4 Ways to Kill Your Career

Success or Failure

In a recent PRSSA Twitter chat, Ron Culp tweeted, “Don’t pretend to know something if you don’t. It’s a career killer. Ask questions sooner than later.” The tweet sparked the question, “What else could kill my career?” among students and professionals alike.

I asked a few seasoned professionals to share additional career killers via email. While the career killers they shared may not actually kill a person’s career, they could result in a significant setback or a tarnished reputation.

Career Killer #1: A lack of understanding
According to Lewis Public Relations Director of Strategic Development Amanda Lewis Hill, APR, many new professionals enter the field without an understanding of what it takes to succeed in it.

“Some people never pick up on the drive and effort required to become a truly outstanding practitioner,” Hill said. “Watching the clock, only doing the minimum, relying on others to inspire growth – those are all ‘career killers,’ in my opinion. They may cause a slow death or deterioration, but they are killers nonetheless.”

Career Killer #2: Failure to learn and respect company history
A little research about your company’s history can go a long way. “Being strident or thinking you have all the answers without understanding the history behind an organization’s decisions [are career killers],” said Ginger Hardage, senior vice president of culture and communications, Southwest Airlines. “Patience, listening, and observing are critical qualities.”

Career Killer #3: Doing the bare minimum
“There are the common career killers that everyone cites, such as attention to detail, the inappropriate Facebook post and not being a team player,” said Mark McClennan, APR, senior vice president of social media services at MSLGROUP Boston. “But to me, the biggest career limiter is a lack of initiative. Doing your job is not enough. Thousands of young PR pros can do your job.”

The remedy for a lack of initiative? “Take the big swings and always ask – what more can I be doing?” McClennan said. “Those that go beyond doing what they are assigned and apply strategic thought and share ideas will leave those that don’t in the dust.”

Hill echoed McClennan’s thoughts. “Truly successful public relations practitioners are proactive nearly to the point of being aggressive,” she said. “They go after results and look for ways to become indispensable. The worst mistake you can make is to accept mediocrity. It just doesn’t cut it in our business.”

Career Killer #4: Pessimism
A negative outlook can really kill the mood for a person’s career. “In my experience, positive attitude and hard work are two of the greatest contributors to success,” said Maril MacDonald, CEO, Gagen MacDonald. “Many people who derail their careers do so because a negative attitude or sense of entitlement get in the way.”

Even the most talented professionals can ruin their careers if they fail to bring positive energy to their teams. “Many people have the intellect, the education, the skills to succeed,” MacDonald said. “But only those who also have passion and drive will fully thrive in a career – and in life!”

What else have you seen kill a person’s career? Share your career killers in the comments below.

Heather Harder Heather Harder is the immediate past president of PRSSA and an account coordinator at Capstrat, an integrated agency in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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