Worst Professional Mistakes- Advice from GovLoopers

first-5-icon-07I know you’ve heard it before, but we all make mistakes. We’re human. At some point in our professional life, we’re going to mess up. Sometimes, however, it can be nice to avoid mistakes by learning from others’ examples, especially if you’re a millennial just starting out. This is a great time to get advice from others about what to do and what not to do when establishing a career in public service.

At GovLoop, I’m lucky to be surrounded by well-accomplished colleagues who have years of experience and insights to share. They are where they are today, despite whatever mistakes they had to overcome. These GovLoopers have been there before and were kind and brave enough to share some of their worst professional mistakes of the past and what they would have done differently. See how their experiences can help you avoid these mistakes:

  • Don’t Take Things Too Personally. “I used to get really annoyed or angry in certain situations or I would take things personally when the situation required a calmer, less emotional approach. I’m very passionate about my work and take things seriously, but you have to separate your emotions from work most of the time in order to survive. Now, I try to take a step back to assess the best way to handle something rather than act on emotions.”

Christine Burke, Digital Marketing Manager

  • Don’t Let Others’ Negative Contributions Affect You. “In my first job, I worked on a really young team. One of my peers was struggling to adapt to a professional environment, both in her work and personally. It negatively impacted the team significantly. But instead of focusing on the positive, I let her poor attitude drag me down too. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have focused on how her work was affecting me. I should have sought ways to work around her and get my job done regardless of her performance.”

Hannah Moss, Researcher & Writer 

“One of the worst mistakes I made right when I started working after college was letting my colleagues’ opinions of my boss influence how I felt about her. Sure, she was one of the most disorganized/forgetful people I’ve worked with, but she was also incredibly insightful, hard working and creative. I think I could have learned more from her had I not let other people’s opinions shape my own.”

Leah Anderson, Digital Marketing Analyst

  • Look Attentive in Meetings. “I have a good memory, so I often don’t need to take notes to absorb information and remember my to do’s. But early in my career, I was called out on lack of note taking in meetings. Perception is unfortunately reality and people perceived my lack of note taking as a lack of interest in the meeting and overall company/job. From there on out, I always brought a notebook and pen (or laptop) to meetings and worked hard to show I was actively engaged.”

Amy DeWolf, Sr. Client Success Consultant

  • Pay Attention to Your Emails. “I once replied all to an email that was meant for my colleague, not my client and colleague, complaining about my client’s unresponsiveness and demands. Luckily the client didn’t take it as complaining and actually apologized for their behavior. But, when sending an email, make sure the person or people you are sending it to are the correct recipients. No matter how hard you try, you can’t ‘unsend’ an email. ”

-Megan Dotson, Sr. Client Success Consultant & Event Director

“When complaining about someone – a client, to be exact – I emailed the actual client instead of my coworker. Needless to say, I was embarrassed and worried that this would affect our relationship with that client. I learned several things from this one 30-second mistake. 1) Don’t complain about people or say mean things. You’re the only that looks bad in the situation, not them. 2) If you ARE going to complain about someone, don’t do it via email or in any written format. 3) Take the extra 5 seconds and double check who you’re emailing.”

Amy DeWolf, Sr. Client Success Consultant

  • Respect the Processes of Your Superiors. “I was so excited to get my first real job out of college. I wanted to do everything that was presented or offered. I worked too many hours and learned a ton. But in the process, this hindered my relationship with a few of the current employees, including some upper management folks – which was not my intent. I was told that ‘I had no right being in some of the meetings I was involved in’ and had ‘to take a back seat before speaking up’. I realized that while young and eager to contribute, sometimes we have to take a step back to understand the bigger picture. I was stepping on important toes. I eventually had to learn to take a back seat sometimes in order to be able to be a part of important meetings and be given larger tasks all while showing respect to everyone in the company.”

-Megan Dotson, Sr. Client Success Consultant & Event Director

“Come into a new job with a little trust in your superiors and their methods. There will come a point when you know enough to offer your opinion and provide alternatives to set processes. That point is not within the first 3-6 months of your job. In the beginning, you have to focus on learning from those who have been there, rather than fighting to make your way their way.”

Hannah Moss, Researcher & Writer

  • Know when it’s Time to Move On. “My biggest professional mistake in the past was staying at an uninspiring, 9-5, every-day-is-exactly-the-same-job for too long. It took me a while to realize that the lack of energy in the organization was causing me to become complacent in my role. If I wanted to be challenged, I’d have to go out and seek challenges on my own. I try not to regret the time I spent in that role, but I always wonder what else I could have accomplished during that time.”

Jamie Catania, Learning Specialist

“I stayed at a job for too long. I wasn’t being valued and had very hands-off managers who weren’t helping me grow professionally – even though it was my first job and I really needed a good mentor/manager to help me learn. I wish I hadn’t stayed at this job as long as I did. But one thing millennials should know is that you can’t switch jobs too much or else nobody will want to invest in you in the future. It’s not good to have 3-4 positions with only one year stints on your resume.”

Christine Burke, Digital Marketing Manager

For more advice on avoiding mistakes in your professional life, check out this great read by Jessica Bacal, “Mistakes I Made at Work.” Hear the stories of 25 women who are top leaders in their industries, their worst mistakes, and how they overcame them.

We can all learn from each other’s advice. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below!


For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial

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Not knowing to find mentors is my worst professional mistake. Mentors could have helped me to be much further along in a professional career as opposed to working a job. While it is late in the game for me, it is a bit of advice I pass on to others.

Penny E. Harris

I learned that writing an email when I am frustrated and immediately hitting send is a poor choice. I know now to — write what I want to say in a document (so I don’t mistakenly send it), let it sit and read it afer a few hours. Then if I still want to say something, edit and have a trusted colleague read it. Again, let it sit for a few hours (by now it has been at least a day). Look at it again, edit, put it in an email and send to a trusted support person. When they reply, review the reply and decide upon sending. By this time I either have clarified my true issue and know what I clearly want to say, or I just wanted to vent.