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How not to ruin your next career move

By Matt Knight, for CNN
Many business executives fail to do the necessary research when looking for a new job.
Many business executives fail to do the necessary research when looking for a new job.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New research suggests many top business executives make elementary mistakes when searching for new jobs
  • Harvard Business Review report identifies five common mistakes
  • Executives often leave for money and overestimate their own abilities
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London, England (CNN) -- Got a job offer or thinking of making a career move in 2010? You would be wise to do your homework to avoid ruining your next move, new research suggests.

A report published in this month's Harvard Business Review suggests that even high-ranking executives make elementary mistakes when searching for a new role.

In researching "Five Ways to Bungle a Job Change", authors Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams interviewed 400 executive research consultants, 500 high level executives and the heads of Human Resources at 15 multinational companies.

"It all kept coming down to the same thing," Robin Abrahams, research associate at Harvard Business School, told CNN.

"Five mistakes came out consistently, no matter who we asked." she said.

Lack of research

The report identifies four areas which were conspicuously absent in job seekers' research.

Groysberg, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and Abrahams reveal that executives fail to assess potential employers for financial stability or how they might fit in culturally to a new organization.

Job seekers also assume that official job descriptions accurately reflect the role as well as failing to properly investigate "job-market realities for their industry."

"They really don't do their due diligence," Abrahams said.

"Think for a moment if you were going to invest a year's salary in the stock of a company. How much due diligence would you do on that company before investing your money? People don't do that when they are changing their job."

Leaving for money

Moving jobs for a pay rise is, according to Abrahams, a result of people thinking in the short term and is no guarantee of success in the long term.

"You know when you change jobs that there are going to be some losses involved -- moving your family for example -- so the money helps people with feelings of loss aversion. It's also a story that you can tell to other people and they will understand.

Abrahams, a research psychologist, has a special interest in the psychology of narrative. It's important for people to explain themselves to other people she says.

"If you tell people you're getting $10,000 or $50,000 more, everyone gets that. But If you are saying long-winded things like 'it's for my personal development' or 'I'm truly happier doing this' you can only say those things to your closest friends and even they might not care or understand."

Going "from" rather than "to"

Executives at the top, as well as people lower down the career ladder are sometimes so desperate to leave their job that they don't plan their career moves and lurch from job to job instead of waiting for the right position.

"Ask yourself: 'are there opportunities still left at my old company or do I really need to leave?'" Abraham said.

"It's very easy for one or two pieces of information -- whether its 'my boss insulted me' or 'these people are offering me $25,000 more' -- to overwhelm everything else. Don't make a job change based on one piece of information," Abrahams added.

Overestimating yourself

Abrahams says that people overestimate themselves in two ways.

"They generally think they are more competent than they are and tend to have what's called a self-aggrandizement bias -- overplaying the extent to which you saved the day and your own contribution," Abrahams said.

This "excessively optimistic" opinion of themselves leads them to underestimate how long a job search can take.

"A lot of people aren't even thinking through the competition," Abrahams said.

Thinking short term

A short term perspective, Groysberg and Abrahams say, can feed into the mistakes above and many of the headhunters they spoke to cited it as a "serious career misstep in its own right."

Abrahams say executives should pay attention to all sources of information available to them about a new role.

If you are lucky enough to find the job of your dreams this year, Abrahams -- who writes the "Miss Conduct" social advice column for the Boston Globe -- has some words of wisdom.

"On-boarding is absolutely crucial. When you start a job, etiquette and good career management tactics are the same really. Find out who you need to know and get in front of them. Do everything you can to start building up your social capital. Definitely come with a listening perspective, no matter how important you are."

Burning your bridges with your old company has never been a smart move. Even more so now in the modern business world, Abrahams says.

"Globalization and people changing careers will mean that today's boss maybe tomorrow's client or vendor, subordinate or rival for another job. You simply never know."