Your professional reputation is enormously important; it's what will make people want to work with you, hire you and respect you as a colleague. It can be your safety net – getting you work when you need it, and putting you in a position where you have options and don't need to stay in a bad situation or take the first opportunity that comes along.
But it's easy to squander this incredibly valuable resource, and it doesn't take much to do it. Here are eight easy ways to ruin your work reputation.
1. Accept a job offer and then back out later. People sometimes accept one job offer but continue interviewing in case they get an offer they like better, but there's a huge cost to your reputation for doing this; you'll be known as someone whose word is suspect and who cuts and runs. And people from one company have a way of popping up again at other companies for which you may want to work. Imagine that you really want a job offer in the future, and one of the decision-makers is someone who used to work for this employer. "Jane took a job with us but backed out right before she was supposed to start" are not words you want spoken about you when you're interviewing.
2. Worse, start a new job and then quit after a month for a different one. It's one thing if the job is truly a bad fit and you're miserable or if it's not what you were led to believe it would be during the hiring process. But starting a new job and then leaving it quickly just because something better came along is a good way to do the same damage as in No. 1 – but it's even worse since the company will have invested time and resources into training you, introducing you to clients and so forth.
3. Lose your temper at work. It's normal to occasionally get frustrated, but you're crossing a line if you're yelling, slamming doors or snapping at people. It only takes one incident like this to get a reputation as the angry guy with whom no one wants to work, and that's a label that's very hard to shake.
4. Lie. Whether it's lying to cover up a mistake or adding a few thousand dollars to your salary history in the hopes of getting a better offer, getting caught lying is a surefire way to fatally harm your reputation with anyone who hears about it. The workplace depends on being able to take people at their word; if you show that people can't trust you, you'll have a terrible time building the relationships that you need at work and when you're looking for your next job.
5. Make commitments that you don't keep. You build credibility by showing people that you mean what you say – doing what you say you're going to do and following through on commitments. But if you do the opposite – if you say you'll send that report over by Monday but forget to do it, or promise to set up a meeting about your new account but don't follow through – you'll ruin your credibility and get a reputation for flakiness and unreliability.
6. Recommend someone for a job when you don't really think they would be right for it. When you recommend someone, you're vouching for him or her – you're saying that the person does what you consider to be great work, and that he or she is someone with whom you'd be thrilled to work. But if it's not true, you could end up being known as "the person who felt Joe's work was fine, when in fact Joe's work was awful and he was impossible to work with." After all, your assessment of someone's work says something about your own work, standards and judgment.
7. Quit your job without notice. Unless you have really, really good reason, quitting your job without notice will burn bridges with your employer (and often your co-workers too) and can be the kiss of death for future reference calls. Fair or not, the standard is two weeks notice.
8. Send a hostile email after something happens that you don't like. Whether it's jotting off an angry response to a new policy at work or sending a bitter reply after you get rejected for a job, angry letter bombs are hard to live down. You'll look like someone who doesn't know how to address concerns calmly and professionally, and most people will respond by giving you a wide berth.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.