A List Of Career Limiting Moves To Blow Up Your Future

Sleeping on the job.You career is probably your number one money maker. If you blow up your career, you will likely blow up your finances. If you blow up your finances, you will become a bitter person who decides to hate other people for their success. If you hate other people for their success, you’ll happily vote to raise taxes on people who already pay the most taxes without having to pay more yourself. If you become a hypocrite, sooner or later everybody will become like you because nobody will bother working hard anymore. Once we’re all living the good life, then maybe we can conquer new countries to make their citizens do our bidding. Great job!

The first time I heard of CLM (Career Limiting Moves) was during my first year of work out of college. I went down to the basement level to get some coffee for my senior co-workers. Given I had to get eight orders, I figured I might as well get a haircut next door while I waited. Unfortunately, the barber cut my sides a little too tight and my luscious locks turned into military buzz cut spikes. When I got back to my desk, everybody started making fun of me.

“You trying out for the military Sam?”

“How was your vacation?” (Given I was gone for about 25 minutes)

“Sonic boom!” (In reference to Guile from Street Fighter)

“Where’s Sam and what did you do with my grande mocha?”

It’s customary to get ribbings on the trading floor of a major investment bank so I took it like a man. Then out of nowhere, I thought of the best comeback lines when a senior VP started giving me more shit.

“I hope you like your coffee. I figure if it grows on company time, might as well cut it on company time!” BOOM! The senior VP wasn’t too amused. Welcome to my first Career Limiting Move! Luckily I escaped to San Francisco the following year for a new opportunity.

Now that you understand the importance of doing well in your career, let me share with you a list of career limiting moves you should not make.

CAREER LIMITING MOVES

* Not knowing your place. Seniors beat up freshmen. First year analysts listen to VPs. VPs listen to Directors. Directors listen to Managing Directors. If you choose to work for an organization instead of becoming an entrepreneur it is vital you know your place. The last thing anybody wants is some cocky kid who thinks he or she knows it all. You must suffer like they have suffered when they first started. Anything less will seem like insubordination. Do what you are told until the new incoming class.

One of the reasons why I think some Asian cultures do so well in the workplace is because filial piety is indoctrinated into their every move. It almost doesn’t even matter whether an older person is right or wrong. What matters is that you show the older person some respect through listening and following directions. Through respect comes mentorship. Through mentorship comes a much greater chance of being successful in one’s career.

* Perpetually coming in late. Coming in early is the easiest thing any newbie employee can do. Yet for some reason not everybody comes in early! If you come in after your boss you are disrespecting your boss and your senior colleagues. If you don’t really care then why should they care? You can kiss your promotions and pay raises goodbye.  The same thing goes for those who perpetually leave early. You do not know everything so put in more time.

* Not speaking Swahili. If your boss is from Swaziland, then you need to know everything there is about Tanzania or Kenya. Immediately learn about the culture, language, customs, economy, and areas of pride and tradition. By studying about your boss’s culture, it shows you care. You won’t be busting out your Swahili to show off. Instead, you are simply prepared to speak and act in appropriate fashion when the inevitable culture bias shows itself.

Look around your office. People hire people who look, act, and speak like them. The phenomena goes across race, nationality, sex, education, and orientation. A pessimist can point to nepotism as a reason for such similarities. May I suggest the simple fact that people trust people who are more like themselves. You can’t change the color of your skin, but at least you can go to a tanning salon to understand someone else’s culture.

* Constant complaining. Complainers are always the first to get slaughtered when it’s time to let people go. Nobody likes a complainer, especially the ones who complain about their colleagues, subordinates, and bosses. When there are millions of people dying from starvation and can’t even get a minimum wage job, what the hell are you complaining about? A complaint will always get around the office because nobody is able to keep their mouth shut. Office gossip is like a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. Do not engage.

The number one thing a boss is thinking when s/he hears a complainer is, “If you’re so happy, why don’t you get the hell out of here?” Once the boss realizes it’s because you are too chicken shit or unqualified to move, he’ll also label you as a cancer that must be removed. Always think in your head, “Thank you sir! May I have another?” Revel in the long hours, the hard work, and the impossible tasks. Once you do, you will ascend.

* Getting too drunk at social functions. Free alcohol is great, but nobody ever gets promoted because of a holiday party. There is really only downside if you get hammered and start blabbering on about how you find Y colleague hot, and how you find X boss annoying. One old colleague of mine got sloshed at a Managing Director’s house and was fired two months later. Coincidence? Of course not. He was a blight to the firm.

* Not participating in office social functions. If your colleagues and bosses are going out for a beer after work, you better get your ass there as well. Of course you’re not going to get drunk, but you are going to spend another hour or two after a long day’s work getting to know your colleagues in a more relaxed setting. Outside of work, we are all equal. Here’s your chance to develop common ground.

It only takes a one hour lunch to drastically improve a relationship, especially if you pay. Your clients will pick up your e-mails and calls and business gets that much easier. Do not ever miss a chance to go bond with your colleagues. Once you develop friendships with higher ups, your survival rate shoots through the roof.

* Not identifying rocket ships. There is always a star in your office that is going places. The star doesn’t always have to be senior to you either. Look at Marissa Mayer who is now the CEO of Yahoo at age 37. She’s hiring plenty of under 37 year old colleagues from Google to be her lieutenants. It’s important to identify the rocket ship so you can also go along for the ride. If your friends ascend to powerful places, they will make sure they take care of the people who helped bring them there.

* Taking all your vacation too soon. If you haven’t even worked six months and are already asking for a two week vacation you can kiss your career goodbye. The first two or three years of work should be balls to the wall focus. Taking vacations too soon shows that you don’t care as much as you should about your future at the firm. Vacation days almost always carry over up to a certain point, therefore don’t worry about losing them. If you ever leave your firm, your old firm is required to pay your vacation days in the form of income as well.

If you must take your vacations, spread them out in two or three day chunks through the year. Try not to take more vacations during the second half of the year because that is usually when bonuses and promotions are decided. Remember, if you are enjoying your life too much, you will piss off those who don’t. If you piss of those who matter, then you’re not going to be very happy.

* Calling in sick on a Friday (or Monday). Everybody knows that if you call in sick on a Friday you are blatantly lying. Your boss knows that you are taking a three day weekend to go booz it up with your friends in Vegas. What are the chances that you are really sick on a Friday in a week of 7 days? 15%! If you call in sick more than a couple Fridays then you should start looking for a job right now since it’s statistically rare to always be sick on a Friday.

* Never volunteering for extra work. It’s important to raise your hand when your boss asks for volunteers. Take it as a privilege that you get to do more work. Your bosses will recognize those who go above and beyond their day to day jobs. Bosses love employees who come in on the weekends to make sure all the work for Monday is done. Another big tip is to volunteer for your boss’s charity.

* Overestimating your abilities. You may have gotten straight A’s at Harvard, but you don’t know shit once you first start working. If you carry your superiority complex into the work environment without putting in your due diligence, you will fail miserably. It is much better to come in with the attitude that you know nothing.

* Interoffice romance. Dating a colleague is risky business. There are strict HR policies that either forbid interoffice dating or that if a relationship occurs it must be reported for liability reasons. If we know that 50% of marriages end in divorce and even more relationships don’t even get to the marriage point, chances are high that eventually the relationship will back fire. If you can’t deny love, then just don’t get caught on camera doing something funny on the conference room table.

* Jumping ship too soon. There’s an inherent desire for all of us to want more now. If we are underappreciated and a better opportunity comes along, then absolutely jump ship. But if you are on track but simply lack the patience, then you are shooting yourself in the foot because you have to redevelop all your existing relationships.

Make sure you read the list of things to consider before quitting your job. Everything always seems greener on the other side. Make sure you bring some fertilizer.

KNOWING YOUR PLACE IS #1

Out of all the career limiting moves, knowing your place is the most important thing to grow your career. When you are just starting out spend most of your time listening, studying, and volunteering for work. Sooner or later you will no longer be the green gord in your office. Just be patient.

I hear a lot of excuses from people who “just don’t want to play the game.” The excuses are born out of laziness and lack of knowledge. Selling yourself internally is just as important as selling yourself externally. You are being naive if you think doing great work alone will move you ahead. I didn’t particularly like the process of selling myself, but I knew I had to in the very political world of finance where big bucks are at stake.

Only after I started planning my exit did I begin to not care as much. My focus was on engineering my layoff to receive maximum severance benefits. Remember, a job is a means to an end. Don’t cock it up!

Recommendation When It’s Time To Go:

* Negotiate A Severance Package: Never quit your job, get laid off instead. Negotiating a severance enabled me to receive six years worth of living expenses from a company I dedicated 11 years of my life to. If I had quit, I wouldn’t get any severance, deferred compensation, medical benefits, job assistance training or unemployment benefits. I believe so strongly in never quitting that I spent a couple years to write a 100-page book entitled, “How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye.” I’m absolutely certain this book will help you recognize your rights as an employee and break free from the corporate grind to do something you truly want to do.

* Manage Your Finances In One Place: The best thing you can do to grow your net worth is to get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 28 different accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to track my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing, how my net worth is progressing, and where my spending is going. Their 401K Fee Analyzer tool is saving me over $1,000 a year in fees I had no idea I was paying. There is no better free platform out there that is helping me manage my money. The entire sign-up process takes less than a minute.

Photo: Sleepy cat in an Amsterdam coffee shop, FS.

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Pat S says

    Great way to think about it.

    I would add one to the list (similar to complaining), and that is self fulfilling prophecies. I’ve seen so many people who assume they will fail or doubt their abilities sabotage themselves by the very actions they think will help them get ahead.

    Knowing your place is key, true. But knowing who you are and what you want out of life might be even more critical. That, and never letting the only person who truly values your success (you) stand in your way.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Hmm, interesting point. On Wall St, everybody I knew was pretty much a go getter balls to the walls type. Self doubt or confidence was not lacking. But I can see that playing out in other industries for sure.

  2. krantcents says

    Very interesting points! Everyone is in a rush to the top! They do not want to pay their dues and learn the basics. It doesn’t mean indentured service to pay your dues!

    One of your examples reminded me of a conversation I had with my boss very early in my career. He told me no one sees when you come in, but everyone will notice when you leave. I used to come in early because I was in a carpool and left about 9-10 hours later. It didn’t matter I was putting in just as much time, he disliked I was leaving “early”. I generally arrived approximately 7 AM, he did not get in until 9 AM! It did not harm my performance, but it was appearances. I was promoted 2 years later.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Smart man. Mine was the opposite since so many coworkers got in by 5am before the markets. They saw me get in later at 7:30am, but never saw me work until 6:30pm when they leave at 3pm. CLM! But, I didn’t care at that point as I was performing well, and then I became slowly disinterested.

  3. Barbara Friedberg says

    Although a CLM, I liked your “how do you like your coffee” line. Humor trumps all! (Just probably not with your superiors) In all seriousness, treat your job with respect, do your best and then do a bit more. Figure out how to negotiate for the highest salary possible by trumpeting your accomplishments. And it won’t hurt to kiss a bit of butt to get ahead!

  4. Kevin Watts @Graduatingfromdebt says

    Great post. I am just starting my career and I have followed most of these rules to the tee. In my company even if you are getting results you can get fired very quickly if you are insubordinate. This is something I learned from a colleague who got fired for not listening to his manager even though the manager was new. I am however guilty of taking some Mondays off lol.

  5. Maverick says

    The P.I.E. (Performance, Image, Exposure) model comes to mind here. Your job performance is important, but Image and Exposure combined is more important. It is important to arrive early, stay late, volunteer for special projects, work closely with the office superstar, as well as get face time in front of as many superiors as you can.

  6. Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances says

    This is a great post. I think you covered everything! The one that I broke pretty severely was interoffice relationships: my husband was my boss. Luckily we were upfront about everything, and his company (I left eventually) is very open to that sort of thing; there are multiple couples working within the company. I’ve also been on the other end, where one of my employees loses his work ethic every time he breaks up with another employee in a different department. It’s very frustrating.

  7. Gek says

    People that are offended by you “not knowing your place” are often quite hard to work with. That said this is probably accurate. Sadly.

  8. Hannibal says

    Minor quibble, your stats on marriage are incorrect – divorce rates for college-educated couples are less than 20%. For those without a high school diploma it’s much higher. Your point still stands though, don’t play at work.

  9. Mr. Utopia says

    I’ll let you in on a secret – you can get away with every single one of these CLM’s and still rise to the top. How you ask? Work for the government!!

    Ok, kidding aside, this is a pretty good list of ways to shoot yourself in the foot. I’m a permanent teleworker for a Fortune 50 company, so a few of these don’t apply to me. In fact, working from home allows me to take advantage of the coming in late/leaving early taboo. I can answer an e-mail at 8pm or leave my instant message status to available and give the appearance of working way beyond my normal hours. However, in a way, being a teleworker is probably a CLM. With no face time, I’m essentially a name and a voice only. Oftentimes it can be difficult to stand out.

  10. Tortoise Banker says

    Awesome post, Sam. The only thing I’d add is joining a company you have a solid “senior” connection with. A close family friend your parents have over for dinner from time to time is ideal. This person will get you in front of the “decision makers” and provide social proof that will pay off BIG TIME down the road.

  11. Untemplater says

    I agree that constant complainers are the first ones to get the boot because nobody wants to work with people like that. I agree that controlling your liquor at holiday parties and happy hours is important to your career. I knew a guy who was always getting sloshed and he made such a fool of himself. He lost a lot of respect that way.

  12. My Multiple Incomes says

    Interesting points, Sam. People who whine about the simplest things and those who always create tension in the office by focusing on office politics instead of their work are on top of my career limiting moves. It’s either they’ll be the first ones to be fired or they’ll end up resigning from the job because they simply cannot work well with the people at work.

  13. No Waste says

    Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, said that when was originally offered a job at the then very young Google, she was put off by the lackluster title/position she would be receiving.

    Eric Schmidt immediately said: forget the title, if someone offers you a ticket on rocket ship, you take it.

  14. B says

    I like your post and at my current firm am willing to implement all but the one related to vacations. It makes me angry inside to think of giving up my vacations to make my employer like me more. While I wonder if I am shooting myself in the foot, I value myself my than I value my firm, and to me a fullfilling life includes taking meaningful vacations. I’m willing to get to the firm before everyone else and stay later on many nights, but they can’t take away my vacations! I wonder if and how this will limit my career. My goal now (I am still early in my career but have consumer debt or student loans) is to learn as much as possible and network as much as possible so that my “employer” has less and less control over me – I could leave anytime to go out on my own and it would be a bigger loss to the employer than to me.

  15. B says

    Oops – I meant have “no consumer debt or student loans” – this to me is a big distinguishing factor.

    • Financial Samurai says

      There’s always the ability to reverse course, but one has to make a concerted effort to build pertinent, genuine relationships. We pay and promote people we like and trust. It’s as simple as that.

      • K says

        OK… I guess I’ll give it one more shot. But if after 1 year I’m not promoted, then it’s time to move on for sure. Is 5 years and no promotion and being a top 3 producer normal?

        I actually used to be the model employee…never took vacations (still have never taken one), worked up until the day before I gave birth (twice), worked through maternity leave from home while I recovered (twice), came back from maternity leave early (twice), was always a top 3 producer, took on unpaid projects outside of my job role, mentored and helped other employees. I used to have a great relationship with my boss (he considered me his little sister and protege, I went to his first son’s bday party, my husband used to be his workout partner, and in many situations I was his loyal henchwoman) and I *thought* I was cool with his bosses, and my colleagues. He pushed for me to be promoted, but I was passed up last year and I was very very VERY bitter about it. That’s when the change in attitude occurred. Probably when all the CLM’s started (except for the alcohol and office romance–I’m completed teetotal and happily married) and office relationships have been strained to say the least. But funny enough it’s also when my production and income also vastly improved. I think I’m still bitter about it though. That’s why I started to look back on all of my past efforts as having been in vain and mad that I took all of the lashings from my boss/brother (who was much harder on me than anyone else because we are both Asian and that is the way it is just done in our culture, right?) and worked this hard to be passed up for an outsider who had NO experience in our industry. Really. None. Management experience yes, but not our industry. It just felt like…why try anymore…why don’t I just focus on production and make that money (I’m a full commish sales rep).

        I’m going to turn a new course for the second half of this year. Focus on production AND go back to the way I used to be. Just a hard pill to swallow.

        • Financial Samurai says

          I would say being a top 3 producer and no promotion after 5 years is absolutely NOT normal. I would definitely have a heart to heart with your boss to get him/her to explicitly highlight what it is you need to do to get promoted. Make them set a date, and hopefully it’s end of this year. If you don’t get it, you should feel guilt free to cruise and look for something else.

      • K says

        Thing is… it wasn’t up to my boss. We’ve had many heart to hearts leading up to it. He wanted me to get promoted. I already was his right hand and doing the job without pay, doing all of the projects, mentoring and helping all of the other employees, actually sacrificing time away from my own deals and away from my family. The only thing that we needed to do was make it official and give me the title. He pushed for it, but ultimately it was his boss or bosses who didn’t support it. We are in a small branch office in CA, corp and upper management is on the east coast, so the east coast bosses (his bosses) didn’t really know me or what I did around here, and for whatever reason, my boss’s recommendation was not enough.

        When I heard that his boss was not on board, the next time he was in town, I caught him alone at the office to ask about the promotion. This management position would have been a position right under my boss and would mean building a running a group that does what existing group already does, basically working parallel to the existing group. I told him why I wanted it, why I was qualified for it, and what my long term plans were at the company.

        He basically told me that A.) the position wouldn’t pay you enough so why do you want it and B.) that you don’t have management experience. On A, he had did have a point. The base pay was well under 50% what I was making at the time. So it would have been a significant pay cut at first, but over time the top end pay would be higher than mine as the group is built and the overrides start coming in, and the title experience would open up better opportunities if I decided to leave after (I didn’t say that to him, but that IS part of why I would have been willing to take the pay cut). I told him I was willing to take the pay cut because I was confident enough in my abilities to build a successful and profitable group that would mean my pay would exceed what I was making at the time. On B, management experience, I told him I actually do have management experience, I had already been doing it in the office for years and that when my boss is out of the office I run the group. He basically told me he needed to think about it, that he wasn’t going to react but would give his official response shortly.

        Well, as you know, they hired the outside guy with no industry experience. I never did get an official answer on what happened to me. My boss comforted me by saying it was better this way…I make way more money than he does and he doesn’t even have an office (he is in a cube, and I do make a LOT more than he does).

        I brought it one more time to my boss’s boss’s boss, and he said it’s good that I’m bringing it up, but that it needs to be seriously looked at a future date.

        I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes that was limiting my career. My boss couldn’t tell me either. What did I do? What did I not do? What do I need to do? Why won’t anyone tell me? Does a key person hate me? Do they all hate me? Am I too valuable as a top producer to risk pulling me off the floor and turning me into a manager and hoping that we can find someone to replace me? With those thoughts I was just kind of like, well, the hell with it. I’ll just make much money. Attitude change and CLM’s abound since I didn’t feel like it mattered anyway. The money has been good though! But to be honest I don’t want to keep grinding like this forever…I do want to get into management.

        And now you know my whole story! Any theories on what happened and what to do next? How could I have handled it better? Is it really just time to look?

        • Financial Samurai says

          At the end of the day, if you are getting more responsibility and headache but even or less pay,
          then forget it.

          The best job is sometimes the boss of one, yourself, who gets paid on performance.

        • K says

          Thank you, Sam! Definitely what I needed to hear. At this point I am wondering if wanting the promotion was the CLM in itself. Looking back on it now, I wonder if they think I wouldn’t be a very good leader if I’m the type of person would want a lower paying position with a better title. I was looking at the higher long term upside of having my own team, but maybe they didn’t see it that way. Thank you though, I’m glad that you think I’m better off now without the promotion. I’d love to be truly the boss of one when I retire though :)

  16. Nick @ AYoungPro.com says

    This is the post I have been waiting for you to write (though I didn’t know it). Really great advice here and I love how you didn’t pull any punches. I think you identified one of the largest problems for my generation “knowing your place”. It is becoming a lost art and it is the reason we are labeled as “entitled”.

    • Financial Samurai says

      It’s part of the reason why prestigious firms look for ex athletes or folks who serves in the military. Besides the discipline and team work, it’s the understanding that each person must pay his or her dues. The rookies carry the bags for the veterans in the NBA, even if the rookie is a super star talent.

      And of course, if you don’t want to know your place, there’s no greater meritocracy than entrepreneurship.

      • K says

        Funny you mention this, because we actually hired an ex pro basketball player and he quit in a few days. We also hired an ex NBA player and he quit in about a month.

        • K says

          World class pro’s? I mean yes they made it there but they had been released from their contracts so that’s why they were here. And oops I meant NFL, not NBA. The NFL guy went to go play football for some team overseas. The basketball player went to go do some basketball announcing thing and then a google search tells me he now works for a non-finance co. The NFL guy actually wasn’t bad at it so I was surprised to see him go, but not so surprised since it was to play more football which obviously was his passion. The basketball player…it clearly wasn’t for him. On the flip side we aren’t a prestigious firm so maybe that’s why they didn’t want to stick it out with us.

  17. Eric Shun says

    I’ve worked in government agencies in the past, and most of these rules do not fully apply in that environment. Salaries and wages are pretty much in steps based on service time. Promotions are heavily dependent on affirmative action. Management does not require or expect much performance from certain protected class workers. Non-protected class employees are expected to perform at a higher level, but not a high level relative to many in the private sector.

  18. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says

    There is a perfect example of someone not knowing her place where I work currently. A pretty-young-thing who thinks she’s better than her boss (despite her lack of experience) started going straight to the head of my organization instead of her direct supervisor when she had complaints and also asked for a raise and a title change through him as well. Had she gone to her boss first (who’s an easy-going and talented guy) she actually might have had a chance of getting part of what she asked for. Now that she jumped authority and the chain of command, she pissed off her boss and a lot of people off in the process and she’s since done enough damage to other folks in the organization that she’s now in danger of being fired. It’s unfortunate that “knowing your place” in your career isn’t as common a trait in American culture.

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