What are the biggest career mistakes to avoid? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Dorie Clark, Duke professor, author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, on Quora:

The biggest career mistake is assuming that other people are paying attention to what you're doing professionally. The truth is, most people probably have a (wildly) outdated view of who you are and what you're capable of. Given the amount of overwhelm we face at work these days (the average professional has an astonishing sixty-two meetings a month), it's natural that we conserve cognitive energy. We only re-evaluate our early perceptions of other people once we're forced to.

The upshot of this, as I discuss in my book Reinventing You, is that you're likely to be missing out on prime professional opportunities because you're simply not top of mind for people re: the kinds of positions that appeal to you now. I went through a succession of multiple, very different jobs in my early-to-mid twenties: a newspaper reporter, a political campaign spokesperson, and a nonprofit executive director, to name just a few. I'd run into people whom I had every reason to believe liked me and wanted to help me, and they were still under the assumption I was in a job I'd left three years prior. My many career changes simply hadn't registered for them.

That's when I realized that we have to take control of our narrative, and make sure that - even in a busy world - others are aware of what we're doing and what we're headed toward, so they can connect us with the right kind of opportunities, not something we would have been qualified for five years ago.

There are a few things you can do to hasten this:

  • Make sure you always have a good response to the ubiquitous question, "So what are you working on these days?" Don't blow this opportunity by saying, "Oh, nothing much," like everyone else does. Instead, share an anecdote about your current work so they'll understand what you're doing today and how your career has advanced.
  • Get a wingman. As I described here in the Harvard Business Review, a great strategy - backed by research from Jeffrey Pfeffer from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University - is to identify a like-minded colleague to treat as your 'networking buddy.' Many professionals are self-conscious about self-promotion; instead, you can make a pact that you'll make an effort to talk up your colleague, and he'll do the same for you. This takes the pressure off your branding efforts, but ensures that others will hear about your accomplishments (and will hopefully be impressed enough to want to learn more).
  • Start creating content. A great way to break through and get noticed is to create content related to your field. People begin to view you as an expert when you share your ideas publicly, and they can evaluate for themselves how well you understand the topic. When they see that you're knowledgeable, it takes their respect to a new level.

With those strategies, you can break through and ensure that others are far more likely to be aware of your career path - and your next steps.

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Published on: Feb 16, 2017