5 Early Career Mistakes to Avoid

When I started my corporate career, it wasn’t all warm fuzzies. In fact – I made a few really big mistakes.

Here were 5 mistakes I made in my first 3 months – and, in what should be no surprise to you, they are the top 5 mistakes we see otherwise-savvy professionals make every single day.


MC CEO Jenny Rae Le Roux


  1. Start at the beginning, not the end

When I started work, I started at the beginning. What question were we asking?

If I wanted to size a market, I started with the population.

If I wanted to improve market share, I looked at competitors.

On my first project, I did 40 hours of research on the industry. But I just had information – and there was no action attached.

It was a huge waste of 40 hours.

On my second project, I started at the end – what action did I think was right, and how could I test it? It changed the game, changed my work, and ultimately changed my life.

  1. Ask too many questions

I was told in school that no questions are bad questions, but that is absolutely untrue in business. There are only two types of questions – great questions, and the rest.

What I did when I first started as an Associate Consultant at Bain and Company – a very prestigious firm – was ask lots of questions. I thought it made me look engaged and passionate.

Instead, it made me look green.

When I improved in my career, I learned how to ask every question with a hypothesis. Questions are communication too, and I learned how to ask powerful questions that engaged listeners, shared a point of view, and drove to insights that changed the course of companies in multiple industries.

One surprising application of this? Excel. When I built models from the hypothesis backward, they became better, faster, and more flexible – I was aware what questions I was asking, and what may change.

  1. Compete, not co-operate

I grew up competitive. I wanted to win, to be first, to be the best. I was driven to read more books than my peers, get better grades, work harder.

But in business, working hard gets you to the middle. Relationships get you to the top. And the best way to build relationships is to find opportunities to co-operate, not compete.

When I first started at Bain, I was a one-woman island. I worked only on my team. I met only with my manager.

Later, I got better at asking beyond my team – but I also got better at giving.

We have a powerful article sharing tips on how to be an amazing team player on high-performing teams here.

  1. Show up empty-handed

I showed up for my first meeting with a notepad. My manager was taken aback, but politely asked me, “Why are you here if you have nothing to add?”

It was the last time I showed up for a meeting without a slide.

Many times, they had questions.

Sometimes, they had insights.

But I always had something to add. And my future – when I started doing that – was never in doubt.

  1. Work hard, not smart

It was 9PM. He was one level above me, and assigned to make sure I didn’t screw up. He asked to see my financial model.

It was an absolute mess. Hardcoded numbers. Data I had no source for. Conflicting information.

We were working on a corporate client’s competitive analysis. It was my first time doing something like this. The insights were critical to recommendations. But my answer wasn’t clear, and more importantly – there was no way to back-track.

I was willing to work forever – but I didn’t have to. I just needed to answer the question, and anticipate all the ways different stakeholders would want to change the answer. I needed to be able to backtrack.

Once I started to learn to create flexibility, internal tracking, and better systems, I started to anticipate the questions people would ask. I would answer them before they asked – and offer my input on how I’d already thought about those issues. It was the key that was called out in my first promotion offer – and I’ve used the insight ever since.

In Closing

If you’re wanting to start off well, advance more, or generally improve your work reputation, we’d love to help.

Schedule a 15 minute call with a member of our team to learn more about our career mentoring and executive coaching.

Filed Under: Consulting skills, Leadership, Leadership & Management, life as a consultant, management consulting, new consultant, Where do I Start?