10 bad habits that make you look really unprofessional

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Facing Your Worst Habits

Picture this. I was at a networking event last winter. It was cold outside, but quite warm in the room. Most of us balanced winter coats and heavy bags. I was making small talk with a few people when a new guy approached the group.

"Damn, you guys are carrying a ton of s–t," he said. "You know, you can check your
s–t for free at the coat check."

Boom! Instant credibility suck. I get that he was trying to help us, but none of us paid him any mind after that introduction.

It's not really just that the guy swore; most of us are pretty immune to that these days. It's that three of his first 22 words were curses (assuming you count "damn" as a curse). That's just lazy, as if he couldn't be bothered to come up with better descriptions of all the things we were carrying. Instead, he went with the barnyard default, and that made him seem unserious and unprofessional.

(Just off the top of my head, since I'm sure some of you are about to ask what he could have called the things we carried instead: coats, bags, laptops, stuff, purses, briefcases, jackets, coats, gear, kit, pouches, totes, baggage, portage, luggage, junk, tunics -- hey, call my a bag a man purse, if you want to at least score a C-minus joke).

The truth is, nobody's perfect. We're all prone to semiconscious verbal foul-ups that make us look less than impressive. That's why we all need a reminder now and then. Here are 10 examples of unprofessional behavior to avoid.

1. Lazy profanity.

OK, this one really is at the top of the list. Again, it's not the profanity itself (although that often doesn't help). It's the laziness. If someone uses the F-word as an all-purpose adjective, it makes you wonder whether they're equally uncreative and slothful in everything they do.

2. Lateness.

I admit this is a tendency I've had to work hard to combat in my own life. The phrase "Murphy Standard Time" would not be met with blank stares by some of my friends and family. Yet I've learned that being on time is a matter of respect. Show up when you say you will, and you send a message that you're professional enough to care.

3. Leering.

We're all human. We're mammals. We notice alluring members of whatever gender we're biologically predisposed to be attracted to. Yet that same humanity also means we should have the self-control to keep the "up-and-down look" under control, so to speak. Eyes up here, my friend, or you'll look like a creepy amateur.

4. Pollyannaishness.

I've always been bothered by the fact that the word "Pollyannaish" implies having too much unrealistic optimism. Check out the 1913 book if you don't understand why. Still, when, after a disaster, a colleague or vendor insists things are absolutely fine while common sense tells you they're not, it undermines their professionalism.

5. Flightiness.

To be flighty is to be fickle and irresponsible. Tell someone you'll be at a certain place, or that you'll accomplish a certain thing-and then never do it? Sorry, you're flighty.

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10 bad habits that make you look really unprofessional

Minimize the stress of your first week in a new job by taking time to organize your personal life.

"Any projects around the house that have been nagging at the back of your mind? Now's the time to get them done," says Ryan Kahn, the founder of The Hired Group and creator of the best-selling How To Get Hired online course.

Miriam Salpeter, job search coach, owner of Keppie Careers, and author of "Social Networking for Career Success" and "100 Conversations for Career Success," says your break between jobs is the perfect time to schedule doctor appointments and deliveries that require you to be home, and to run any errands that may be difficult to get done once you start your new job.

"Take advantage of not having to be reachable during the day, and stop checking your email or looking at Facebook for an afternoon or two," says Sutton Fell. "This gives you a chance to reset your brain."

Instead of staring at a screen for hours on end — which you'll probably have to do as soon as you start your new job — pick up a book you've been dying to read, or go take an exercise class you've been wanting to try.

"Before starting a new job, take the time to ensure that you are maintaining the relationships you had formed at your previous job," Kahn says.

Make sure you have contact information for the people that you worked with in the past, and plan on checking in with them on a regular basis once you're in your new role.

We know we said earlier you should take a break from technology — but it's okay (and advised!) to take an hour to two during your time off to update your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook profiles with your new company and job title.
You might not have a chance to do afternoon lunches with people for the first few months of your new job, so your break is a great time to do these, says Sutton Fell.

Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert and best-selling author, suggests using this break to spend time with family.

"When you start any new job you should expect to work longer hours — at least the first several months," she says. "Utilize this time to make the most of being at home."

Whether you can get away for a night or a week, take a trip somewhere to recharge, see new sights, and take full advantage of your time off, Sutton Fell says.

In today's competitive job market, the more senior the position, the more you will be scrutinized in those first few months, Kahn says.

"You'll be expected to hit the ground running versus spending time learning the ropes. Get a head start by researching the industry and the company, and learning as much as you can about the position and the team you will be working with," he suggests. 

Give some thought to what you want to do differently from the start in this new job, Williams Yost says.

"Are you going to try to wake up earlier and get to the gym a couple of days a week? Are you going to try to schedule a networking lunch outside of the office once a month?" Use this time to establish a plan. 

During this rare lull between jobs, think about where you are headed. Where do you want to be in five years? In 10 years? How will this job help you get there? Coming in knowing where you're going will help you stay on the right path from day one, Kahn says.

If your work schedule is shifting at all, it's important to organize things like childcare, household responsibilities, and your personal routine, Sutton Fell says.

Salpeter says if you altered your sleep schedule at all during your time off, you should try to get into a "work-oriented sleep routine" a few days before starting your new job.

Don't forget to spend some time on yourself. Take time to relax, get plenty of rest, and indulge in some pampering. 

"Congratulate yourself on a job well done," Williams Yost says. "Treat yourself to a massage, new power outfit, or a nice dinner. You landed a job in a dim market; you should take the time to be proud of yourself."

Worried that it may be difficult to get back into the swing of things if you’re too relaxed during your time off? "Work is like riding a bike; once you start that first day, you'll click right back in," Williams Yost explains. "So don't worry about being too relaxed during your break. Drink it all in. Enjoy every minute of it. Then dive into your new gig with a new outfit, fresh outlook, and happy heart."


6. Disorganization.

(Anyone who gets more than 1,000 emails a day probably falls into this category.) As most of us who run businesses understand, clients and customers expect you to reply quickly. They want you to be able to talk about their situations (seemingly) off-the-cuff. If you aren't in control of your own situation, they'll wonder how you can possibly be in control of theirs.

7. Inarticulateness.

This one is so like, obvious, and yet a lot of people like, they don't really get it. And that just, like, totally makes them seem like, not really professional, because they, like, can't even get to the point of what they want to say and like, make it clear and stuff.

'Nuff said. I'd actually throw bad grammar into this category as well, although with the caveat that we've all known some very smart, professional people whose language simply betrayed their lack of formal education, or whose first tongue wasn't ours. (Seriously, if this column were written in French or Spanish, we'd all have a good laugh at my grammar.)

8. Secrecy.

Sure, we all have private lives, but most of the time our businesses don't truly involve them. If you're hiding important information from employees or clients, you're not doing much for your reputation as a leader, and you're probably making them wonder whether they can trust you.

9. Overpromising.

A really brilliant salesperson once told me her art of selling was about "making the maximum promise you can, consistent with your ability to deliver." Entrepreneurs often push the envelope on this, but the key is to make sure you're confident you will eventually be able to make good on your promises.

10. Cheating and lying.

These two are obvious. As President George W. Bush once tried to say, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

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