Crazy Career Limiting Moves - You've Got the Job, Now Let's See You Keep It

Crazy Career Limiting Moves – You’ve Got the Job, Now Let’s See You Keep It

As both an HR professional and consultant I’ve had years of experience seeing people who know how to ace an interview only go on to shoot themselves in the foot because they don’t apply some of those same principles once in the job.

I’m not talking about their knowledge, ability to apply their expertise or deliver on projects, I’m talking about the little things that almost nobody talks about but everybody notices.  Like any relationship, it’s often the little things that undo you.

There was a recent Workopolis article by Peter Harris titled, “Five Snap Decisions That Can Ruin Your Career In  An Instant”.  Amongst those were dishonesty, angry emails, drunk at work functions, social media behaviour and burning bridges.  All great advice and definitely worth a read!  Peter is a knowledgeable resource - smart and funny (you can find him on Twitter at @Workopolis), and as one of my favourite contributors to workplace articles, he's inspired me to add a few additional career limiting moves that we might not think about.  To do that I’m going back to the interview that got you the job, and suggesting that some of the behaviours you did, or more importantly didn’t, demonstrate in the interview still need to hold true once you’re in the job.

Let’s start with meetings, because similar to the interview process, this is your opportunity to shine (or not) in front of the boss and colleagues. Consider this meeting etiquette 101:

Be On Time

Do I really have to say this again?!?  Yes, we’re all busy and juggling multiple priorities, but for heaven’s sake unless there is a major crisis be on time.  People will quickly tire of seeing you rush in 5 minutes late, huffing and puffing about all your other priorities, your hero’s cape wafting in the breeze.  It really doesn’t make you look busy and indispensible, it just makes you look inefficient and disrespectful of other people’s time.

Be Prepared

Unless the meeting is unscheduled and called last minute, you should arrive well prepared.  When I made it to the C-Suite a good colleague told me to always come to a meeting prepared to be called on even if I wasn’t specifically on the agenda, and to pay close attention to the course of the discussion, even if it was focused on another area of the organization.  Great advice that I’ve lived by and it’s proven valuable on more than one occasion.  You can never entirely predict the direction a business discussion will take, and if the CEO or a board member suddenly looks in your direction and asks for your opinion, or relevant data from your group, your winning smile isn’t going to be enough.

Be Engaged

Presumably you’re in the meeting because it’s believed you either have something to contribute, or you need to be in on the front end of a discussion that might impact you or your team.  So pay attention!  Decisions may be made as a result of what happens in this meeting and if you were busy looking at emails or texting you might just have missed the opportunity to influence a decision that will impact you later.

Meetings with Other Teams or External Stakeholders

Most meetings will involve people you connect with regularly within your organization, but just as often meetings may involve people from other areas of the organization, external stakeholders or vendors. While it may be more comfortable to group yourself with your regular cronies, it can be a career limiting move not to connect with others less familiar to you.  Who knows where the next big opportunity may come from?  If you’ve taken the time to mingle, demonstrate an interest in people outside of your immediate surroundings and get to know what’s important to them, you’ll be seen as someone interested in the bigger picture.

Appropriate Meeting Attire and Grooming

Dress appropriately for formal meetings – I’m not talking about a quick team scrum here.  You’ll always be forgiven for being a little too well dressed, and just because there may be others who haven’t figured this out yet that’s no reason to lower your standard.  You also need to be prepared for that meeting you get called into unexpectedly.  If you typically wear flats to work because that’s more comfortable, keep a pair of heels in your desk drawer and maybe a little black jacket and fashionable belt in the closet.  And think about your grooming, especially if there is the potential for it to be on show.  I once attended a meeting with a vendor where the sales rep needed to demonstrate the flexibility of furniture options.  This required her to use her feet to step on peddles, release clamps, etc., while we were all up-close and watching.  She chose to wear a pair of open-toed sandals and her nail polish was chipped and toenails were broken.  Guess what we noticed more than the flexibility of the product being demonstrated?  Small minded of us perhaps, but hey, we’re only human.

Lunch or Dinner Meetings

Food is always a great enticement to get people to see the meeting positively, and it’s also where you can easily trip yourself up.  Just because it’s happening in the workplace doesn’t mean some basic manners aren’t expected.  I’m not talking about the late night team meeting where somebody orders in and throws the pizza box onto a table for everyone to dig in.  That’s open season and short of double-dipping your pizza crust in the only container of marinara sauce, almost anything goes.

The formal lunch or dinner meeting that includes some form of catering carries expectations of social etiquette.  And I’ve seen more than one manager make a brilliant presentation during the business portion of the meeting, only to then dangle his tie in the soup tureen or talk with her mouth full during the meal.  It’s like enjoying a great main course and then being served a bad cup of coffee – you’ll always remember the coffee.  So here’s a short list of my expectations, and I imagine it would mirror what most senior executives would require of team members invited to this type of meeting: 

a)      Plan for a 5-10 minute lull between when the business portion of the meeting ends or is paused for refreshment, and when you get your food.   Use this time to connect with people from outside of your group, or visitors from outside of the organization, by offering to serve them or invite them up to the buffet line and engage them in small talk while they fill their plate.  They may be ill at ease being from outside of your group and reaching out will help to make them feel more welcome and valued.

b)      If there are guests attending the meeting, even if its staff from another department, wait until they are served or have served themselves before you indulge.  Annoying as it may be to see the last of your favourite dish or wrap go to someone else, always consider yourself to be the co-host of any meeting called by your boss and act accordingly.

c)       And like any good co-host, remember to scan the table and see who may need their water refilled, has finished their meal and might like a dessert or coffee and be the gracious person who attends to their needs.  Also another perfect opportunity to make a new connection, or build a stronger connection with someone you’d like to know better.

d)      Keep your cell phone on mute.  Unless there is an urgent issue that is understood by your boss to truly be a time bound priority, you should not be checking emails and texts during the meeting, and that includes the meal break.  Great connections and often important conversations will happen during this part of the meeting and you’ll be left out if you only have eyes for your smart phone.  You can check for anything that needs your attention on a 5-minute comfort break before the meeting reconvenes.

e)      Don’t charge out of the meeting like your hair is on fire as soon as it’s adjourned.  Take a minute to shake hands with people you met for the first time, congratulate anyone who made a good presentation, set-up a time for coffee with a new connection.  How you exit the meeting is important.  And if you have even two extra minutes to spare, help the boss’s executive assistant clear the table.  If you don’t think that’s a valuable connection, think again!

Little things, yes, but if you treat them the same way you did when you were interviewing for the job they give you a public forum where you can stand out.  Because the truth is, you’re always interviewing and when the next career move becomes available, you will have already set the stage as someone worth remembering.

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