The Silent Career Killer

Everyone has met that one person through their work. First impressions are excellent. They seem bright, positive, present well and come across as a real go-getter. But their career never truly takes off, and they seem a bit like a “rolling stone”. 

For those who suffer with the silent career killer, it can be near impossible to self-identify. This is because the capabilities required to recognise what is going wrong are the same as those holding you back.

So what is this looming threat to your career?

Low career emotional intelligence. Otherwise known as unrealistic expectations, this is something that can be difficult to overcome.

Conquering it requires self-reflection and sometimes a complete overhaul of your belief systems. But it is possible and, in some ways, paramount to overcome it if you wish to realise your career goals and become the professional you aspire to be.

Let’s look at how to determine if the silent career killer is affecting you, and what to do to overcome it…

Take the self-assessment

Here are some questions you can ask to help identify if this is indeed the thing holding you back:

  1. Have you changed jobs or employers multiple times in the past five years?
  2. Are the reasons why you change jobs usually due to something external (i.e.: unfortunate stuff that happens “to you”)?
  3. Do you avoid constructive criticism from leadership because you would prefer to stay positive? Perhaps a manager has said you lack follow through, or tend to overpromise but under deliver?
  4. Do you tend to avoid harsh self-criticism and focus on being confident and positive?
  5. Do you find you clash with others often, and blame it on their difficult personalities?
  6. Has more than one person said your career expectations are a touch unrealistic?
  7. Do you often feel that you aren’t recognised enough for your achievements, or someone else is stealing your limelight?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, the silent career killer may be sneaking up on you.

Whether you are a few years out of university or have spent many years in middle management, the silent career killer can rapidly put a glass ceiling on your career, and sometimes even murder it.

Unfortunately, what could be happening is your expectations are not aligned with the reality of your career situation, and to turn it around you may have to tackle what pains you most.

What employers see

While you may see yourself in a particular light, it could be a different story for your employer.

Initially your great energy, confidence, and personality were likely perceived as strengths. But over time, your over-confidence, need for continuous recognition or desire to be promoted early without having done the hard yards, will likely start to wear thin.

Perhaps your manager has offered coaching and encouragement mixed with constructive criticism. But this was likely quickly forgotten after they saw a brief change in behaviour, followed by things returning to the way they were.

How to kill the silent career killer

If the silent career killer is impacting your career, you can absolutely get the upper hand. But it is hard work. It means questioning long held ideas about yourself and doing things that feel uncomfortable at first.

To start, try these 4 simple steps which will go a long way to turning it all around…

Work on a growth mindset – acknowledge your imperfections. Seek ways to improve, see challenges as opportunities, stop seeking approval, and value the process over the end result.

Have patience – don’t give in to impulsive decisions. Work through parts of a role that don’t feel exciting, stick with tough projects until completion, and embrace the opportunity to be stretched in areas that are not your strengths.

Consult with others – find a mentor that is highly successful in your field.  Someone different to you, who you know will be firm but fair. Embrace constructive criticism, and opt for diversity of opinion when you’re seeking advice about a major decision.

Review your expectations – time for a reality check. If self-awareness is a blind spot for you, it’s time to start thinking more realistically. Re-assess your expectations of people and situations.  Consider what they think of you and listen to the good and the bad. Play devil’s advocate with yourself and ask others to as well, particularly when you start feeling worked up or defensive about a difficult situation.

Success does not come easily. It is usually through working hard on yourself, resilience and persistence that people find themselves at the top of their game.

Tips for your employer

We talk to employers day in, day out. Almost without fail, they tell us the toughest people in their team to lead are the ones with unrealistic expectations. Sadly, it is busy leaders losing patience and not knowing how to help, that can also lead to yet another career dead end.

There are some steps your manager or employer can take to help you turn your career around.

They can:

  • Have the hard conversations with you early on without getting frustrated or angry. They also need to hold you accountable for what you have committed to improving
  • Talk openly about developing your emotional awareness and encourage you to reflect on your blind spots
  • Encourage you to consult widely with industry and career experts, and connect you with highly suitable mentors
  • Point you towards the facts including salary reviews, market reports and online information
  • Offer projects or additional professional development or education that will stretch you to the next level

You may also benefit from a career discussion with a specialist recruiter – someone known for deep sector or industry experience in your field.

Strangely enough, it is not uncommon for employers to send staff to see the HorizonOne team to help them understand where they fit in the market. Not just as a reality check, but for professional development and to help them understand what needs to be addressed in order to move forward. Sometimes it can be a boss at their wits-end looking for ways to re-set unrealistic expectations, and sometimes they are being trustful and strategic as they tackle this issue head-on.

It is possible to stop the silent career killer before it is too late.

Once you stop narrowing your focus to external factors and start looking inward to find your inner realist, you have already started the journey toward how career success really happens.

Here is a great article on how being realistic and focusing on substance beats confidence and positivity hands-down: