Avoiding Mistakes That Decrease Your Value & Marketability As A Professional

I want to begin this post by stating what professionalism isn’t;

Professionalism isn’t giving in to irrational demands just because they are a customer, client, or another professional who has a need that is out of bounds.  Professionalism isn’t talking in a syrupy sweet voice no matter how ill behaved the other side is.  Professionalism isn’t indentured servitude to your company because you love your profession.

Professionalism, loosely translated, is the conduct, aims and characteristics of a professional person conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.  This means that anyone can be a professional anything with dedication and ethics.  What truly defines a professional in my mind, is someone that is trusted and revered because they chose to spend their time honing their craft.

I’ve seen a professional server that had several restaurant managers chasing her and were willing to pay her anything she wanted as her nightly sales would far outweigh that cost.  I’ve seen a professional tire installer that made me wish I could buy several sets because he was so good.

Adversely, I left a physician because he was gruff, rough, and wouldn’t let me finish a sentence to prove that I am my own best advocate.  I had a dentist once when I was 18 that all of a sudden during a cleaning picked up a drill without warning and drill a perfectly good molar.  All of these people were claimed professionals, and all of them had the words “service” in their slogan.  However, their conduct and lose adherence to ethics made them anything but professional.

The point that I’m driving home is that it doesn’t matter your paycheck size or your title when it comes to professionalism.

But on the outside chance that you no longer want to be a professional anything, here is how to kill your career in 9 easy steps:


Dress like you are going to the club, or like you just rolled out of bed

We live in the great “information age”, where there are so many great websites, blogs, and YouTubers who show great ways to style work appropriate outfits.  We have Pinterest for “capsule wardrobe” inspiration and great consignment stores and online sites like ThreadUp.   Here is a recent post of mine where I show how to build a designer wardrobe for $100

Dressing for work needs to be taken seriously. This is even more so for the legal profession.  You do not have to spend a lot of money, and you don’t have to wear all black or navy all of the time.  You also don’t have to have much fashion sense other than to know what works for your figure.  Not presenting as a polished professional will keep you from being taken seriously for upcoming positions or new roles.

Most people want to express their individuality with how they dress, as they should.  However, take a good look around your office’s culture.  Even in business casual settings, strive to stay one notch above what is reasonable.  Ensure that your clothing, hair, nails, and shoes are sparkling clean, and that you are appropriate for any surprise meeting or opportunity.


Behave badly outside of work (and post it on social media)

In many roles a DUI means that you are fired.  Same for any financial crimes.  In addition, you don’t actually have to be found guilty before you’re suspended indefinitely.  Even if the behavior isn’t as bad as that, some online nonsense can kill your career as well.

As prevalent as it is in our lives, we seem to forget that the internet is forever.  Not paying fines or debt that becomes summary judgments are public record.  Risqué photos or videos of illicit behavior, bullying comments on other people’s pages…these can get you fired or not eligible for hire.

The first thing that a recruiter or a hiring manager does is Google your name and then scope out your social media. It is good practice to do this yourself from time to time, no matter how common your name is. Make sure that all public posts are in good taste, and make the rest private.  Understand that making a profile private may not be enough either as there is this thing called a “cache”…and also screenshots.  Consider not having co-workers and bosses on your social media pages so that you have more freedom of expression.


Don’t take yourself or your colleagues seriously

Having fun at work is necessary for a thriving work environment.  However, never taking any assignment or co-worker seriously is a losing strategy.  The same goes for how you perceive yourself.  If nothing is ever a problem or a challenge, then that means that something is lacking.

The object of a career and an employer is that both meshes together to produce valuable services that in return render profit.  No profit, no paycheck. No paycheck, no profit.  Both relationships need one another but things will never be seamless all of the time whereby creating challenges.  Not being serious enough to rise to the challenges and find creative and beneficial ways to resolve them, and then allow the experience to evolve and hone your skills will keep you the same forever.  Staying the same kind of professional will keep you in the same kind of position making the same kind of money until one day you made yourself obsolete.


Never take initiatives

“I don’t get paid to do that”.  That is the #1 killer of careers.  No one should be running around doing other people’s work or constantly taking on additional duties with no adjustment to pay, however not trying something new because one isn’t getting paid is like saying no to a great opportunity.

How would an employer know that you’ll be worth the extra pay increase for the added duty if you didn’t first attempt it, hone it and then do it well?  What if you become the only person able to do that particular duty? What if it turns your position into a lucrative hybrid position?


Quit every position within 18 months

Job hopping shows everyone looking at your resume that you are hard to keep happy. It shows that there is no use in giving you a great, yet challenging, position because once the training dollars have been spent on you, you will more than likely up and leave.

Yet, you may be on to something…there are a few instances where job hopping is beneficial; when with each new position you are moving up, or any lateral moves greatly expand your skill set.  In these instances where you are gaining prestige, one can parlay all that they have learned into an incredible knowledge base.  Job hopping for any other reason is unacceptable to serious employers.


Never return phone calls or emails

Twice this year alone, from two different people, I have had a friend tell me that after a colleague left they found hundreds of unanswered messages.  One lady left behind 75 unanswered voicemails, and the other person left over 1,000 unanswered emails!


As a professional, messages must be returned no later than 48 business hours.  There are very few exceptions to this.  Every effort should be made to get to as many relevant messages by the end of business as possible.  It is ok to prioritize them by any means that makes sense, and it is essential that you have some sort of filing system for your messages as they are documentation.

Come up with some hard and fast rules for yourself and stick by them.  A good one is that all calls will be returned within 24 business hours.  Emails can be sorted and any “actionable” items should be answered by the end of business providing that they come in before 2pm.  Anything after that gets answered first thing the next business day.  Work it anyway that makes sense to you, but stick by it or adjust it until you can stick by it.


Do not take care of yourself, your home life or your finances

We most times cannot help it if we get sick.  Yet co-workers that are sick for a prolong period of time have a ripple effect on an office.   Taking care of you is mental as well.  Burnout is prevalent and almost contagious.  It’s hard to say positive if moral is way down, but if you are not going to do it for yourself, then no one is going to do it for you.  Getting rest, a good diet, and taking time away from work is often the best prescription.

What about home life? How does that play into work culture? For starters, the above examples of health and burnout which can result from trouble at home as well.  Home is a sanctuary and if it isn’t then some work should be put into investigating why and course correction.  When it comes to bringing personal troubles into work, we’ve all done it a time or two in some way.  However, it’s best to schedule some time off and sort things out.  There are too many lines that can be crossed otherwise.

When it comes to finances, it’s important to budget for the sake of your career.  What if there is a great job opportunity that is a cut in pay but will get you to your end game because the growth potential is there? What if you are applying to work for a financial firm and have to undergo a credit check? Creditors will call your job and wage garnishment paperwork goes to your payroll department.  Finances play a huge part in how responsible we are and how authentically trustworthy we are perceived as.



Don’t know anything about your role, industry, or higher ups

It is a professional’s responsibility to know exactly what is require of the role, as well as to learn what is happening inside of the industry.  I don’t care if one is a professional bread toaster, you can be sure that there is a publication out there written especially for the bread toasting industry, find it and subscribe to it.

A really wise professional will know who all of the higher ups are as well as their agenda for growth.  All of this information gathered together over time keeps the professional and her company proactive and therefore safeguarded against major changes.  Eventually that professional will spot the major “get” of an opportunity to grow the company in alignment with the executive goals.  Then the executives will say to her “hey, can you head up this brand new division?” And she’ll say yes, “for $350k and stock options.” And they’ll say “Of course!” And they will all live happily ever after returning massive revenue for a really high ROI because she also put the deal together.  All because she watched her industry closely.


Be unreliable and untrustworthy 

This speaks for itself…or it should.  Why would a hiring manager want to spend $42,000 or $70,000 – plus overtime and benefits – of a company’s budget to continue to employ someone that is untrustworthy?

If you do realize that a mistake was made, tell your boss right away before they discover it.  Apologize for it and do what you can to correct what has been done.  Work with open communication and indicate that it won’t happen again, and work to see that is so.


In conclusion,

Being a professional sets you apart from the rest of the crowd.  The more polished the professional, the less time you’ll spend being lowballed at the hiring table and having to prove your worth.  Strive to have a hiring manager tell you that you are out of their league at least once in life…it feels great.

The one thing that is truly missing in today’s marketplace is the presence of true skill.  Anyone can buy a suit, but it’s the skill that professional has that makes them the most valuable.  Sharpen your skill, hone your craft, and be willing to learn more as industries and society evolves.  Even if one day you want to work for yourself, all of the above would be necessary anyway.  Be you, but be professional.

In service,



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