5 wrong moves that will damage your career

Some of the ways you can harm your career and your professional reputation are obvious ones – rack up a string of firings, tell off your boss, or take a daily afternoon nap when you’re supposed to be working. But some less obvious things that can do just as much harm to your career, if not more.

Here are five moves that people often don’t realize will hold them back until it’s too late and the damage has been done.

1. Job hopping. If your work history is littered with a slew of jobs that you left pretty quickly, and you rarely stay anywhere longer than a year or two, at some point that track record will make it hard to get hired at the jobs you want. If you keeping leaving jobs that quickly, hiring managers will assume that you’ll do the same to them and will be reluctant to hire and invest in someone who will be out the door in a year or two. Having a stable work history is especially a prerequisite for the most interesting, challenging jobs, which generally have lots of people applying for them.

If you have a history of job hopping, the best thing you can do for yourself long-term is to start building up some solid stays of at least three to four years so that employers can see that you’ve broken the pattern.

(Note that short-term internships, temporary work, contract jobs, and anything else that was designed to be short-term from the beginning don’t trigger these concerns.  Job hopping is about short stays at jobs that were intended to be more long-term.)

2. Resigning without notice. If you’re ever fed up with your job and tempted to walk out and never come back, resist the temptation! Rightly or wrongly, giving two weeks of notice when you resign is considered the professional standard. Quitting without notice will burn bridge, harm your reputation, and hurt your chances with other employers. You might think that you don’t care if you burn the bridge and that you can simply choose not to use this employer as a reference in the future, but reference-checkers can and do contact previous employers who aren’t on your reference list. And you never know if one of the coworkers who you left hanging when you walked out might end up at a company that you want to work for in the future.

Two weeks isn’t that long in the scheme of things and definitely isn’t long enough that you should sacrifice your reputation and long-term job prospects.

(Exceptions to this are if you need to leave immediately for health reasons, a family emergency, or other extenuating reasons. In those cases, reasonable employers will understand that notice isn’t feasible.)

3. Dating a manager or a subordinate. Most companies have polices against managers and subordinates dating, and for good reason: At best, it creates the appearance, and likely the reality, of bias and special treatment. It can mean that the subordinate’s performance isn’t assessed appropriately and the manager isn’t giving critical feedback. And most importantly, it can raise issues of coercion, consent, and harassment if the subordinate worries that declining a date or wanting to break things off could affect her standing with the boss, future raises, and overall tenure at the company. Yet despite all this, and despite widespread corporate policies against it, some managers and employees do end up dating – and when word gets out, both of their reputations are likely to be harmed by it.

4. Losing your temper. Everyone gets frustrated at work from time to time, but if you yell, slam doors, blow up at colleagues, or otherwise display hostile aggression or visible anger, you’re likely to quickly get a reputation that will follow you around even to future jobs. Losing your temper can be downright scary to coworkers, who may not feel comfortable around you afterwards, and witnessing that even once is likely to make people less inclined to want to work with you and hesitant to recommend you in the future.

5. Taking a job that you know you won’t be good at. Sometimes people get so caught up in the quest to get a job offer that they forget to think critically about whether the job is actually one they’ll be good at. That shortsightedness can lead to doing things like trying to hide key weaknesses, bluffing about your knowledge or experience, or trying to sell yourself for a role despite legitimate reservations from the hiring manager. There’s an enormous danger in doing this, because if it works, you’ll have vastly increased the chances that you’ll end up in a job that you struggle in or even get fired from. Even if you manage to muddle through, spending much time in a job that you’re just not very good at can have long-term effects on your reputation because people who knew you in that job will think of you as mediocre (which is not what you want in a reference or when you’re hoping for a connection to a job in the future). Plus, there’s an opportunity cost to spending time in a job that you’re not great at when you could have been spending that time building an excellent reputation somewhere else.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 55 comments… read them below }

  1. JS*

    I am actually curious if anyone has any stories or experiences on “Taking a job that you know you won’t be good at”? Does this happen at the corporate level or just at smaller business or startup? Every interview process for corporate I’ve had have been so rigorous that it would be easily to call out and filter out any bluffers before you would have the chance to take the job.

    Is this more of “Taking a job you know you wont like?” I feel if someone had enough knowledge to get a job in the first place (or put that much effort into a good bluff) even if they were under qualified if they put in extra hours to succeed or learn the needed processes they could still excel. They would have to put in a considerable amount of effort but I feel if its their passion they could still be successful.

    This one just seemed a bit off to me because as hard and as competitive it is to get a job these days you think it would be easy to filter a bluffer or someone not passionate over someone else who is knowledgeable and really has a passion for the job. However, that said I could see this happen internally, where someone who was connected was referred to a position that they didn’t want and didn’t feel they would be successful at but felt pressured to take it.

    1. Sharon*

      This happens occasionally in technical jobs. The managers who interview for the tech positions don’t necessarily have technical backgrounds themselves, so can’t tell when they’re being BS’ed. Some candidates think they can learn on the job if they just get their foot in the door, and happen to be pretty good at sounding authoritative.

      1. JS*

        Ah this also makes sense. You’d think they have them take technical skills tests too though, or is that not common in the field?

        1. Just Another Techie*

          Sometimes (and this totally happened to me in my current job) you just assume that no one would apply for a position if they don’t know X technology or have Y skill. In my case it was ignorance on my part, not bluffing. I was trying to change fields and was applying really widely to anything that was even remotely related to my academic degree, because I Just. Wanted. Out. of space systems. I assumed that if I had deficiencies in my background it would come out in the interview process, since everywhere I was interviewing was giving me anywhere from three to eight hours of in depth technical interviews. LOLnope. I got hired for a job where a particular programming language I had zero familiarity with was a key required skill. I learned it, and am excelling at the job now, but oh god, that first year was rough.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        My relative who is in marketing hired a writer once who misrepresented herself. She ended up having to fire her because the writer could not produce what they needed. I guess it was some kind of marketing material; perhaps the person said she could do it in order to get the job. FWIW, I don’t know how to write marketing stuff either, but I wouldn’t seek out a job where I had to.

        This same relative told me later that people she knows bluff their way into jobs all the time and learn when they get there. I really could not process that–it made my brain hurt. >_O

        1. Vicki*

          As a writer myself (who knows that I would be Terrible at writing marketing material), I suggest that the writer in question had never tried it and thought “Well, I can write! How hard can it be?”

          Technical writing is very different from marketing writing. Both are vastly different from fiction or non-fiction books. Articles are different. Blog posts are different.

          Not everyone understand this… not even some of the writers themselves.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      I’ve definitely been hired for jobs I wasn’t technically qualified for (sure, once I got the jobs, I got the hang of it and even excelled, but on paper I looked like a horrible candidate). In one case, I think the pay at the org. was so low they couldn’t afford anybody with actual experience, so I got away with getting that job, even though I had zero experience to prep me for it. It was definitely a trial by fire. Fortunately (for me and the org. both), I was able to survive the fire and even thrive in it, but that was a big chance they took.

      I think any company, school, corporation, organization will just hire whomever they think is the best candidate or best fit. Sometimes they can’t be choosy. Or sometimes the people who look good on paper are terrible in person, and so they go with someone who looks not-as-good on paper who’s better in person.

      1. JS*

        Makes sense, I have also been hired as the less qualified candidate but better fit culturally and gets along with employees better in interviews.

    3. TCO*

      Taking a job you won’t be good at can also be about factors beyond technical skills. It can be about your ability to be successful in that team’s culture. For instance, if your boss requires frequent status updates and you’re prone to getting wrapped up in work and forgetting to communicate, your boss might not consider you a great employee even if you have the right technical skills. It’s not always hard to convince an interviewer (and yourself) that you can adapt to a culture that isn’t actually going to bring out the best in you.

      1. JS*

        This makes the most sense to me if it were more cultural or technical rather than qualifications. Thanks for this insight.

    4. Laura*

      My first job out of college was in sales with a very desirable company. I had no sales experience but figured “Hey, I’m a quick learner! I’ll get it.” NOPE. I was awful at it. Month 4 saw me begging my manager for additional training, but it was clear that she had already written me off as a potentially successful employee. Instead of floundering until I got fired at the 10-month mark, I found another job and quit.

      The four months I spent there were some of the most stressful of my life. I wish I’d done my due diligence in researching the company retention rates, and I wish they’d been honest with me that you really DID need prior sales experience to be successful. Oh well.

      1. JS*

        Thanks for sharing. I am thinking this more the company’s fault though since they weren’t upfront about what the job entailed and just needed a body. If the company has issues with retention it seems as the issues are deeper than just needing experienced people, the experienced people likely don’t want to work there either. I think anyone could fall for the trap of “this seems like a good opportunity” if they aren’t given all the details and don’t know the bad culture of the company up front, especially just out of college. Glad you got out of there!

    5. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I took a job I knew I wouldn’t be good at, because I was under the impression that I was going to receive training to make me successful. My first job out of college was a sales manager for a major hotel in a major US city. A sales manager is NOT an entry-level job. My boss knew I had limited practical knowledge or skills, but I guess was enthralled by the idea of paying me an entry-level wage and hoping for the best. I lasted 3 months before I quit. Never did receive any of that training.

      1. JS*

        Ah thats not your fault though if you thought you were going to get training. It looks like the theme of paying someone who is not as qualified a lower market salary to save money is a trend here in the responses.

    6. A.*

      Admin work was like this for me at the beginning of my career. I think a lot of companies hire smart new college grads without testing for tangible organizational skills, multi-tasting capability, and specific kinds of interpersonal skills. I floundered as an admin, but was eventually excelled at the grunt work associated with entry level consulting (building decks, data entry and analysis, etc).

    7. hbc*

      At my small company, we often don’t have the people in-house to accurately judge whether they’re bluffing. It’s a problem with hiring contractors or support companies too. If I ask you what improvements you would make as the production manager, and you tell me that best practice is to have 80% of the content of our assembly manuals to be pictures, I’m pretty much going to believe you. I might check a few random facts, but you could get away with confidently making things up, or citing things you’ve been told as if you have some vast well of knowledge.

      True story: we had a messy process and hired the guy who was totally caught bluffing by one interviewer. As in, he was asked, “What is [skill in massive block of skills on resume]?” and he said, “You got me.” He didn’t last a year, and it was bad for everyone.

    8. Maria*

      Also we’ve all heard that a job descriptions and duties can change and then you have to decide if that is okay or not. that could also fall under “job description you’re not good at”…while on the one hand, if the employer keeps adding new duties to a job, it’s somewhat on the employer, but the employee might also be staying hoping a) they’ll get the hang of new duties and/or get needed training or b) hoping to hang on til they work 2-3+ years or just stay employed until they get another job

      I feel like that has happened a little to me. I was hired for a new position and employer and I talked over duties, but after I took the job, more and more duties kept getting added (the “wish list” that no one is actually trained in), beyond scope of what I originally thought I would be capable of. I don’t think I’m doing that great (though my boss seems to think I’m okay), but I feel like I need to hang until I’ve been with company for more than a year…

    9. NicoleK*

      Former coworker presented herself as a candidate with 10 years of experience. Except she didn’t produce the quality and quantity of said person with 10 years of experience. Company parted ways with her after 10 months. It was a terrible experience for all. It was a terrible fit in every aspect.

    10. Polka dot bird*

      I just had a job interview which talked a lot about what the team did, but didn’t discuss what the actual role entailed in any great detail. I’d be great at some roles in that team but not as strong for that particular role.

    11. Dot Warner*

      I made this mistake once. It was a combination of thinking I could learn on the fly, not realizing how far behind I was, and being desperate to get out of a bad situation.

    12. Annonymouse*

      I’ve done this.

      I took a job doing data entry (not my strongest skill set but one I have) without much interpersonal interaction.

      Last time I took a job like that I crashed and burned from the isolation and boredom.

      But I was so desperate to get away from a toxic job with an emotionally abusive boss that I ignored that it was a fundamental mismatch to my personality, strengths, industry and career goals.

  2. TMW*

    Good article. Regarding #2, where does “employment at will” come into play here? Or does it? I’ve known several people who resigned without notice and I doesn’t seem to have hurt their careers any.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      At-will employment is about what’s legal. Giving professional notice is about what’s expected and your reputation.

      It’s not that it’s a 100% certainty that it will destroy your career. It’s that there’s a good likelihood that it will harm you — sometimes in ways you don’t even know about (like if you apply for a job you really want and you’re rejected because someone there worked worked with you at that job you quit without notice a few years ago — you probably wouldn’t even know that’s what killed your chances).

    2. LTR*

      It just means that you or the employer are free to terminate the employment relationship at any time with or without notice for any or no reason at all (other than what is protected by law). It may or may not (but it probably will) harm any reference you might get since business norms are to give some sort of notice that you’re leaving so your employer can prepare for the impact it’ll have on their business.

    3. Kyrielle*

      Reputationally, it doesn’t. Legally, it does. You can absolutely, legally, quit on the spot under at-will employment. But almost always, you have hurt your references. Now perhaps you were amazing while you were there and perhaps your references are sympathetic – for example, you walked out after a new upper-management figure said something legitimately problematic, and your immediate managers agreed with you but didn’t walk out – they may still provide good references and not mention your walking out. But the references probably won’t be as glowing as they were.

      And barring that sort of circumstance, your future job searches may be impacted.

      They also may not, of course! Not all companies check references, and not all companies that check references reach out beyond the ones you provide. But at that point you are gambling that the companies you will wish to work at in the future won’t talk to your references from the job you walked out on *or* that those people will give you a good reference in spite of the unprofessional manner you left in, *and* that no coworker from that job will be working for the companies you want to work for and speak up.

      Possible? Absolutely. But it is relying on luck. How much luck depends on the industry, size of the industry/close awareness of things, and probably other factors I haven’t considered. But still luck.

      Working out the two weeks is a generally worthwhile investment in avoiding the question of luck. As Alison notes, this doesn’t include cases of a “good reason” such as family emergencies, health issues, (I’d add) failure to pay the employees, etc.

  3. A Teacher*

    I’ve quit with very little notice (6 days) one time and only because: A) I was switching fields B) I served on a national board that is well regarded in my original industry C) moved areas D) it wasn’t safe to tell my employer that I had a teaching offer contingent on board approval, they would have fired me. I still work in my original field on a very part time basis and this one time of limited notice did not impact my career. It isn’t something I would do again, but at that time it was my only choice.

    1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      I quit with 4 days notice once. It was a call center and most people didn’t even give that much notice, so I wasn’t too concerned about it. I know someone else that quit once with very short notice, about a week. But her new employer was odd in that if she didn’t start before the end of the month she’d have to wait until the next quarter to sign up for insurance.

    2. Laura*

      There are so many reasons why people quit with little to no notice. In my first job, I quit knowing I would immediately be removed from the building, per company policy. In retrospect, I wish I’d given two weeks’ notice so I could have collected unemployment.

      1. Callie*

        Any employer who makes a habit of walking people out when they give notice forfeits any expectation that you will give notice, IMO.

  4. Anonymous Educator*

    Can I add that for some niche industries, two weeks’ notice isn’t even good enough? For example, I’ve spent considerable time working in private schools in the U.S. If you’re a teacher who quits mid-year with only two weeks’ notice, that looks very, very bad. Or even if you quit at the end of the school year with two weeks’ notice after having already signed a contract back in March or April saying that you’ll stay for the fall, that’s also bad. The one exception is extenuating circumstances that you’ve been communicating to your head of school about (e.g., your spouse just got a tenure-track position somewhere across the country or you suddenly have to be the primary caretaker for a terminally sick relative out of state).

    1. Seal*

      +1. I’m an academic librarian and would be expected to give at least a month’s notice.

    2. Laura*

      Absolutely. I work in higher education and I gave my last employers almost a month’s notice. I felt safe doing so because I was an essential employee, I knew they weren’t going to retaliate against me, and because it was the polite thing to do in a small intimate workplace.

      1. skip2mylou*

        Agreed, I work in higher ed as well and we are required to give 4 weeks notice if we want to be paid out for our vacation time when we leave. Internal transfers also require 4 week notices.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    #1–I’ve sometimes stayed too long at jobs where I should have left earlier. What does that say? Is that bad?

    #2–I know this one. At Exjob, I wanted to call in and say, “I’m not coming back,” soooo many times. Actually, I’m having one of those days right now. >:(

    #3–IMO, if you’re going to date at work at ALL, you need to be prepared for the fact that one of you may have to quit eventually. If you’re dating up or down, it’s inevitable.

    #4–I guess this is one situation where if you’re ticked, whining might be better! ;) Or open a Notepad document and vent vent vent. Never vent in email because you might accidentally send it!

    #5–This has only happened to me once, but to be fair, they left out a HUGE piece of information before they hired me. Do not do that if you are hiring–let people know everything the job entails so if it’s something they can’t do, they can self-select out.

    If people are going, “Hey, I could specialty paint teapots, even though I have no experience with this five-years-of-experience qualification! Bring it on!” then that’s on them.

  6. Mimmy*

    Definitely guilty of #4 (losing your temper) and can vouch for the impact it has: Not recently, but at a previous job, I scared my poor office mate when I flipped out – I don’t remember what caused it, but she went into the office next door and closed the door to talk to another coworker. I’m pretty sure the other coworker had some *lovely* things to say about me, some of it probably discriminatory (due to my disability). My office mate was no longer comfortable working with me and it caused a lot of tension; she eventually was able to move to a different office space. (Neither one of us were thrilled when the entire department was moved to a different part of the building.)

  7. Mimmy*

    #5 – What about taking a job that you’re not sure you’ll be good at but wanted to give it a try anyway?

    Background: I’ve written about this particular job a few times before (not the same job as in my post upthread about item #4). It was a type of job I’d never done before but it was in my field and an area of interest. I have a habit of selling myself short so, despite my little voice saying “hold on a sec….”, I took it because I had been looking for several months and just. wanted. something. I really struggled in this job and was laid off (but replaced) almost a year later.

  8. Kristine*

    Question– is there a type of job or specific field where job hopping isn’t considered a bad thing? My professional career thus far has been a string of short stays. 2 years at a company that got acquired and demoted me, 6 months at a startup that fractured at the same time I had a family emergency, and now 1 year at a company that got acquired and is demoting me. It’s not like I intended to have short stays when I hired on, but circumstances changed. Is there anywhere I could work and make a living wage but these short stays wouldn’t hurt me?

    1. hbc*

      I wouldn’t hold any of those against you. Put together a good cover letter and note that the companies were acquired/restructured on your resume, and it wouldn’t be so bad. Your cover letter should include something about looking for a position where you can stick around for a while.

    2. Just Another Techie*

      Also if you’re working at startups and small tech companies 1-2 years is a good run!

  9. Ineloquent*

    Now, does speaking harshly/yelling count as bad if you discover someone’s been ignoring your explicit instructions and as a result is taking steps to violate law, and keeps saying that you don’t have the authority to tell them to not do that thing? Because I’ve done that, and I don’t really feel bad about it…

    1. fposte*

      It’s not about whether you feel bad about it or not; it’s about whether people are reluctant to work with you because you don’t have your temper in check. (It’s also about whether it worked–in my experience, yelling doesn’t make people likelier to do what you want, but I can see that it could in some circumstances.)

    2. Polka dot bird*

      Yes, that’s still bad. 1) two wrongs don’t make a right, and 2) yelling won’t necessarily fix anything.

    3. NicoleK*

      It’s still bad as it may hurt your reputation with your boss or other high level managers.

  10. Captain Bigglesworth*

    I’m curious to see what anyone else has to say about job hopping. I have two previous short stays on my resume – 1 year in retail (same company, 2 locations) and 1 year in food service (same company – 2 locations). Each location was in a different state (moved away from home and came back), so I don’t know if that plays into it either.

    I’ve been at my current company 1 year, but now it’s having financial difficulties and may start laying off staff soon. We’re already in a hiring freeze and those of us who haven’t quit/retired are picking up what the others left behind. Scary situation and hoping that if this becomes a short stay that I won’t look like a job hopper…

    1. Annonymouse*

      Retail and food service are different. Most people don’t make them their careers so a short stay won’t hurt.

      You also moved states which helps with not making you look like a job hopper.

      With the current situation you can be a bit honest: Hiring freeze and no chance to move up which is why you’re excited about job with new company….

  11. Talvi*

    The one job I quit with no notice was when I was sixteen… because my boss’s mother (who was the bookkeeper) had a tendency to lose her temper at me and the other part-time employee for her mistakes. (Things like yelling at us for filing things in the “wrong place” — not because they were misfiled, but because she had labelled them incorrectly. We did not have enough information to know that Invoice #3728 was not supposed to have been stamped “completed” and should not be filed with the rest of the completed invoices, but when she later could not find it with the open invoices, it was out fault.)

    This is also the job I left after a whole 3 months. Needless to say, it was not once put on my resume.

  12. Tree*

    As someone who is still early in her professional career, I wonder does it take awhile for the effects of a professional reputation to come back and help/hurt you? I worked really hard at my first job and built up a great reputation over several years. They were disappointed that I didn’t give more than 2.5 weeks notice, but I worked every night up until my last day to wrap up a significant project. I left on good terms and have a big pool of positive references.

    But none of that helped me get my second job. They didn’t ask for references, they didn’t do a background check. It just happened quickly.

  13. eemmzz*

    I think the definition of short stays can be field dependant. I’m a software developer and the najority of devs I know stay places 3-4 years max. There are certainly folks who stay longer but it’s fairly common to not go somewhere long term/for life. Any other fields the same?

  14. Tex*

    In trying to avoid/disentangle from a #3 situation, I ended up doing #4 with some repercussions for me. Sometimes there is no winning.

  15. GG*

    I have a few low level jobs that lasted only a few months that have nothing to do with my field (which I’ve never worked in). My last “job” was a month long pledge drive in March, which I did at home, and my job before that wa’s working at a family members consignment sale which was only for a month. The longest job I’ve had has been 6 months. Is that horrible? I have no experience in my field to begin with.

Comments are closed.