Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Ever look back at your career and realize that you weren’t always the consummate professional that you (of course) are today? I asked readers to confess their unprofessional deeds from the past, and here are 10 of my favorites.
1. Not the best interview answer
In an interview I said I admired the ingenuity of a guy that had gotten fired from my previous employer for embezzling money.
When I as an intern, the HR people responsible for orienting us and organizing events and all that jazz constantly bragged about how much the company values its perks like yoga classes, Spanish classes, all of the onsite “work-life balance” stuff that they use to make sure you never have a reason to go home. At the time, I didn’t know that those HR people were basically responsible for marketing the company as a workplace – I wasn’t technical but it was a tech company and those love to coddle their engineering interns.
So I would freely sign up for those classes or skip off to a lecture or presentation without asking my bosses if it was okay. I would just tell them I was going to be at an event today from 2-3 or from now on I’m going to have 2-hour lunches on Mondays and Wednesdays for Spanish class or hey, I’m going to yoga this afternoon. I thought this was good because look, I was showing interest in all of these things that the company really values! I’m such a great fit for the culture! (I did get rehired there for 4 internships but I didn’t get a full-time job – they weren’t exactly handing out functional entry-level jobs in 2010.)
I asked my boss at a temp job if it would be cool if I used his limo. Just for a night. You know, if he wasn’t using it or anything. That guy had the patience of a saint.
4. Board meeting faux pas
In my first job post-college, I got asked to take minutes for a board meeting. (The person who usually handled this task was out.) For some reason, I didn’t realize that this was a serious thing. Because the meeting was really early in the morning, I assumed it would be laid-back? Or something? Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I showed up in jeans and a hoodie. Needless to say, everyone else was in a suit.
“When I was first starting out in fundraising, I worked at a small and dysfunctional organization that had a silent auction. One of our donors gave us a bunch of time shares for the auction. The director asked me to handle all the legal paperwork for transferring the deeds and titles and whatnot. The process was incredibly confusing, and no one at the various county governments was helpful, only advising that we hire a real estate attorney to do the paperwork. The agency refused to do so, saying, ‘You’re smart, just figure it out!’ When I asked for help, I was ignored.
I spent about two weeks trying to figure out what to do, but each county was different, the timeshare companies were unhelpful, and I had zero knowledge about quitclaim deeds and titles and all that stuff. After a bunch of reading and studying, I mailed off the documents only to have them rejected for legal reasons I didn’t understand. I tried again, only to be rejected a second time. After about a month of intense anxiety, insomnia, and occasional stress-vomiting, I told the director I was going to the post office to mail all of the various legal packets to the counties for what should be the final approval. Instead, I drove down a dirt road, pulled over, threw all the documents in a big pile and set them on fire.
About a week later, I contacted the original donor and purchasers and explained that there must have been a snafu with the counties, because the transactions weren’t being processed correctly. I told them I would try to get their donations back, but they all graciously declined and said we could keep the money. The original donor was pleased too, surprisingly, because her new husband liked to travel and she had regretted giving away the timeshares.
I used to come to my first internship at a magazine with hickies all over my neck. I was newly in a relationship with my then-girlfriend, and I guess we liked each other a little too intensely. It got to the point where my supervisor wrote me an email to tell me to make sure they’re not showing when I go to interview people. To this day that is the single most embarrassing email I’ve received.
I was in my early 20s and working with a placement agency to find that perfect job that would take me out of food service. My agency contact had set up an interview for me for my dream job, the day after my birthday. Being young and not much of a responsible drinker, I partied like it was 1999. I showed up at the interview not just hung over but still drunk. The person conducting the interview asked me if I was sick, and if I was we could reschedule. I answered, “Nope, not sick, drunk.” … I was not hired.
In my early 20s, I worked as a peer minister at a college church. It was a unique situation, and we got paid in room and board. One of the responsibilities during the year was to give a talk during a weeknight service on our own faith journey.
I was totally completely enamored with a guy who attended the church, but the week before my turn at the church talk I found out that he had started dating a mutual friend. My talk never included specifics, but it was all about jilted love, people not recognizing the people in front of them, etc. The room was dark, so I have no idea how he reacted in the moment, but he, along with every one of our mutual friends who could figure it out, was gracious enough to never ever talk about it.
I once asked my manager if I could take the afternoon off because I was feeling hateful. Yes, those are the exact words I used.
10. Not that kind of suit
One time I wore a legitimate bathing suit cover-up (it was really cute and if made with the right material, would have been an adorable dress) with a white slip underneath thinking that made it okay. It wasn’t until I went out after work and my friend kept asking if I was wearing a bathing suit cover-up that I realized I most definitely should not do that again.
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