10 Mistakes to Avoid when Starting a Career

Many students will try anything to avoid mistakes while transitioning from college into their careers.  But the truth of the matter is that mistakes are unavoidable. There is no preparation or planning that one can do to avoid the bumps in the road. All that can be done is to learn along the way, learn from how others have overcome situations and grow as a person.

Developing relationships with mentors, leaders, and admirable people is one of the smartest things a student can do after graduating from college. The knowledge and skills a student can gain from mentors are unparalleled when it comes to taking the next steps through both personal and professional life. Many times we hear of the great success that our heroes have overcome in order to grow a great idea. But rarely do we hear or ask about the mistakes that they overcame when starting their careers.

Making mistakes is a fundamental part of everyday life. We have all heard our parents tell us, “you learn from your mistakes.” But you can also learn a great deal from other’s mistakes. Learning from one’s past failures is the best way to develop the skills to approach these challenges when they come your way. Success is what drives the ego. but it is mistaken and how we overcome them that shape who we are, what we do, and how we do it.

We asked ten business leaders there favorite mistakes they made when starting their career’s. Here are ten mistakes to avoid when starting your career.

1. “Not recognizing my strengths and interests soon enough…”

Photo of Beryl Stafford

Beryl Stafford – CEO of Bobo’s Oat Bars

My biggest mistake was probably not recognizing my strengths and interests soon enough and trying to do everything myself. I learned the hard way that it is important to quickly find help in the areas you are most weak and disinterested in. For me, it was accounting and keeping the books straight. At one point in the early days, I had no idea who owed me money and if I was even making money. It wasn’t a priority for me and therefore I probably wasted a lot of time and lost some money during those days.

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2. “Holding on to a job I didn’t like for too long”

Ryan Newhouse – Founder of Montana Brewery Passport

I think one mistake I’ve made was to hold on to a job I didn’t like for too long. The work itself was great, but the environment and leadership were not. During that time I worked hard to find ways I could learn from people (and bosses) who were way different than me, who held substantially different viewpoints (politically and personally). And though I ended up leaving the job, I was satisfied with my ability to work alongside such different people and not leave bitter. We don’t always get to choose the people we spend our days with. It’s important to find common ground where we can.

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3. “Having so little ability to really affect change.”

Photo of Susan Hay Patrick

Susan Hay Patrick – CEO Missoula United Way

I don’t like mistakes, but I would say that taking a job, early in my career, that had a lot of responsibility, but little authority, taught me to never do that again. It was very frustrating to have so much expected of me, but, due to having virtually no authority, having so little ability to really affect change.

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4. “Fail often and fail small.”

Photo of Patrick Kruse

Patrick Kruse – Founder of Ruffwear

I have made lots of mistakes along the way, so it is hard to pinpoint just one. I have been asked this question in the past and I must admit that I have fumbled in my attempts to answer the question about mistakes or failures. I have struggled to recognize failures or mistakes because I grew up in an environment where we didn’t have mistakes or failures, we had opportunities to learn and grow.

My Mom once told me, “If you are not falling you are not learning” after a ski lesson. So failures or mistakes are opportunities for learning and those experiences have a positive meaning for me. If we have to call them failures, I would say I like to fail often and fail small rather than experience a huge failure or mistake that places myself and others in harm’s way. The greatest lessons that have come from these lessons over the years is to know that I continue to learn and grow through personal experiences as well as others who share their wisdom and experiences with me.

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5. “Procrastination.”

Photo of L.A. Sokolowski

L.A. Sokolowski – Equestrian Sports Journalist

Procrastination. Thinking I have “enough time” to meet a deadline when I will absolutely learn that such a lax assumption rarely if ever factors in the legwork necessary behind the scenes to bring an effort to culmination.

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6.  “Mistakes…are the true test of how resilient you are.”

Photo of Joel Martin

Joel Martin – CO-Founder of Sellout

One of the things I think about a lot is how the mistakes we make shape us. When you are starting a business or career you get lots of advice from friends and mentors on mistakes that they made, and how to avoid them. When we were first getting started out with Sellout, I took as much this advice as possible because I was determined to not make the same mistakes that others had. But you learn that there is no way to avoid mistakes. You need to make mistakes because they are the true test of how resilient you are. You will always run into issues, but if you figure out how to make the issue the path, nothing can stop you. So take advice, but know that no one gets out of this without messing up, and no two stories are the same.

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7. “Lean on your own experience and understanding.”

Photo of Orion Brown Mistakes to Avoid

Orion Brown – CEO of The Black Travel Box

Lean on your own experience and understanding, its what got you in the door.
Early on in my brand career, my boss asked me to do a major pricing analysis for our business. I had to both do the analytics and also take a stab at working the story to be presented to our company president. I killed the numbers – they were excellent. Then I got to the story and hit a wall. I looked at other presentations from previous people, got lots of opinions on what to say and where to go with it, and I agonized for days over how to present it. There was a story that I thought was right and wanted to tell but I was afraid to use my words, so I sought what I thought was “expected” of me. The time came to sit with my manager and review, and I proudly walked through the pages feeling rather self-assured I was telling the story he wanted. In the end, he said, “thank you, now flip over the page and let me tell you what the story should be.” I was crushed. But he walked me through the high level and as I listened, I realized it was the story that I knew to tell but didn’t.
I began to learn that day that I have the right story, I just have to tell it. (I won’t say I learned because it’s still a challenge not to look for what’s expected of me). It’s a good lesson. Every door that opens for you, whether gotten by favor or merit, is still predicated on what you bring to the table. Your voice and experience matter. You still have to remain teachable, know your audience, and have strong logic to back it up…but whether you’re presenting to a boss, trying to get a job, or giving a speech – telling your story and what you believe is right will most certainly pay off in comparison to telling people what you think they want to hear.

8. “Starting a business with a close friend who had a very similar skill set.”

Photo of Wylie Robinson Mistakes to Avoid

Wylie Robinson – CEO of Rumpl

I wouldn’t say it’s a “favorite” necessarily, but I started this business with a close friend who had a very similar skill set. When our skill sets really started to overlap there was conflict and one of us had to leave the business. Ultimately that was him, and I carried on as CEO of the company. I have no doubt that this was best for Rumpl, but it was very challenging and stressful (for both of us) to go through.

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9. “Thinking that I could do everything.”

Photo of Marissa Keenan Mistakes to Avoid

Marissa Keenan – Founder of Sweet Peaks Ice Cream

I think the biggest mistake for us was thinking that my partner and I could do everything. Initially, we tried to wear every cap, but we stretched ourselves so thin, we didn’t have enough time to focus on the more important things. Leadership is not just the act of knowing how to do everything, it also involves the act of leading.
This mistake helped us immensely in hiring the right people and assembling the perfect team.

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10. “Asking for investment.”

Photo of Chad Nybo. Mistakes to Avoid

Chad Nybo – CEO of CrossTx

My favorite mistake was asking for investment from highly successful bootstrappers before having customers or generating revenue with my startup. Although the potential investors declined to invest because I didn’t have a paying customer, they offered to mentor me as I worked to make that happen.

This was, in retrospect, a wonderful mistake that resulted in learning what bootstrapping really is in practice, and taught me how having capital before generating revenue can be a disadvantage to a startup company.

I worked hard to get paying customers and the more revenue we generated, the less I thought about raising outside capital. Once the people I had initially approached saw that I was generating revenue they invested in my company and helped me put together a Board of Directors.

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Tell us your Favorite Mistake @seniorlevelhq

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