You’re a professional. We don’t need to tell you to come into work on time or to not lie on your resume, because, to you, that’s common sense. But could you be doing something else that will sabotage your reputation — and get in the way of that promotion you’ve got your heart set on — without your knowing it?
As self-aware as you strive to be, you can’t catch every possible reputation misstep before it happens. That’s why we connected with 15-year Human Resources veteran Jen Kusznir, who’s seen every kind of employee make every kind of mistake.
Here’s her take on seven things even superstar employees can do that will derail their upward career growth.
1. Not participating in company events
“When you don’t show up for a Halloween potluck or a holiday party, it gets noticed,” says Kusznir. “Outside of legitimate scheduling issues like planned vacations or childcare, not showing up makes it seem like you don’t know you’re part of a team — and that’s not a promising thing to see in future leadership.”
Whether your company’s events are painfully boring or you’d just rather stay home to watch Netflix, remember that your presence matters. Don’t skip company events unless you have an important conflict, and even then run it by your manager to let her know why you can’t make it. If you get a reputation for skipping anything social, coworkers may hesitate to connect with you during business hours, too.
2. Always telling people how busy you are
“Everyone is so busy today, and it feels like I hear, ‘I’ve got so much going on!’ all the time,” Kusznir says. “When you tell people how busy you are every time they talk to you — even when it’s true — it feels like you’re trying to play the victim or make a power play about your availability. Worst case, it can make it seem like you’re trying to get out of taking on more projects, and that will follow you.”
Boycott the word “Busy” from your vocabulary. If you absolutely must express the fullness of your calendar, try saying, “This week has been crazy!” or “I’ve had such a rich and varied schedule this week!” Such a small tweak may not seem like a big deal, but it will have a positive impact on how people view you.
3. Having poor hygiene
“In one situation, a very talented employee wore dark-colored clothing and was covered in pet hair,” explains Kusznir. “It got to the point that team members would put things in the extra chair in their cubicles so that she couldn’t sit down and leave pet hair all over the chair.”
You should be well known for your work — not the work people need to do to clean up after you when you meet with them. Check yourself for all basic hygiene before you head into the office, whether that means skipping the extra spritz of Eau de parfum or stashing a lint roller in your glovebox.
4. Dressing too casually
“Today’s employers accept more casual business wear than ever before, but dressing very casually all the time can harm your reputation,” notes Kusznir. “If you’re happy where you are, by all means dress casually, but if you’re looking to progress you need to dress in a way that allows management to easily visualize you in that new position.”
Looks aren’t everything, but they do impact how people view your sense of self-respect, experience and authority. If you want to be known as someone to be taken seriously, the phrase, “Dress for the job you want,” still applies.
5. Gossiping about coworkers
“If you’re complaining about management, people will often join in,” says Kusznir. “But if you’re complaining about another employee, it’s going to get back to someone and come back to hurt you. If you want a promotion, you don’t want to be known as someone who can’t keep private information private.”
Whether you’re known for trash-talking your meeting mates when the conference call is on mute, or you just like to chat at the water cooler, speaking negatively about your coworkers is one of the most thorough ways to dismantle your reputation. Instead, train yourself to only speak positively when in the presence of those you work with and save all of your constructive criticism for face-to-face.
6. Not volunteering for anything
“Over the years my managers would throw out different chances to pitch in: ‘So-and-so is out sick, can you check her messages?’ or ‘Can someone stay until 4:30 today?,’ says Kusznir. “Employees who never volunteer for anything when help is needed — who always do the bare minimum — may be good enough to keep their jobs, but they’re not going to move up or be considered favorably when it’s time to assign raises.”
In a competitive job market, above-and-beyond is the new minimum. It may not be strictly required that you volunteer for different assignments or bothersome tasks, but your reputation depends on how frequently and how willingly you volunteer your time and resources.
Of course, there’s no hard-and-fast rule about having to be available for every kind of work when you have legitimate limitations: “We had an employee who, for childcare reasons, always had to leave work at 3:30pm sharp,” shares Kusznir. “Whenever someone called in sick and needed someone to man the phone until 5:00pm, she could never do it. But whenever anything else came up, she was the first to jump on the chance to help as a way to make up for the fact that she had to leave early. Because of that, we thought very favorably of her, and, even though she never stayed late, we considered her a superstar employee.”
7. Not being open to criticism
“Often when employees are superstars, they’re used to being superstars,” says Kusznir. “They were superstar students, and superstars at other jobs — which means it can be hard for them to go through the process of making a mistake and accepting constructive criticism without taking it personally.”
Don’t let yourself be known as someone who can’t take criticism — that alone can limit your career advancement options in a flash. Accept that everyone makes mistakes and needs critiques at times. In fact, it’s the number one way to grow and become well-known in your field.
You can work as hard as you can and say all the right things to the right people, but at the end of the day if your reputation isn’t stellar, you won’t advance in your career. Double check that you don’t fall victim to any of these mistakes.