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Busting 6 common myths about your career

You’ve probably heard them all: Climb the career ladder as fast as you can. You’re too important to get laid off. Do what you love and the money will follow.

Such maxims permeate both the private and public sectors, even though they're rarely correct. In a new book, Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, author, consultant and workforce guru Alexandra Levit outlines some of the most common misconceptions that people perpetuate in the guise of career advice.

Levit took some time between her engagements to talk to "Management Watch" and explain why many career myths are more fable than fact.

Myth #1: Employers want you to be yourself. “While employers do appreciate people’s individuality, the truth is that it’s very important and necessary, especially for federal employees, to assimilate into the culture they're now a part of,” Levit said. “They shouldn’t do things that will necessarily rock the boat or go into a government organization telling them — God forbid — how things were done in the private sector because these things will not be appreciated. What you need to do is look at the culture and do [your] best to fit in and then try to make your mark, one small step at a time.”

Myth #2: Being good at your job trumps everything. “Unfortunately, you can sit in your office and churn out work products like there’s no tomorrow, but if your work is not visible, then it doesn’t matter,” Levit said. “You have to make sure the right people know about your accomplishments, that you’re able to summarize them succinctly in a way that’s meaningful to the people you’re talking to. If you’re talking to a higher-up, you want to talk in terms of profitability or productivity or something that can be measured. You always have to be tying your job responsibilities to the bottom line of your organization. In that way, that will be sort of a universal language you’re speaking."

Myth #3: It’s best to climb the ladder as fast as possible. “There are some people who get promoted quickly, and that’s a good pace for them and they’re ready for the promotion when it comes,” Levit said. “But there are other people, especially in this new generation of 20-somethings, [who] sometimes get in a little over their heads. There’s nothing wrong with getting promoted, but you just want to take a step back and really assess if this is a move that is good for you. For government workers, this is something that can be done fairly easily because the responsibilities they are going to follow are made very public, and what they'll be doing is very, very clear. Take that to heart and ask yourself if this is going to be something you’ll be happy doing — and successful doing.”

Myth #4: The problem isn’t you, it’s the organization. “Government employees may say, ‘Gosh, the government is so slow. If only I could work in the private sector, things would be much more efficient.’ Well, you know what? The grass is always greener,” Levit said. “I find people job-jumping all the time, going from private to government from government to private because they think that it’s the environment when in fact it’s [them]. You make a lot of the same mistakes and do a lot of the same behaviors over and over again, so what I’m recommending to people is that they look at themselves. Look for a pattern of behaviors, whether it’s in previous performance reviews or feedback you’ve gotten from a mentor. What are some of the things you’ve experienced over and over again? And how can you make a course direction midway instead of expecting everyone else to change?”

Myth #5: You’re too important to get laid off. “Unfortunately, layoffs don’t discriminate,” Levit said. “I think that’s one of the harder lessons we’ve learned as a result of the recession. People who thought they were untouchable all of a sudden face a different reality. Even if you’re a star performer in your group, maybe your group isn’t profitable. Maybe the organization has to make uniform cuts. It just happens that way, and sometimes there’s no other reason. You've got to be prepared for that kind of outcome and be on the lookout and watch for it. If you perceive yourself as indispensable, then you’re going to have a target on your back.”

And the most common myth among the federal workforce, according to Levit: You’ll get more money because you earned it. “There are certain ways compensation is given out in government, and sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with you or your performance or the department you’re in,” Levit said. “There are many, many variables at play, and you need to educate yourself on what those variables are. You need to talk with [the human resources department] about how compensation is given out, you need to talk to mentors and other people who worked in the same organization for a while so you’re not surprised when the review comes out and it doesn’t have the result that you thought. Especially in this climate, sometimes you’re not going to get a good result, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect negatively on you.”

Posted on Oct 05, 2011 at 12:19 PM

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Reader comments

Tue, Oct 11, 2011

Myth #2: Being good at your job trumps everything.For government workers, this is something that can be done fairly easily because the responsibilities they are going to follow are made very public, and what they'll be doing is very, very clear. NOT EVEN CLOSE!!!

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