There’s no question that presenting a professional appearance is important if you want to do well in your career.
A professional appearance isn’t just a matter of checking all the right boxes when it comes to experience, skills, and knowledge – it’s about proving to your bosses, coworkers, and contacts that you’re a reliable person to work with.
Are these bad habits undermining your professional credibility?
These days, it’s easy to agree to plans – and twice as easy to cancel when something else comes up. You may chalk this up to your busy, overpacked schedule, but the person you canceled on will see it as an inability to follow through.
If you’ve told a coworker you’ll come to her going away party, a mentor that you’ll meet him for coffee, or a new networking contact that you’ll send her an email, then keep those appointments. Most people will forgive one or two cancelations if it is a true emergency (and they’re not in a row), but if you’re demonstrating a habit of no-showing, most people will bump you off their own list of priorities.
Having unrealistic expectations of your time
This has been my biggest push for self-improvement this year. I over-schedule myself constantly, believing that I can surely accomplish it all (and that sleep is overrated). I’m sure you other overachievers out there know the end of that story: rushed projects, stupid mistakes, and eventual burnout.
Saying yes to everything puts undue pressure on yourself – and it’s an amateur mistake. When you’re trying to do everything, it’s hard to do anything well. Professionals knew how much they can accomplish in one day, how to say no, and they don’t routinely crash and burn while others are waiting on their work.
Showing up late
Are you constantly running late? Emergencies, traffic, childcare, last-minute deadlines – it seems like something’s always coming up.
Showing up late is disrespectful to the person who’s waiting on you. The message you’re sending is that you don’t value that your coworker, friend, or service provider is equally as busy as you are.
Showing up on time is a matter of smart scheduling and being organized about your day. An accident on the highway is a legitimate excuse. “Rush hour traffic” or “Trying to finish up a project” are not.
Promising what you can’t deliver
When I ask a certain colleague when I can expect work from her, she’ll invariably tell me that it will be done by the end of the day.
Equally invariably, I get her finished work two or three days later, with no explanation.
Is she lying to me when she says she’ll have it done? I don’t think so. I think she sets unrealistic deadlines for herself because she wants to appear on top of things, and she wants to make me happy. The problem with this thinking is that I’d rather have a realistic estimate from her, rather than an optimistic one that I know she’ll never meet.
It’s always better to delight someone by over-delivering, so pad your estimations to keep them realistic. If you deliver your work sooner, cheaper, or bigger than you promised, you’ll have made someone ecstatic. If you promise the moon by this afternoon and deliver a clod of dirt three days later, you’ll come off as completely unreliable.
Constantly losing emails, forgetting to return phone calls, and misplacing vital paperwork may feel inevitable because of how busy you are, but in reality it teaches your coworkers that they can’t rely on you.
Checking your phone
Unless you’re truly expecting an emergency phone call, leave your phone in your pocket when it buzzes during the middle of a conversation. Nothing signals your disinterest in what your conversation partner’s trying to tell you like checking your phone while they’re in the middle of a sentence. The instant you check that text you’ve lost credibility in their eyes.
If you do need to check your phone, excuse yourself politely to do so. Never just thumb it on while someone is talking to you.
Little white lies
No one wants to fess up to mistakes, right? Blaming a delay on an IT malfunction, late files from another department, or your child’s illness seems like the sort of thing you’ll never get caught at – until that awkward moment your supervisor meets your spouse at the company picnic and says she’s sorry to hear how sick little Suzie has been lately.
Even if it was only a single white lie, the moment it’s found out everything else you’ve said will be held in question.
Making constant excuses
I used to have a coworker who had an excuse for every missed deadline and forgotten task. They were all legitimate – dog had an emergency, the kids were sick, his parents were in town – but after a few months of excuses it was hard to take him seriously. We all assumed he would have an excuse not to do the next bit of work he was assigned, so we all stopped relying on him.
If you find yourself making constant excuses, figure out why. What are the main problems in your way, and how can you minimize them? Everyone around you also has obligations that get in the way, but professionals figure out how to get the work done, too.
I’d love to hear from you – what are the biggest offenders when it comes to unprofessional behavior? Let us know in the comments.