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Beware career killers that can cost you your job

Know the Score

Posted: July 5, 2008 1:10 a.m.
Updated: September 5, 2008 5:03 a.m.
You're at your desk at 8 a.m. every morning, you wouldn't think of pocketing even one paper clip, and you haven't worn flip-flops to work since you were a lifeguard, but there's more to getting that promotion than reading the employee manual and hitting deadlines. There are some mistakes that can put you on the manager's hit list the next time layoffs roll around, so let's see what they are:

n Abusing technology. Think one little e-mail rant about your boss to a sympathetic pal can't hurt? Think again. The American Management Association study found that 25 percent of companies have fired employees for e-mail misuse, and 26 percent have given workers the axe for browsing sites they shouldn't. Thanks to computer monitoring software you're no longer invisible to the boss.

n Butting heads with the boss. You don't have to spend "happy hour" with your boss, but you do have to build an amicable partnership with him or her. If you don't have a good relationship with your boss, your job is in jeopardy. Your boss can put a raise freeze on you that will last as long as you do at that company. Unless you're working for an abusive Neanderthal, treat your boss as though you are self-employed and he or she is your biggest client.

n Settling for a support role. "Support roles" are dead-ends. If you have your eye on the executive suite, get out of human resources, marketing or customer service. Instead, move into a department that's responsible for the company's bottom line such as sales, finance or business development. Also, when in meetings avoid playing the mother hen who takes notes and ensures everyone's had a chance to voice their opinion. Focus on the job you were hired to do and fearlessly offer your expertise.

n Confiding in human resources. Contrary to popular belief, your HR rep is not your friend, advocate or confidante. The role of human resources is to support the company, not you. Complaining about your boss to HR is like griping about your husband to your mother-in-law and expecting her to keep quiet. Ditto to talking to HR about your health, family or ambivalence about returning to work after maternity leave.

n Playing the "negative nelly." Complaining about company practices is career suicide. The company may tolerate whiny old-timers for their invaluable expertise, but no one's going to entrust them with a leadership role. Negative people are always at the top of the layoff list.

n Not dressing for success. If you're a mid-lifer who hasn't updated her wardrobe or haircut in a decade, it's time for a makeover. To management your outdated style screams "outdated thinker." If you want to move up the totem pole, you have to dress the part and wear what management's wearing.

n Succumbing to temptation. Considering we spend much of our waking lives at work, it's natural to want to shoot the breeze with our colleagues, but don't get the reputation as the social butterfly who's always gossiping. Don't take long lunches, and don't converse instead of working. None of these things will go unnoticed by the powers that be, and they all could render your career DOA.

If you want to zoom to the top, own up to your mistakes. Apologize for the blunder and then move on. Build alliances and cozy up to everyone from the receptionist to the VP of sales. The more co-workers you help, the more will help you.

Another quick zip to success is to "specialize." Don't just develop Web sites; develop Web sites for something special. The more fine-tuned your skills are, the more valuable you are. Keep educating yourself, too. Stay on top of industry trends, and besides gaining a deeper understanding of your company you'll impress the bigwigs.

Of course, last but not least, network incessantly. Stay in touch with industry contacts. That way, if you get laid off you won't have to start your job hunt from square one. Hope this helps you gain the success you want, and you avoid the latest politically correct phrase - "down-sizing" - which we all know means "laid-off."

Maureen Stephenson is a local author and owner of REMS Publishing & Publicity. Her column represents her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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