5 Split-Second Choices That Can Ruin Your Professional Reputation

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May 24, 2024 at 5:0AM UTC
Before you clicked on this article, think about how many choices you made: to wake up, open your computer, connect to WiFi, open a browser (or your email), decide to read a headline, then click on it … and here you are. It might seem a bit absurd, but it is estimated adults make around 35,000 decisions every single day. (Are you tired just reading that stat? We are!) Though most of those are subconscious and don’t require deep consideration, other ones require your attention and intelligence.
After all, choices regarding your career influence your perceived character, your trajectory, and your future pursuits. As career branding expert Wendi Weiner explains, while it takes years to build your name, you can destroy it within seconds.
“Your professional reputation is important, inside and outside of your career industry, because it can affect your ability to maintain and get a job, and it can affect how professionals in your industry view you,” she continues. “What others say about you when you are not around, especially about you professionally, can make you or break you.”
Here are some judgments to make smartly since, hey, like it or not — the world is watching:

1. Posting inappropriate (or questionable) photos or posts online.

The growing importance of social media is a double-edged sword: having a presence is essential to remain modern and relevant, but what you post can backfire. Weiner says social media is compromising our privacy — and very easily — our professional image, making it a way to advance us and harm us.
“One foolish mistake like a callous response on social media, or an improper post, can cause things to spiral out of control and damage your professional reputation,” she explains. “When you are in the limelight as a rising advanced professional, you are held to a higher standard and more susceptible to harsh criticism, including downright negative comments.”
Does this mean you should censor yourself? Not exactly — but you should think before you post on who might be offended, what message you’re sending, and the possible ramifications. As a general rule, Weiner says to try to avoid commenting on political posts or engaging in social media wars with others. If you do want to take part? Make yourself private — and be extra selective about who you accept.

2. Not keeping your promises.

To get promoted, earn respect and become a trustworthy member of any team, career expert and entrepreneur Christopher Kingman says your word is your best defense. This means when you say you’ll deliver on something, you consistently do, without fail. If you don’t meet deadlines, fall short on the quality of work, and overall, miss every mark your manager sets for you, Kingman says you create the perception you are under-skilled, inept or over-confident.
“Combine this with over-committing to work, and you’ll have the reputation of someone who is effectively useless. Worst of all, this is easily avoidable. If you are not 100% sure you can deliver, or produce what people are looking for, let them know,” he recommends. “Sure, they may be disappointed momentarily, but in the long run your reputation will benefit from your honesty.”

3. Participating in illegal behavior.

This is likely a no-brainer but remember: If you get arrested or caught for participating in any illegal altercations or activities, you’re not only risking your career — but your social standing, too. While Weiner says this heavily depends on the severity of the crime and your industry, treading on the right side of the law is always the smarter solution.  “Be transparent and honest, always. Think before you act. Always look to the future of your consequences and avoid bad behavior,” she adds.

4. Being professionally selfish.

Unless you’re a one-person solopreneur show, a large part of career achievement is finding a way to not only mesh well with others but propel your coworkers, too. In the workforce, the more you illustrate your ability to compromise, problem-solve and well, cheerlead, the more valuable of an employee you become, Kingman notes. Those who fall on the other end of the spectrum and continuous put themselves before anything or anyone else? They don’t win the marathon.
“Individuals who are largely self-motivated or known to play office politics often are selfish. Often, these individuals are the first to take the credit and always displace the blame,” he explains. “When you are known for this in your company, your reputation is tarnished. We all have ambitions to succeed and climb the ladder, but if it’s commonly known you will do it at the expense of your peers, people will avoid you at all costs.”

5. Acting out in public.

So, you’re always on top of your game and buttoned-up when you’re confined to the office walls — but what about after you leave? If you tend to be hot-headed, lose your temper or lack the ability to bite your tongue, your reputation might be at risk, according to Weiner.
Though it might not seem like it should matter if you’re not technically on the clock, anyone can pull out a smartphone and record your behavior, splash it online — and well? Your manager will likely find out.
“We see people quickly uploading photos of others acting improperly in public: cursing out Uber drivers, getting into altercations on airplanes, and even engaging in road rage,” she explains. “The ‘upload’ feature has had grave consequences for many laypersons, so be cautious about your behavior in public. Try to avoid confrontations, and try to be the bigger person.”
— Lindsay Tigar
This article originally appeared on The Ladders.

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