Businesses know the value of a strong reputation. Entire public relations departments are devoted to putting out fires, maintaining a positive public images and preventing self-inflicted damage by offending and isolating potential clients and partners.
But these business principles are just as applicable to the individual employee. Whether engaging with co-workers, employers, or even current or future members of a school’s alumni association, intentionally burning bridges can be a disastrous long-term career move. Although it might seem harmless, with graduation on the horizon or a new job secured, to give fellow employees and/or students a piece of one’s mind before heading off to greener pastures, there’s no telling where a professional’s career path may lead, or when it might cross — and even depend on — people within these networks.
Keep an eye towards your future
As graduation season approaches and thousands of new graduates turn their gaze toward the job market, it’s important to remember that there is little to gain, but a lot to lose, from burning bridges with people who could one day be a valued resource.
While professionals might currently feel good about their job and career prospects, the tides can turn unexpectedly. One only needs to look at how the recession destroyed the livelihoods of many previously well-off individuals and businesses to know that personal and economic disaster can strike at any time. In those tough times, networking can be invaluable in helping a person find a new job.
Keep your friends close and your networking contacts closer
But outside of keeping opportunities open, professionals should maintain a good reputation if only to prevent their words and actions from coming back to cause damage at a later point. When employees leave companies or schools in bad standing, their bad reputation isn’t necessarily isolated to that institution. Co-workers, fellow students and faculty all carry the reputation of that individual wherever they go.
If and when those paths cross again in the professional world, it can have monumental effects: a bad reference by one of these people could knock a person out of contention for a position. And if a professional ends up working for one of these individuals, it could place them on the company naughty list by default, making it tougher — if not impossible — to move up the company ladder.
Many stages in a person’s education and professional career can appear as if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. To some degree, of course, this is true — a professional career is often marked by job changes, advancements and other accomplishments. But it is important that students and employees not view these achievements as an end result, but part of a larger goal pursued over the course of decades.
Hot tempers, choice words, and other vengeful actions can have a cathartic short-term benefit, but they can also derail a person’s larger goals and produce setbacks years into the future. As one ending gives way to another beginning, professionals should remember the precious value of their reputation and put its care in front of impulse.
Melissa Crossman is a professional writer living in the Indianapolis area with her two dogs. She writes extensively about education and career development.