How One Word Can Kill Your Career


If presented with an unusual way to solve a problem or achieve a solution, you may have reached a point in your career where you reject the “why not?” perspective that you may have embraced in your younger years and instead have adopted a more rigid “no way!” outlook.

You may also find that it makes more sense to reflexively point out the potential pitfalls of a new idea rather than recognize the possible rewards that it could deliver. While this defensive mentality may seem safe, comfortable and politically acceptable, it could also mark the beginning of the end of your employability. A common complaint among today’s professionals is that they simply don’t have the time to take on any new initiatives.

With job titles and roles eliminated, workers are doing tasks that used to be handled by two or three people, and they’re too busy trying to stay ahead of a bottomless workload to even consider adding to their to-do list. But if all they offer to their organization is the capacity to dutifully follow the bulletpoints of their job description, they’re walking around the office with a massive target on their backs when the next round of cost-cutting takes place.

Can these workers keep the company’s internal machinery oiled and running smoothly? Yes. But so can a long line of other people who may be able to do it more efficiently and less expensively.

The only option you have to preserve your job is to make it difficult, costly, and inconvenient for your company to let you go. And the only way to do that is to be associated with, responsible for, or in charge of the successful implementation of new ideas that bring highly desirable benefits to your department, your superiors, and your organization.

By having your name connected to a successful program that brings about noteworthy results, you transform yourself from being an anonymous and replaceable worker to a prized asset that your company needs. You make yourself essential, because you’ve made everyone around you look good.

If your organization is shortsighted and dysfunctional, they may not value what you’ve achieved, but the payoff for you is that you’ve made something happen that’s now an integral part of your resume, and that another company may deem useful – which could create an opportunity for a new and potentially better paying position for you elsewhere.

In terms of which new ideas you should embrace and support, you need to be strategic: just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s valid, smart, or worth developing. If you take the time to examine and research opportunities that have been presented to you using a specific set of criteria, you can eliminate the risky ones and get behind the ones that offer the greatest chance of success (in addition to offering the best chance of enhancing your value as an employee, either within your organization or at another one).

Here’s a helpful list of benchmarks to use when considering new ideas that come across your desk:

  • What’s the time and financial investment that’s required to see if the idea will work, as well as support it in the future if it’s successful? 
  • How long will it take for me to see if the idea is working or not?
  • What are the benefits that the successful implementation of the idea can deliver, and are they in line with the goals of my department, my superiors, and the organization? 
  • How can my name be associated with the successful implementation of the idea? 
  • If the idea fails, how much of the responsibility will be associated with me, my department, or my superiors? 
  • If it succeeds, how much of the credit can be attributed to my department and my superiors? 
  • Will other companies in my industry become aware of the idea – and my participation in it - if it’s successful? 

Just doing your job just doesn’t cut it anymore: while it may be challenging and time-consuming, there could be someone right over your shoulder who can deliver the same results faster, better, and cheaper. By embracing, developing, and launching successful new ideas, however, you’ll differentiate yourself from your co-workers, enhance your personal brand, and bring desired benefits to your organization. You’ll also add years to your career and increase your value as an employee, whether it’s in your current organization or in another one that has a better understanding of – and appreciation for - your true worth.

Rafe Gomez is a business consultant and the author of the audiobook What’s In It For Me:  A Powerful New Interview Strategy To Get You Hired In Today’s Challenging Economy.  Follow him @rehirementcoach