Year after year, sports fans and beat writers are left wondering how the top draft picks of yesteryear still have yet to deliver the anticipated goods. Making their shortcomings even more perplexing is the fact that so many of their colleagues, drafted much lower than they were, do end up impressing in the big leagues.

Identifying some of the reasons why lesser-touted athletes go on to become stars is actually a simpler task than trying to decode why some of the top talent flounders in the professionals. Yet, considering the sum of the signing bonuses that are thrown at unproven talent, one would think that sports clubs would scramble to devise a better means of screening out the under-performers of the future. After all, some clubs gamble their future on a high schooler they see as the savior of the franchise. More often than not, the team gets burned.

How can multimillion dollar sports organizations allow such blunders? Frequently, it is because the fans and owners alike are impatient for results (in the form of wins) and the stakes behind a successful or failed season are so high. But even smaller businesses face the same challenges when hiring a highly-touted young professional. They spend time, money and energy trying to secure fresh talent, and they too often end up seeing some of their picks flounder.

Pride before a fall

No matter how confident and brash young professionals may be, the majority of (relatively) sane ones realize that, in spite of their own swagger and assertiveness, they really lack the experience and track record to pull off most mandates. More worrisome are the ones who don’t acknowledge their own inabilities and stubbornly hold the idea that they can pull any project off. In these instances, the same confidence that landed them the job frequently loses it for them.

More often than not, however, a young professional’s failure to meet expectations is not entirely his own fault. Sometimes, the employer deserves to shoulder some of the blame.

Sometimes, the problem’s in the locker room…

Wrong man for the job

You can never underestimate the power of a company’s culture. If a quarterback who likes to throw the ball is drafted to a team that favors a running style of offense, the athlete might as well not show up — and the team was foolish to take him on. It’s as simple as that. If a young graduate likes structure, he needs to go to an established blue chip company, not a start-up. Even a highly-touted young professional will be utterly useless if the fabric of the company is not in line with his own personality.

Poor placement

Sometimes young professionals are parachuted into a department that is simply not a good match for their talents. Some people are not good salespeople; thus, they should not be cast in such roles. If your employer has misplaced you within the company, the choices you have are clear: You can tough it out and try to develop the appropriate skills, try to get a transfer or simply look elsewhere.

Bad coaching

Sometimes a boss can be great at many things but horrible at those things needed by new employees: training and guidance. If the man above is well-suited to guide you through the professional minefield, you could be embarking on a successful career path. Otherwise, things might just blow up in your face. Imagine if an athlete was badly coached in practice — wouldn’t it spill over to the actual game?

It’s not them… it’s you

Even if your employer is partially to blame, that doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for your shortcomings. The fact of the matter is that the system is there for you to leverage to your advantage; its present form is not necessarily the be-all and end-all. So if something isn’t jelling, it’s up to you to change that.

Young professionals include both recent graduates and those who have been in the workforce for a few years, or even a decade. Regardless of which category you fall under, the onus is on you to meet the expectations of your present employer and be prepared to fulfill those of future ones.

School’s out

Those who are fresh out of school need to accept one fundamental reality: what happened in school stays in school. If you were class president or valedictorian, good for you. Your mother should be proud, but academic accolades mean little once you’ve been given your diploma. Sure, you may be able to use that stuff to negotiate a better starting salary, or to parlay into a better position, but once you punch in, your college glories become irrelevant and unimportant.

Once you leave school and enter the workforce, you’ll need to begin accumulating experience and increasing your exposure. From a careerist perspective, it’s crucial to meet the most amount of people and allow the most amount of people to meet you. Doing so will create ripple effects when it is time for your next stop, and will certainly come in handy if you choose to launch your own venture.

Broaden horizontally and vertically…

Stay on top

Staying on top, or simply not peaking too early, means that you have to continue learning things that are both directly and indirectly related to your position. It also means staying current regarding even those things that have little bearing on your present employment. It helps to keep learning both horizontal and vertical skills. Horizontal skills are those that someone in your rank or position would do in another company or industry; vertical ones involve the tasks that accompany different positions within your company.

You can develop both sets of skills by simply asking questions to both internal and external stakeholders, and, above all, by reading about business and the world in general. One thing we all did ad nauseam in business school was read and analyze case studies. As unappealing as it may seem, there is no reason to stop doing so once you graduate.

Like everything else in life, success comes to those who are never content with what they have or know. However, success remains with those who understand that to get to a better position (be it in the literal or figurative sense), one first needs to master the task at hand. At the same time, if you do not broaden your horizons and up the ante, then your edge will erode and others will pass you by.

E-mail of the week:

My company recently launched a new department; I would love to join it but fear that my current supervisor will think I am not being loyal by making the switch. What should I do? I want to join the new department because it seems like a far greater challenge.

Loyalty is a two-way street. As long as you have been a good employee who has contributed to the firm, you should not feel bad about seeking a new challenge within it — or leaving it altogether.

As it’s a more challenging position that you are eyeing, then you are certainly not doing anything wrong by seeking a switch. Regardless, you are right in thinking that your current supervisor will feel somewhat betrayed. That is human nature, and there is not much you can do about it.

You can, however, soften the blow. First, inquire to see what the new position fully entails and ensure that you are up to the challenge. Assuming you are still interested, simply talk about it with your boss. Do NOT tell him that you are bored and need a new challenge — trust me, he or she will find you plenty of things to do. The best way to spin it is to suggest that your services and skills might be most in need in this new department. Your boss may not buy it, but it will be harder for him to shoot your idea down if your interest is not purely selfish.

No employer wants to see a good soldier move on, so expect to be assertive if you want to pursue this. I’ve always said that if you do your job too well, someone will try to make it impossible for you to leave. No matter what you do, leave on good terms. You should always leave the back door open.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at His new book, The Confessions of Alexander The Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness, is available at