The 5 worst career mistakes you can make, according to professional women.

“Don’t be a drain,” our People and Culture manager said during a meeting a few weeks ago.

The advice, to be clear, was a little bit stolen from Oprah Winfrey, but I think we can all admit that every good idea is a little bit stolen from Oprah Winfrey.

“You have a choice,” she explained.

You can be a drain, a person who is excessively negative and defeatist, sucking energy from everyone around them. Or, you can be a radiator. Radiators exude warmth, honesty, positivity and enthusiasm, and generally make life better for those around them.”

Being a ‘drain’, constantly seeing the glass half empty, and coming to your manager with complaints and problems, rather than viable solutions, is one of the biggest career mistakes you can make, she said.

With that in mind, we spoke to a number of professional women to determine the worst things you can do for your career, so we know exactly what to avoid in 2018.

      1. Owning up to your mistakes.

“If you own your mistakes people will trust you more,” CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, Sallie Krawcheck says.

“Any time you waste blaming other people, or even blaming yourself,” she adds, “is time not spent pivoting to solve the problem.”

SELL: We discuss ‘Imposter syndrome’ and how to deal with it on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

Mistakes are inevitable, and getting really good at dealing with them is the mark of a proactive leader. Although shirking responsibility, or trying to bury the problem out of view, might feel like the easiest option, in the long term, it won’t serve you well.

Admit the error was yours and invest your energy in trying to fix it.

      2. Do not burn your bridges.

This sentiment has been expressed by a number of professional women, one being Mamamia’s Evening Editor, Marta Jary.

“A girl who was my intern, 10 years later was my editor. Be nice to everyone,” she advises.

Often, ambitious employees can get very good at ‘managing up’ – ensuring that their manager and boss think they’re incredibly competent. But it would seem it’s just as important to ‘manage down’.

Treat the intern with as much respect as the department head, both because it’s the right thing to do, and because they could end up being your boss one day.

      3. Don’t undersell yourself in job interviews.

This point pertains specifically to women.

Research shows that women routinely sell themselves short, downplaying achievements, and not applying for jobs where they do not meet 100 per cent of the requirements.

Men, conversely, feel confident if they meet just 60 per cent of the stated criteria.

It’s time for women to back themselves, and if this feels like ‘humble-bragging’ then the solution is simple: evidence. 

Data speaks for itself. How much revenue have you brought in for the business? How have you improved the workplace? What are your objective successes that can be quantified?


If this feels uncomfortable, find someone who you work with closely, and ask if they can help. Often, someone else can see our accomplishments and strengths far more than we can.

SELL: Tips for how to absolutely nail your job interview. Post continues below. 

     4. Not asking questions.

Questions are your lifeline in the workplace.

Wall Street Executive Carla Harris says, “One of bosses asked me to complete an assignment. While I wasn’t sure what he was asking me to do, I decided that I should not ask for further clarification because I thought he expected me to figure it out… I was afraid asking a lot of questions about the assignment would show that I was not very smart.”

Harris got the assignment in early, but it was entirely wrong, and needed to be redone from scratch.

Her advice is simple. Do not ever walk away from someone assigning you a project without a thorough understanding of precisely what they’re asking you to do.

Ask 10 questions if you need to. Ultimately, you are saving time and resources by seeking clarification in the moment.

     5. Repeat: Never be a drain.

Well… you can have a bad day. But try your best to exude a positive energy, rather than a negative one.

What do you think is the biggest career mistake you can make?