You get to work on time every day, you make an effort to get to know your boss, your co-workers, and your clients, and you pretty much kick ass at your job. Before long, you’ll be on your way to earning that promotion, right?
Well, those are the basics. But as you’re positioning yourself for that next level, what’s also important is the little stuff—the subtle habits that you might not realize could throw a wrench in your career progression.
In my experience (both as a manager and as the offending employee), most bosses have a few pet peeves that, like it or not, will influence their perception of your abilities—big time. And, done wrong, these seemingly little things could actually hurt your chances of scoring that promotion. While every boss’ peeves are a little different, here are a few examples I’ve encountered in my career to keep an eye out for.
How’s My Hair?
I’ll be the first to admit, I somehow lucked out with easy-to-manage hair. As a result, you might think I’d be perfectly coiffed every day of the week. But, as anyone working market hours on the West coast knows, sleep wins over perfect hair any day.
I thought I had an efficient routine down: I would hop out of the shower and pull my hair into sleek bun (sophisticated, right?), assuming no one would be the wiser if it just happened to be dripping wet underneath all those rubber bands and pins.
Wrong. A few weeks after I started, my boss approached me about my “appearance.” I was shocked, looking over myself expecting to see a giant coffee stain or two different shoes on my feet. But my clothes were fine—it was my wet hair that bothered her.
She explained that, while she appreciated my punctuality, she’d prefer me to be a few minutes late if it meant I could at least dry my hair before coming to the office. To her, my wet hair was basically a big sign around my neck, telling her I had no interest in meeting clients (because they never show up unexpectedly, right?). I immediately changed my routine, and gave up those extra minutes of sleep to make sure I was presentable, head to toe.
Until a few years ago, I never gave much thought to a person’s nail health—I barely noticed whether someone had fingernails, let alone how they were shaped or what color they were painted.
And then, I interviewed a candidate who had what I’m guessing was formerly a beautifully hip, ice-blue manicure. Except that her mani was about 10 days past presentable, and her hands looked as if she’d painted the tips with magic markers and dragged them on the floor. I spent the entire hour trying not to ask her what the hell she was thinking walking into an interview like that.
Since then, it became one of the first things I noticed about my employees, potential candidates, and even potential employers. I can keep an open mind on color choice—in fact, no color at all is totally acceptable—but ripped cuticles? No way. Gnarly nails are a non-starter, and I would never introduce an employee to a client or bring her along to a meeting if her hands didn’t look like they could be shaking with a CEO.
That said, I’ve never once told an employee she needed to get her nail situation in check on her lunch break—so here’s an easy test: Imagine running into your high-school crush, your most admired mentor, or the woman running the company you’re hoping to join. Now, look at your hand as you extend it for a shake. If you’re embarrassed at what you see, it’s mani-time.
Obviously, a filthy cubicle is never a great look, but you might be surprised to know that a too-tidy desk isn’t such a good thing either. When I was managing a larger team, I had a wide range of “desk personalities” among my staff, and when I first started, I assumed that my employees with spotless desks were the stars (and the pig-pens, of course, were the slackers).
But that definitely wasn’t the case. I quickly realized the individuals who obsessed over keeping their desks perfect and neat really turned me off. To me, the entire group was far too busy to respond to the hundreds of emails they received every day, let alone have the time to polish their staplers. A sparkling desk told me someone wasn’t digging in with the rest of the team.
The magic desk, not surprisingly, turned out to be a nice compromise between cluttered and clean—think organized chaos. The employees who did best were the ones who surrounded themselves in their work, but did so in a controlled way. They never had dirty dishes hiding under folders, but they weren’t spending their work hours dusting under their monitors, either.
Is any of this fair? Maybe not. But in my experience, it’s the way it is. Throughout your career, you’ll have loads of chances to impress your boss. So, stay sharp on the small details, and you’ll assure she can focus on what’s more important: your work.
Photo courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri.