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10 Behaviours That Can Derail Your Career

By Gerald Walsh ©

Have you been passed over for a promotion or not received the raise you wanted? If so, for most people, their first inclination is to blame their employer. After all, that’s who made the decision. They must be to blame.

But this may be just the time to take a critical look at yourself and consider whether your own behaviours are the cause of the problem.

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. While some of these behaviours may not totally destroy your career, they certainly can derail it for a period of time.

1. Overlooking the social aspects of work.

Some people prefer to close their door, put their head down, and do their job. For sure, in some cases, you need to concentrate to get a project completed. But many of these people forget they are working as part of a team. It is important to take the time to show interest in your co-workers’ lives.

You must be seen as human, personable and empathetic. Of course, you can go overboard by socializing excessively and not getting your job done. That too can harm your career. Find the right balance.

2. Not learning from your mistakes.

Mistakes are a problem only if you don’t learn from them, ignore or conceal them, rationalize them, or blame others for them. Most bosses will accept a first mistake. But don’t make the same mistake twice. Your boss’ tolerance for mistakes will rapidly decline if you show that you haven’t learned from past mistakes.  

3. Falling apart under stress.

Especially in management roles, you are expected to be able to handle stressful events without falling apart. Whether it is a serious financial problem, a challenging employee, or an uncooperative computer, you must be resourceful and overcome this stress with poise, composure and confidence.

And never lose your temper publicly. If you do, others will assume you cannot work well under pressure or handle responsibilities well. It’s a real career killer.

4. Poor body language.

Certain habits like rolling your eyes, avoiding eye contact, or even having a weak handshake, can be interpreted by others as unprofessional or rude and can have an impact on your career. Pay attention to your non-verbal cues as they say a lot about you.

5. Inability to see the big picture.

Don’t be the pessimist who gleefully explains to everyone why a new idea will not work. Be strategic and lead a discussion about how a new idea can meet your company’s overall mission and goals. If you do, you will relate better to senior management’s way of thinking.

6. Making unreasonable demands on your boss.

Making unreasonable demands on your employer about compensation, vacation, or working conditions – before you’ve earned your dues – will come across as arrogant, a trait that is certain to limit your career.

7. Ignoring generally-accepted office behaviours.

Let’s face it: behavioural norms do exist in the office. And violating them could limit your career. In business, behaviours that can damage your career include: lying, spreading gossip, using sexist or foul language, backstabbing, taking credit for other people’s work, arrogance, apathy, bullying, and constantly needing to be the centre of attention.

8. Negativity.

So many people whine or complain all the time. Yet the successful people I’ve met over the years view the world with optimism. They see good in most things and maintain a positive attitude even if the situation seems bleak. Because of their pleasant, upbeat manner, they are more fun to be around.

9. Refusing to admit that you don’t know how to do something.

When assigned a task, your manager may provide very little direction on how to perform the task. Perhaps your manager is a poor communicator or mistakenly believes you have the necessary skills to do the job.

Having the confidence to say you are not sure how to handle the task is a strength, not weakness. After all you can’t be expected to have all the answers all the time. Tell your manager that you do not understand. You will avoid mistakes and embarrassment.

10. Lack of manners.

Little things like saying ‘please’ when you ask for something, ‘thank you’ when someone gives you something, or ‘excuse me’ when you need to interrupt, will help you earn respect from others and possibly contribute to promotions and raises.

To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at walsh@geraldwalsh.com


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.