Podcast: How to Avoid Five Common Career Pitfalls
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Careers Organizations Jun 6, 2017

Pod­cast: How to Avoid Five Com­mon Career Pitfalls

Plus, a study shows an upside for com­pa­nies that hire ex-offenders.

Based on the research and insights of

Carter Cast

Dylan Minor

Listening: Keep Your Career from Derailing

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Are you doing every­thing you can to keep your career on track?

Often, the answer is not clear. But a bit of self-reflec­tion can reveal some ten­den­cies that lead promis­ing careers to falter.

Carter Cast, a clin­i­cal assis­tant pro­fes­sor of inno­va­tion and entre­pre­neur­ship at the Kel­logg School and author of The Right — and Wrong — Stuff: How Bril­liant Careers Are Made and Unmade, iden­ti­fies five major career derail­ers that can get in the way of reach­ing your potential. 

Then Dylan Minor, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of man­age­r­i­al eco­nom­ics and deci­sion sci­ences at Kel­logg, dis­cuss­es some research con­duct­ed with col­leagues includ­ing Kellogg’s Nico­la Per­si­co. They find that — under the right con­di­tions — com­pa­nies that hire peo­ple with crim­i­nal records may be reward­ed with more loy­al employees. 

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Pod­cast Transcript

[music pre­lude]

Fred SCHMALZ: Keep­ing a career on track can be sur­pris­ing­ly dif­fi­cult. Between stretch­ing your skill set for a pro­mo­tion, find­ing the right work – life bal­ance, and stand­ing up to that pushy cowork­er, there are a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties to get things wrong. Your career plateaus. Maybe you get demot­ed or even let go. 

So how can you avoid derail­ing your career? This month on our Insight pod­cast we take a look at how to rec­og­nize and cope with some of the com­mon ten­den­cies that lead promis­ing careers to falter. 

Fair warn­ing, this requires some often-uncom­fort­able self-reflec­tion. Because some­times career derail­ment has less to do with cir­cum­stances and more to do with com­mon per­son­al­i­ty traits that may be hold­ing us back. 

In the sec­ond half of our pod­cast, we’ll tack­le some­thing quite dif­fer­ent: an inter­est­ing study that found that — under the right con­di­tions — com­pa­nies that hire peo­ple with crim­i­nal records may be reward­ed with more loy­al employees. 

So stay with us. 

[music inter­lude]

SCHMALZ: You’re a high fly­er. Your company’s lead­er­ship has high expec­ta­tions for you. They may see you as the next CMO, the next cre­ative direc­tor. They may be tak­ing steps to groom you for suc­cess. But you may not get there. You may lose your way. Your career may derail. Here’s Kel­logg pro­fes­sor Carter Cast. 

Carter CAST: We’re not talk­ing about peo­ple that lack tal­ent. We’re talk­ing about peo­ple who don’t reach the expect­ed lev­el of per­for­mance. And when they don’t reach that, it usu­al­ly comes in the form of, they plateau. They don’t get the job that peo­ple thought they were going to get. They get demot­ed or they get fired. 

SCHMALZ: Cast is a clin­i­cal assis­tant pro­fes­sor of inno­va­tion and entre­pre­neur­ship at the Kel­logg School and author of the new book, The Right — and Wrong — Stuff: How Bril­liant Careers are Made and Unmade.” 

Of course, there are lots of rea­sons why careers derail that are beyond our con­trol. No one can ignore the pow­er­ful role that racism, sex­ism, and ageism — con­scious or oth­er­wise — play in many workplaces. 

But in Cast’s expe­ri­ence — and what he found in inter­view­ing more than 60 exec­u­tives and HR rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and sur­vey­ing more than 100 peo­ple who have been fired or demot­ed — it pays to under­stand whether aspects of your own atti­tude and approach to work may also be hold­ing you back. 

CAST: We all have derail­ment char­ac­ter­is­tics. Every­body does. So it’s not a ques­tion of whether you have one. It’s a ques­tion of how you man­age around it so it doesn’t bite you. 

SCHMALZ: So how do we know what may under­mine our career tra­jec­to­ries? Cast draws our atten­tion to five com­mon pitfalls. 

CAST: The first big rea­son peo­ple derail — and the biggest by far — is rela­tion­al issues with oth­er people.

You’re defen­sive. You’re over­ly ambi­tious, and you sort of bruise peo­ple on your way to the cor­ner office. 

You have like a dark-side ten­den­cy that comes out under pres­sure. So you get over­ly excitable under stress and you blow up or you become scared under stress and you actu­al­ly recede. You kind of put your head in the sand. Or some­times you become mis­chie­vous and over­ly dra­mat­ic under stress because you’re kind of blow­ing off steam. 

SCHMALZ: So whether your nat­ur­al ten­den­cy is to lash out or fade into the back­ground, a healthy dose of self-under­stand­ing is the first step to keep­ing your­self in check. 

Employ­ees are most sus­cep­ti­ble to the sec­ond derail­er when they first get the chance to start lead­ing a team. Not every­one suc­cess­ful­ly tran­si­tions from doing one job — say, sales — to doing anoth­er — like lead­ing a sales force. This can be thought of as, good play­er, bad coach.” 

We’ve all seen how this can play out, either in our own careers or in others’: 

CAST: You’re good at doing some­thing. They pro­mote you and you keep try­ing to do what you’re good at instead of man­ag­ing the team. So the team gets dis­en­fran­chised. They don’t feel own­er­ship for the work because you’re div­ing in all the time and telling them how to do it. That often hap­pens ear­ly in a career. 

SCHMALZ: The third trait Cast found that can side­track a career is when a per­son, as he describes it, gets stuck in their own Ver­sion 1.0,” mean­ing, they strug­gle to keep up with a busi­ness world that’s mov­ing fast, so they find what works and cling to it. 

CAST: You are not adapt­able. You don’t stay abreast of changes, tech­nol­o­gy changes, mar­ket shifts. You’re not adapt­able also to changes in your orga­ni­za­tion. Like, you get a new boss and you don’t learn to adjust to that boss’s style. 

SCHMALZ: The fourth derail­er is one that often accom­pa­nies a lack of expe­ri­ence: while you may be extra­or­di­nar­i­ly capa­ble at your job, that doesn’t mean you have the abil­i­ty to think strategically. 

CAST: You’re good at doing a task, but you don’t have the broad­er per­spec­tive on how all the pieces fit togeth­er in your organization. 

SCHMALZ: The fifth career derail­er that Cast iden­ti­fies is a com­mon out­come of our desire to do a good job, help the orga­ni­za­tion, and be seen as a go-get­ter. We over­com­mit, orga­nize poor­ly, strug­gle to pri­or­i­tize, and we end up not deliv­er­ing on our promises. 

CAST: Some­times it’s peo­ple that we have dif­fi­cul­ty say­ing no. I’m one of those people. 

SCHMALZ: But Cast takes a tip from Robert Ury’s book, The Pow­er of a Pos­i­tive No.” 

CAST: He reminds us that when we say no to some­thing, remem­ber what we’re say­ing yes to. So when I say no to doing some­thing at night, I’m say­ing yes to my fam­i­ly. I’m say­ing yes to din­ner with my fam­i­ly. So I have to remem­ber that, too. 

SCHMALZ: So in Cast’s view, keep­ing a career on track has a lot to do with rec­og­niz­ing unhelp­ful traits and reign­ing them in. 

But there’s one oth­er fac­tor — that’s not a per­son­al­i­ty trait — that Cast has found that can also put the brakes on our poten­tial. When the thrill goes out of the job — when you lose that fire in your bel­ly — that can sig­nal that you may be about to stumble. 

CAST: You’re in the wrong con­text, baby. You are doing this job and you shouldn’t be doing it because it doesn’t fit your needs. It doesn’t fit your motives. 

But if we can uncov­er what our motives are, we can put our­selves in the right con­text at work so we’re happier. 

I think you’ve got to get cre­ative. And a lot of times the answer to this stuff is not all sweep­ing, because there are parts of our jobs we like and parts of our jobs that we don’t.

I try to look at the activ­i­ties I’m doing. And I try to tease out which of these activ­i­ties I like and which ones are actu­al­ly caus­ing me to flag. 

SCHMALZ: Still, even with the best of inten­tions, we may fall short. So, what do you do if you feel your­self slip­ping off the track? Cast has a few tips. 

CAST: You have to stay as open-mind­ed and as recep­tive to the crit­i­cism as you can. Hav­ing this atti­tude that this is prob­a­bly hard for the per­son giv­ing me the crit­i­cism to do, so I have to hon­or and respect the fact that they’re doing what’s hard. Take your punches. 

Then, let’s say you’ve real­ized, okay, I have an author­i­ty prob­lem. I tend to make snide com­ments when I feel the heavy hand of author­i­ty. This is not hypo­thet­i­cal, by the way. This is Carter Cast. Then what I tried to do when I got this bad review one time, I tried to iden­ti­fy the sit­u­a­tions where this derail­ment dark-side ten­den­cy of mine comes out to play. Then I thought, what is a rem­e­dy or a cor­rec­tive step I could take. So then it becomes a dis­ci­pline. I had a wrist band that remind­ed me to be qui­et and pause and con­sid­er before speaking. 

SCHMALZ: And you don’t have to go it alone, either in iden­ti­fy­ing or find­ing ways to over­come your per­son­al derailers. 

CAST: Seek coun­sel from friends and seek coun­sel from coach­es. I’m the, I nev­er was a big fan of using exec­u­tive coach­es or man­age­ment coach­es. That was just my own igno­rance. They can real­ly help you put togeth­er a game plan on how you can attack some of the areas. 

[music inter­lude]

SCHMALZ: Being mind­ful of your own career path may be your own top pri­or­i­ty. But a company’s top pri­or­i­ty is to ensure that all the employ­ees it hires and retains are as good as possible. 

And one thing many employ­ers shy away from is an appli­cant with a crim­i­nal record. But is exclud­ing ex-offend­ers real­ly in a company’s best interests? 

Recent research from the Kel­logg School looked at data from almost a mil­lion job appli­cants to deter­mine whether employ­ees with crim­i­nal records are fired more often than those with­out records, and whether, per­haps, there’s an upside to hir­ing these applicants. 

Here’s Kellogg’s Dylan Minor, one of the authors of the study: 

Dylan MINOR: What we found, inter­est­ing­ly to us, was that those with a pre­vi­ous record that are hired, it turns out, are actu­al­ly no less like­ly to be ter­mi­nat­ed invol­un­tar­i­ly. Which are the kinds of things we usu­al­ly look at as neg­a­tive. How­ev­er, those with a crim­i­nal record are much more like­ly to hang around voluntarily. 

SCHMALZ: The fact that crim­i­nal-record hold­ers stick around longer can mean a huge finan­cial boon to com­pa­nies, which can save on the cost of recruit­ing and train­ing new workers. 

MINOR: And for the kinds of posi­tions that we were look­ing at, which were sales posi­tions and cus­tomer ser­vice pri­mar­i­ly, turnover costs are huge. So hav­ing a work­er that will stick around longer, even 10 per­cent, can result in mas­sive­ly improved profits. 

SCHMALZ: Minor, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of man­age­r­i­al eco­nom­ics and deci­sion sci­ences at Kel­logg, teamed up with Nico­la Per­si­co, a pro­fes­sor in the same depart­ment, to con­duct the research. Along with a col­league from Northwestern’s law school, they looked at data from a hir­ing con­sul­tan­cy that helped staff 11 com­pa­nies. Near­ly a quar­ter of a mil­lion of the appli­cants’ appli­ca­tions includ­ed infor­ma­tion on whether the per­son was an ex-offender. 

The researchers found that, over­all, the turnover rate for ex-offend­ers was 13% low­er than for non-offenders. 

So why would ex-offend­ers, once hired, be more inclined to stay in their job? Minor sees a cou­ple of pos­si­ble rea­sons for this longevity. 

MINOR: My con­jec­ture is that for those with a his­to­ry — we know based on past expe­ri­ence and we also find it in our data — there real­ly is a hir­ing penal­ty. That is, if you have a record, con­trol­ling for all things, you are actu­al­ly less like­ly to get a job. And so if you do final­ly find a job, then you’re less like­ly to take anoth­er job just because you have a small­er oppor­tu­ni­ty set. And so it’s in their best inter­est to stick around the job and per­haps, I would also con­jec­ture, that there’s some loy­al­ty going on as well. That they’re will­ing to hire them, give them a shot, things worked out, and they’re actu­al­ly gonna allow them to stay on. 

SCHMALZ: While the researchers found that ex-offend­ers were gen­er­al­ly more loy­al employ­ees, the pic­ture gets a lit­tle more com­pli­cat­ed when hir­ing for cer­tain roles. Specif­i­cal­ly, ex-offend­ers in sales posi­tions were riski­er hires. They were 28 per­cent more like­ly to be fired for mis­con­duct than employ­ees with­out a record, the researchers found. 

MINOR: So it’s a mat­ter of being pru­dent with­in your busi­ness and, again, think­ing about the roles and the per­son and what their back­ground is and where they’re com­ing from. 

SCHMALZ: And there’s a pub­lic pol­i­cy rea­son for under­stand­ing how well ex-offend­ers rein­te­grate into the work­force. In recent years, the Ban the Box” civ­il rights cam­paign has emerged. This cam­paign seeks to elim­i­nate bias in hir­ing by dis­suad­ing employ­ers from ask­ing job appli­cants about their crim­i­nal his­to­ry. The log­ic is that improv­ing the job prospects of ex-offend­ers will reduce recidivism. 

Minor’s view is that the aim of the cam­paign is a good one. But there may be a poten­tial downside. 

MINOR: So on prin­ci­ple, if Ban the Box is imple­ment­ed, the firm can’t ask that ques­tion ini­tial­ly. Most like­ly in today’s world of big data, they could actu­al­ly still make a pre­dic­tion — and if they did that, then you actu­al­ly encour­age dis­crim­i­na­tion on oth­er dimensions. 

SCHMALZ: So com­pa­nies could deploy algo­rithms that would crunch an applicant’s infor­ma­tion — age, gen­der, edu­ca­tion lev­el, address — and use it to deter­mine the like­li­hood of them hav­ing a crim­i­nal record. 

MINOR: And if they did that, then you actu­al­ly could basi­cal­ly encour­age dis­crim­i­na­tion on oth­er dimen­sions that in the end could make it even worse. So that’s the argu­ment of the the­o­ry on the oth­er side. 

SCHMALZ: A bet­ter way for­ward might be to encour­age firms to take a deep­er dive, dig­ging into just what type of crime an appli­cant has been con­vict­ed of. 

MINOR: If they’re gonna be run­ning your finan­cial oper­a­tions, you might not wan­na hire some­one that pre­vi­ous­ly got in trou­ble for say mon­ey laundering. 

SCHMALZ: Good tip. 

And, of course, com­pa­nies hir­ing ex-offend­ers need to be cog­nizant of both the pos­si­ble lit­i­ga­tion costs and the rep­u­ta­tion­al reper­cus­sions of hav­ing a rogue employee. 

MINOR: There’s also a poten­tial dis­ad­van­tage in that if you’re adver­tis­ing, hey, we’ll hire those with a past his­to­ry,” all of a sud­den your hir­ing pool could change dra­mat­i­cal­ly and things actu­al­ly might not go so well in the end. 

So there are some firms that pub­licly embrace some type of sus­tain­abil­i­ty approach and cer­tain­ly how they treat their work­ers and who they hire can be a part of that. And I’ve seen some exam­ples of that with some companies. 

SCHMALZ: Addi­tion­al­ly, employ­ers may see a larg­er eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty. With a labor mar­ket that is achiev­ing near full employ­ment, find­ing an untapped group of loy­al employ­ees could solve lots of prob­lems, not just for the com­pa­nies that hire ex-offend­ers, but for those ex-offend­ers and for soci­ety as a whole. 

MINOR: My hope, too, is in the cur­rent eco­nom­ic envi­ron­ment in the states here, with employ­ment being so low that it could be as good of a time as ever to put in place some oppor­tu­ni­ties for these peo­ple to have a sec­ond chance. 

[music inter­lude]

SCHMALZ: This pro­gram was pro­duced by Jes­si­ca Love, Fred Schmalz, Emi­ly Stone, and Michael Spikes. 

Spe­cial thanks to Kel­logg School pro­fes­sors Dylan Minor and Carter Cast. 

You can pre­order Cast’s book, The Right (and Wrong) Stuff” at Amazon. 

You can stream or down­load our pod­cast from iTunes, Google Play, or from our web­site, where you can read more about careers and lead­er­ship. Vis­it us at insight​.kel​logg​.north​west​ern​.edu. We’ll be back next month with anoth­er Kel­logg Insight podcast. 

Featured Faculty

Carter Cast

Clinical Associate Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Dylan Minor

Member of the Department of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences faculty until 2018

About the Writer

Fred Schmalz is Business Editor of Kellogg Insight.

About the Research

Minor, Dylan, Nicola Persico, and Deborah M. Weiss. 2016. "Criminal Background and Job Performance." Working paper.

Read the original

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