18 Behaviors That Limit Your Career Potential

There’s nothing wrong with looking out for yourself and your career. And right now, with more jobs than people to fill them, it’s easier than ever.

During one month in 2018, job postings exceeded the number of unemployed by an eye-popping 659,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). No surprise, then, that the DOL reports 3.6 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in the first seven months of 2018. This 2.4% quit rate was the highest since April 2001.

No one can ignore the underlying message: More vacancies and not enough takers to fill them equals better opportunities and higher pay.

But not so fast. All this may be true in some situations, but not everywhere—and not forever. If you view jobs as temporary, you can create an easy-to-spot trail of behaviors that may put a cap on your career.

Here are 18 ways to mess up on the job without even knowing it:

1) Take advantage of your team. You make it clear from the get-go that you’re a team player. This is what everyone wants to hear today, so you keep repeating it. But now that the work is piling up, you’re quick to let the rest of the team know you have too much on your plate to support them.

2) Cover up your mistakes. You’ve rehearsed your story and act totally innocent if someone calls you on an error. You never crack and never confess.

3) Always agree, but never perform. When asked to do something, you act interested and even excited, but never get around to it.

4) Position yourself as the exception. When the rules benefit you, you make sure everyone knows about it. When they don’t, you come up with a way to make it clear that you’re an exception.

5) Do only so much and nothing more. You’re not going to be around long; you’re already looking for your next gig. So, why knock yourself out? Just ignore the pressure to do more. Act busy, but take it easy.

6) Spread the word: You’re meant for better things. Sure, you do your work, but you also talk about how great it was at your last job, or how good your friends have it where they work.

7) Disappear when there’s a crisis. Coming in early or staying late when you’re needed doesn’t work for you. You always have a reason ready for why you can’t put in extra hours.

8) Pass the blame around. The directions were incorrect. Someone gave you inaccurate information, misled you, waited until the last minute to notify you or had it in for you. No matter what, it wasn’t your fault.

9) See yourself as a silo of one. You get your own work done, and that’s all you need to worry about. You’re an island, and everyone else is just a passing ship.

10) Behave inconsistently. Sometimes you’re up and other times you’re down. Friendly, then aloof. You’re unpredictable—no one knows how you’re going to react.

11) Believe you can’t be replaced. You’ve been on the job for a while and you know the ropes, so you’re feeling good about yourself. You talk more openly about co-workers and play a little loose with the rules.

12) Get upset about lack of praise. You’ve come to expect it. It’s almost an addiction. When you don’t get it, you’re quick to complain that you’re not appreciated.

13) Ask for help, but never offer it. You can’t understand why your co-workers are reluctant to help you. It isn’t because they don’t like you. It’s because, with you, help is a one-way street.

14) Always play it safe. Whether it’s because you want to avoid criticism or you just can’t be bothered, you never take a chance and step outside your comfort zone. Everyone can see what you do, but not what you’re capable of doing.

15) Overestimate your capabilities. Most of us exaggerate our skills, capabilities and our performance, but some do it more than others.

16) Always be ready with a complaint. Your teammates can count on you to make a big deal out of almost anything.

17) Don’t learn new skills or expand your knowledge base. You don’t recognize that no one arrives on a job perfectly prepared. It takes time to learn the ropes and then continue learning to become and remain highly productive.

18) Bluff. If you haven’t found a way to successfully mess up on the job, there’s always the other option: faking it. Claim to know something you don’t. Make up a story about an accomplishment or even awards or commendations. In other words, bluff your way through the day. It will work—until it doesn’t.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer.