Whether you’re a first-time job hunter or gunning for the corner office, success can often hinge upon the moves you make — and the ones you don’t. We talked to the experts to uncover the 10 biggest career mistakes women often make, as well as some helpful tips to avoid each.
1. Not Negotiating for a Higher Salary
More than half of millennial women don’t know they’re supposed to negotiate salary offers, according to a recent survey by Levo.
Ashley Quinto Powell, business development manager for Bendyworks, a custom software development firm in Madison, Wis., has seen the same trend among women in the technology field.
“I firmly believe that a large part of the wage gap comes from women not negotiating their salary,” said Powell, who believes the initial offer is only the start of the negotiation process. “We need to be asking for more at the following times: before we accept a job offer, at least yearly for good performance and when we switch jobs.”
By negotiating your salary every time you switch jobs, you can take steps to close the salary gap and protect your wages moving forward.
2. Not Knowing Your Value
To negotiate salary and benefits effectively — yes, benefits are often negotiable — you’ll need to know the market value of the position you currently hold, as well as the value of any potential job offers on the table.
Lela Reynolds, senior career consultant with Resume Strategists in New York City, recommends that you consider your industry, geographic location and the size of your organization when assessing market value for a particular role. Additionally, job seekers need to assess the skills and talents they bring to companies.
“When negotiating salary for a new job, tell the new employer about the impact you’ve made throughout your career and in your most recent role," said Reynolds. "Back your claims up with numbers and specific achievements."
Ultimately, knowing your worth before you negotiate can help propel you toward the salary you want to receive.
3. Downplaying Accomplishments
Many women hesitate to discuss their accomplishments in the workplace.
According to Annette Richmond of Resume Writing & Career Services, women often assume their supervisors will notice and appreciate their hard work.
“Unfortunately, people don’t notice. This is one of the reasons that women are not tapped for high visibility projects and promotions,” said Richmond.
To avoid being passed over, Richmond suggests that women keep "brag books," which include letters from happy clients, performance reviews and notes about accomplishments. Additionally, women should schedule weekly appointments with managers to discuss their projects and achievements and be sure to take credit for all their accomplishments when working in teams.
4. Ignoring Industry Trends
Over time, even the most stalwart industries experience shifts that can affect workers' future employment opportunities.
“For women who are very busy, it’s even easier to get so caught up in their everyday work, so that they don’t look forward to what’s coming down the pike,” said Cheryl Palmer, career coach and owner of Call to Career.
To stay ahead of the career curve, Palmer suggests that women make time to read professional journals and attend association meetings. By staying up to date on industry developments and leadership changes, women can avoid being caught off guard and jump on emerging opportunities in the field.
5. Working Behind the Scenes
Maintaining visibility at work can mean the difference between getting promoted and remaining stagnant in your career.
“Assuming their work speaks for itself can hinder many women from engaging in committees that could ultimately be a stepping stone to other opportunities within the organization,” said Palmer.
No matter how strong your job performance, the company’s leaders need to know you and be able to see what you’re capable of before they can consider you for advancement.
“Getting involved in a committee can increase your visibility within your organization, while also allowing you to make a contribution outside of your department,” said Palmer, who added that networking in the workplace can open the door to future job opportunities.
6. Not Following a Roadmap for Success
“Lots of people want higher pay and career advancement, but very few people can figure out how to get them,” said Leisa Peterson, business strategist, money coach and founder of WealthClinic. She adds that women can achieve career advancement by mastering three core skills areas.
First, you should gain a detailed understanding of how your company makes its money. Understanding a business' financial drivers enables you to make more valuable contributions in the workplace. Second, you should strive to be a team player. By helping your peers succeed now, you increase your odds of receiving their support down the line. Finally, women need to work to understand themselves and their goals.
“The more you know why you do what you do, the better able you’ll be to control your reactions and responses," said Peterson. "This self-mastery will enable you to make better decisions in the moment and will ultimately make you more valuable to your employer.”
7. Overlooking Relationships with Potential Sponsors
Moving up the ladder in an organization takes more than hard work and dedication. Most promising workers also need champions, or sponsors, to help them succeed. Unfortunately, women don’t often seek out these types of relationships, according to JJ DiGeronimo, president of Tech Savvy Women and author of the book, "Accelerate Your Impact: Action-based Strategies to Pave Your Professional Path."
“Women can professionally benefit from career sponsors, who will often leverage their social capital to champion these individuals toward their desired goals,” she said. “This could be in the form of an introduction, a recommendation or by suggesting to key decision-makers to consider adding them to the short-list for a new opportunity within the organization or industry.”
8. Skipping the Cocktail Hour
“As women, we sometimes worry what after-hours drinks with our peers will look like to an outside observer, but we shouldn’t,” said Nancy Mellard, the executive vice president of CBIZ Women’s Advantage, a mentoring and networking service that caters to female executives. “Important business conversations often occur over drinks."
If you don’t drink, Mellard suggests mingling with a club soda in hand. “You don’t want to miss out on a business opportunity — or, worse, hear about it the next morning — because you retired to your room too early,” she said.
9. Not Admitting When You Don’t Know Something
“As women — spouses and mothers — our environments have evolved to make us feel like we have to be in control. We have to know it all, do it all,” said Mellard, who adds that ‘I don’t want to look weak’ is a common refrain among the women with whom she works.
Still, refusing to acknowledge weaknesses is among the biggest career mistakes that women make and also one of the easiest to avoid. Contrary to popular belief, opening up about what you know — and what your don’t — builds trust and can actually create new opportunities within your team, according to Mellard.
10. Spreading Yourself Too Thin
It’s far from easy to balance work, family and personal commitments. Not being able to do it all can create guilt and even injure a woman's confidence.
“[Some] women might not feel confident deciding where to focus their time and energy, what to let go of and what kind of help to ask for,” said Cyndi Sax, senior vice president at Caliper. “This lack of confidence can reduce aspirations to assume a leadership position.”
To overcome this hurdle, Sax suggests that women set goals that are within reach and celebrate their accomplishments.
“Increase your self-awareness by knowing your core skills, talents and passions and put yourself in situations where you can rely upon those strengths," she said.