Career-limiting moves

Five quick and easy ways people end up unemployed and unemployable

Peter Harris|

Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult and time-consuming to build and maintain a successful career than it is to wreck it. Here’s a look at five of the most common workplace blunders that will limit your chances of getting hired – or getting ahead.


    Not all dishonesty at work has to involve theft or fraud. Even what you might think of as a white lie is still a lie. If you tell your boss that you have to miss Friday’s meeting because you’re going to a funeral and it comes out that you actually went fishing – your relationship is going to suffer. Work relations are built on trust. People come to count on each other – and no one likes to put their faith in someone who’ll outright lie to them.

    We generally give people the benefit of the doubt when dealing with them professionally, but once that trust is broken, it can be nearly impossible to win back. Don’t earn the reputation of being deceitful. If you really want the day off to go fishing, earn it. Most employers respect extra hours worked to bring a project in on time, and offer lieu time off in exchange.

    Sending emails when angry

    Some people handle conflict at work well; others get emotional. In any job, disagreements will happen. Competing priorities, misunderstandings, personality clashes can lead to heated moments. When we’re upset, sometimes nothing feels so good as to fire off an angry email blasting the other person and explaining why we’re right.

    Never do that. Losing your temper is losing. If you need to write out your rant, do it in a Word document so there’s no temptation to hit ‘Send.’ Save it, and come back and read it later. You’ll be glad you did.

    We don’t make sound decisions when we’re emotional. And sending the angry email just creates a paper trail of you not being at your best. You don’t need your temper tantrums to be on file with HR. And while one angry email may not sink your job – creating a file folder of angry exchanges will definitely limit your chances of getting ahead.

    Walk away from a conflict until you’re no longer feeling angry, and then try to address the situation in person. Email exchanges can often exacerbate disagreements and misunderstandings. It’s often best to just talk it out.

    Getting drunk at work functions

    We’ve said it before: the work party is more work than party. It may look social, with the lights dimmed, the hors d’oeuvres, and the alcohol, but it is really a professional event. Show up, mingle with people outside your own clique, and thank the boss and organizer for arranging it. You don’t want to be the guy (or gal) who drinks too much, goes into a rant about their boss or coworkers, gropes a colleague, or photocopies their own behind.

    It’s a scientific fact that alcohol hits you harder at work functions. This only increases the risk that you can damage the professional reputation you’ve spent all year cultivating in a single night. Just because you don’t remember it the next day doesn’t mean that others will be as quick to forget.

    Anti-social behaviour on social media

    Similarly, social media is more media than it is social. Anything you publish has the potential to be broadcast to unforeseen audiences. Even if you have strict privacy settings, it is possible for someone inside your network to copy and share photos or posts.

    Employers will Google you and look you up on social media sites. (Here’s what they’re looking for.) People have lost their jobs for sharing internal company information on their LinkedIn profile, for ranting about their boss or job on Facebook, and for tweeting complaints about customers. (And for a variety of other silly and unprofessional posts. Here’s what employers like the least.)

    Burning bridges

    We’ve written often about the importance of making positive first impressions when landing a job. Think about how much longer the last impression you make is going to stick with someone.

    Everybody has things they like more than others about their jobs – and people whom they prefer over others. Still, even when you’re leaving a job for good – it’s not a good idea to rant about it.

    Telling off your boss, complaining about coworkers, or putting down the company will only reflect poorly on you. Do you want people to remember you as angry, bitter, complaining, or unprofessional? Or would you prefer to leave behind the impression that you left with class and integrity and on good terms. You want to leave people with the feeling that they would look forward to the opportunity to work with you again.

    This builds your professional network and it gives you the valuable references you will need at future jobs.
    If there is no one out there who will speak highly of your work and recommend you for a job, your career is going to be in trouble. An exit interview is still more interview than it is exit.

The scary fact is that any of these bad career moves can be really easy to do in a moment of thoughtlessness. And they can all damage your professional reputation in ways that put your current job at risk and make finding future employment that much harder. The good news is that they can be avoided by taking a moment to think strategically before you act and keeping emotions out of your work interactions.


Peter Harris
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Category: Career Dilemmas, Life At Work
  • David Gay

    I love the last part about burning bridges. It’s really important to wrap things up on a positive note. If your employment is coming to an end, help with the transition process so it goes smoothly. For example, when my own employment situation was ending, I assured my employer I would offer a few months of post-employment tech support on the SAP system I used to administer, free of charge. Not only did my former employer become a reference (one of the best kind to have), it wrapped up a chapter in my work history nicely.

    Better to be a classy act going out than a classless jerk, no question.

  • enlightened observer

    Why don’t you just tell people to bend over and …?

    • nextgen2013

      you can for sure… if you are so inclined.. you seem like the type.

      • Senior IT support

        about burning bridges. what about management wants you to speak the truth about youe department? your lead seems invisible ignoring major things that can harm the company?

        I did cooperate and proven true. but my lead requested my name to be blacklist not thinking that What i am reaveling is worth a milion saving and that for sure. Higher management dont know that my department requested my name to be in took 3 months investigation and proven right, I received thank you email. and I reply back that doing thats seriously harm me, they never reply but Agency called me the next day that my name already unblocked and I can start applying.
        Is this burning bridges? for my lead and her boss, her bosses yes it was but they never think that this for the company’s benefits.
        only bad thing the company just used me to prove to my department that they have serious problem. after the victory the company simply say thank you and goodbye.
        my lead that cut my contract had been promoted. :)

        it seems like position is above justice.

  • Kate Shaw

    The quickest and easiest way you will lose your job and become unemployable is: reach the age of 50. Especially if you have been employed in that same industry for your entire working life. People over 50 are not Perky, Bubbly or Cute; and their experience requires that you pay them substantially more than Ms. Perky-Bubbly-Cutie will get. Also it’s very likely that you are older than the HR people, which means you don’t Tweet, you haven’t got a Smart Phone, and they can’t understand anything you say…not to mention that you are the age of their mothers, or maybe their grandmothers, which means you’re about to drop dead. Yes, this is illegal, but this is done.

    • Nick Kossovan

      WOW are you bitter! Do you think your bitterness is not coming across? I’m 51 and have changed jobs 3 times since I was 49. Granted I am very social media savvy and have a deep passion for it. While I’m not disputing ageism not existing I find those who cry “ageism” have refused to adapt to the new world order which revolves around social media. So my question to you @ApplebyM:disqus is why don’t you Tweet, own a Smartphone, have a profile on LinkedIn that WOWs? In other words, why haven’t you created a digital footprint that attracts employers?

      • PayingBack

        Okay, Nick, you riddle me this. I’m closing in on seventy, figure I may have another fifteen years in me before I want some time to move around, mabe not. In any case, in 2011 I took and passed a course that trained me as a network engineer. Even got A+ certified just to prove I was certifiable.

        Don’t know how many “employment workshops” I’ve been to but I can tell you they were a waste of my time. Sent out many resumes, even gave one to a guy I knew who worked at a place that “really needed people with my training.” Result? NOTHING!! zero.

        I don’t tweet but I do have a Nexus 4 and a tablet and I’m wriring this on a laptop. Oh, and I have a presence on both F@c#book and LinkedIn.

        You tell me why.

    • David Gay

      Ageism is the last prejudice we have to deal with. As job seekers we are told to hide our true age through our resumes and the interview process, as if there is something wrong with being over 50. A few articles exist on the career web sites that specifically tell you to dress a certain way that is fashionable (not old). There is also a disturbing trend for men to get cosmetic surgery to appear younger because competition for fewer jobs is the new normal:

      We’d never tell someone of a visible minority to appear more Caucasian through surgery, yet it’s acceptable to suggest to mature workers that they must mutilate themselves to improve their chances to get a job.

  • rainbow goddess

    About ten years ago I interviewed for a job and was asked about my previous job. I said nothing negative about my former employer, just that it was time for me to move on. I later found out that the person who got hired instead of me spent the entire interview trashing their former employer.

  • Dimitre Tcharaktchiev

    Life is short, so why shy away from telling people the inconvenient truth? Last company I left changed for the better because people like me had the guts to tell them the truth! Guess what, I’ve been contacted numerous times to come back, i.e. I did not burn any bridges. The surest way to burn bridges is to be a hypocrite, i.e. political correctness is useless in times of great changes like the 21 century. Your company will be finished tomorrow by a competition that has no time for politics.

    It’s preferable to be on good terms with everyone, but there’s a healthy limit to how much BS we should put up with. Telling people they can hire 100 workers out of India to do my job, even though I just got assigned the work, was the last straw. 2 weeks later I told them to go to hell with their stupid management tactics. Within a quarter, the whole management team was gone, so nothing wrong with standing up for your team and yourself. That company will never ever treat people the same way!