Concerned businessman

Five snap decisions that can ruin your career in an instant

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 split-second blunders that people make that can limit their chances of getting hired – or keeping their job.


    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.

    (Okay, you caught me. I have recently written about the ‘five lies you should tell’. But those are about putting a positive spin on your work history – not breaches of trust.)

    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
  • sbsieber

    I am the worst when it comes to conflict. Funny thing is, I’m a pretty easy going and reasonable person, but when I get emotionally involved in a situation at work, I can make very rash decisions – like quitting on the spot. I’ve done it more than once. Not happy about that.