Your 7 Greatest Career Sins

I recently asked readers to share their biggest career sins – from arrogance to deception to (it turned out) fiery destruction. Here are the top seven you confessed to – and as you read, remember to let he who has never sinned cast the first stone! 

Sin 1: Vengeance

“I worked as a ticket counter and gate agent for an airline. This really nasty person came up to the counter after their scheduled flight had already departed. I explained that they needed to be rebooked for later and they started yelling and complaining. After dealing with three other cancelled flights that day, I wasn’t in the mood. So I took it all out on this one passenger. I added the SSSS to their boarding pass so they would have to go through TSA secondary screening, misrouted their luggage, unlinked their return flight so they were no longer confirmed, and reseated them in the very back on the aircraft with a window that looked right out onto the loud engines. If I was ever caught, I would’ve been fired, and deservedly so. I really don’t feel all that guilty about it though. I hate when people are snotty after they are late for a flight.”

Sin 2: Arrogance

“All four years of my undergrad, I worked at the same university office, where I was really good at my job and made great relationships with the people who worked there. I knew I wanted to continue working there after I graduated, but there wasn’t a position open. I worked terrible odd-jobs, waiting for a position to open. After a year, they got a new director and two entry-level positions opened up. I applied, and waited for my coronation. It never came. When I found out they had completed first-round interviews without calling me, I was livid. I emailed him and cc’d his boss, telling him how awful he was and what a huge mistake he had made. He immediately responded with an email telling me that he was very sorry I had sent that email because they had decided to push me straight through to the final round of interviews and that I had, up until that point, been their top prospect. I didn’t get the interview and never set foot in that office again.”

Sin 3: Lying

“I accidentally caused the company’s server to get fried. I’m in the northeast and it was October 2013 when Hurricane Sandy hit. Weeks earlier, I had done rearranging of the server cabinet at one location. For some reason, I didn’t plug the server back into the surge protector. I plugged it into the wall. The server was already on its last leg. When Sandy hit, the power was out for a couple days. Well, when it went back on, there was a surge and it fried the server completely. Dead, dead, dead. So when we called an emergency meeting to discuss the need to replace the server, the cost, timing, etc., I just said it was the hurricane and it was on its last leg anyway. Never told anyone I had plugged it directly into the wall. Yes, it was going to be replaced the following year, but the company was tight on money at that point so it wasn’t a good thing.”

Sin 4: Fraud

“When I was right out of college, I used to be very good at fudging my way through interviews, claiming to have lots of technical knowledge that I had just read about in the time leading up to my interviews. I speak with a lot of confidence and come across as totally on top of everything, even when I’m definitely not. I absolutely thought that reading about something and absorbing the theoretical fundamentals was good enough to get through and that actual experience was secondary. Of course, I often ended up a floundering stressball when my supervisor didn’t think she needed to train me on these things. I was never let go, but I’m sure it eventually occurred to them that I wasn’t as skilled as I came across in my interviews and I was a bit of a disappointment.”

Sin 5: Reign of Fire

“When I was first starting out in nonprofit fundraising, I worked at a small and dysfunctional organization that had a decent sized silent auction. One of our donors gave us a bunch of time shares for the auction. The ED 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.”

Sin 6: Vengeance, again

“Years ago, I worked in an office with an IBM mainframe, complete with those giant dot matrix printers. It was common courtesy, and an IT requirement, to sign off the log-in screen when you were done. The system also had the ability to send a message from one user to the other. One woman never, ever did this. You’d go to the print room to change paper and release your forms, and you’d have to always take the extra steps to log her out first.

One day, I had enough. Still signed on as her, I quickly sent one of the vice presidents a message saying how sexy and hot he was. Then I signed on as me, released my stuff, and went on about my day. A few minutes later, I heard him bellow her name from down the hall. I heard her frantically trying to explain herself as well. Bottom line – she got a reprimand for not logging off, and she never left her computer logged on again. I never told her it was me. Problem solved.”

Sin 7: Deception

“At one of my old jobs, I was so buried with work that I couldn’t get everything done. It was also such a toxic environment that I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone that things weren’t getting done. I ended up telling them that this one important thing was finished when I really had never even worked on it. I kept up the lie for months. Then I went on maternity leave. My supervisor actually called me in the hospital after I had a C-section to ask where this piece of work was. I told her I couldn’t remember exactly where I had saved it. The day I came back from maternity leave, I was fired. I feel like I learned a great lesson from this. Mainly, if I can’t get my work done I need to speak up about it.”

[As if we had to say it...The Fast Track and the author do not endorse this type of behavior.]

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Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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