6 Things You Don't Know You're Doing That Hold Back Your Career

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Are you unknowingly sabotaging your career with the way you dress, sit or carry yourself? Some people are oblivious to what their actions and appearance convey in the workplace. If you're a solid performer who's not advancing in your job, it's time you put the magnifying glass on yourself. Our experts weigh in on the top six things that may be tainting your manager's perception of you and holding you back.

1. Your appearance is overly sloppy

Like it or not, image counts in business, says Lauren MacArthur, a partner in information design and delivery at recruitment firm WinterWyman. To get recognized for your smarts, work ethic and aptitude, you need to look the part.

"The reality is, it's not just good work ethic and attitude that will get you recognized, MacArthur says. "You are a package. If you look like an unmade bed, you're marketability will suffer inside your current company and in the outside job market."

First and lasting impressions can make or break upward mobility, she stresses.

"You will not be considered a top promotable prospect if you don't look put together. Period. The college casual look just doesn't cut in most work settings."

When in doubt, look at the style of the person whose job you'd like to have, suggests Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist.

"What is your boss wearing? Emulate that. The visual input of who you are is the first thing people are going to know about you," Greenberg says.

2. You come in late or can't wait to leave

"Learn when the managers you want to impress are working, and mirror their schedule," suggests Joe Weinlick, vice president of marketing at career network Beyond.com. "You'll make a great impression, and you may find opportunities to join in their conversations."

When you don't come in on time, it sends the message that your work is not a priority, Greenberg says.

"It's disrespectful. If you're coming into a meeting late, it's disruptive and your colleagues may have to repeat themselves to catch you up to where they are," she says. "If anything, get there a couple of minutes early. It's much better to be 10 minutes early than five minutes late."

Also, at the end of the day, don't pack up your stuff and run out of the building as soon as it's quitting time.

"Don't bolt out the door at 5 p.m.," Weinlick says. "This sends a signal that you can't wait to get out."

3. You're overly negative

People often remember attitude as much as results.

"it's hard to recommend somebody for a promotion if they are always negative, even if they are productive. Rather than complain about problems, look at them as opportunities," Weinlick says.

Complaints make you look like you're not a team player, Greenberg says.

"You have to suck it up and be positive. You want to keep a positive morale going in the office. If you're a constant complainer, you're going to be the first one to go and the last one to ever get a promotion," she says.

While it takes more than just good manners to rise through the ranks, displaying professional courtesy will only help your career, says Bill Driscoll, district president of staffing firm Accountemps.

According to an Accountemps survey, 85% of workers said being courteous to others has an impact on a person's career prospects.

4. You're a pig at your desk or you eat in meetings

Never eat lunch in a meeting unless you're specifically in a lunch meeting, Greenberg says.

"There's just something about going into a meeting being supervised by someone who is getting lettuce in their teeth. It's gross," she says. "Meetings are for meetings, and they should be about the other people and the issues you're tackling — not your eating."

If you have to eat in a meeting, it says something about your time efficiency — that you couldn't budget an extra 20 minutes in your day to grab a bite. It also says you're simply not that interested in what's being discussed.

"You clearly didn't want to focus on the meeting, so you brought food to focus on," she says. "Overall, it divides your attention, it prevents you from being mindful and in the moment. You want to try to stay in your role as much as you can."

Also, if you eat at your desk, be careful that you don't have a constant picnic spread out, with stray ketchup packets, wadded up napkins or wrappers. Your desk is for work — not storage for your next meal.

5. Your appearance is overly sexy

Pay attention to kinds of attention you're getting at work. Are you getting the right kind of attention from the right people? Greenberg asks. 

"You can dress fashionably without being sexy. You don't have to dress dowdy like a grandmother, but you shouldn't be known for your clothing — you should be known for your skills."

If you're ever unsure about an outfit, ask for a second opinion from someone you trust. Also, remember that what may look great on your boss may not look good on you. When it comes to accessories, less is more. Glitz in the office doesn't cut it.

"Wearing the occasional piece that pops is nice, but an entire sparkling outfit or to much jewelry is not for the office," she says.

6. You're a slouch at your desk or too casual when walking down the hall

Some people are clueless that their posture at their desk makes them look like a slouch, MacArthur says. At all times, you have to look like you're paying attention.

Posture is everything, Greenberg says.

"You have to look alert, sit up and act as if you're taking things seriously," she says. "Especially if you're in meeting where everyone has eyes on you, you have to act like you're at work, not comfortable on your couch at home. Make eye contact, and keep your hands on the table. It shows that your whole body is present in the meeting."

— By Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet

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