hard way—to know your numbers inside and out (no matter what your role).”