You’ve probably noticed other people do it. You may have even done it yourself. The “CLM” or Career Limiting Move.

That action taken, impression given or thing that was said that either got someone fired or put the brakes on how far they’re going to get in their career with their company.

You want to be the person who gets promoted, right? Not the one blundering through and blowing your chances.

We’ve heard many stories of disastrous career limiting moves occurring with agency staff, too. Some things you’d think were common sense, but people always seem to find ways to sabotage themselves.

Besides the very obvious (you know, stealing, embezzlement…), it is important to be aware of the top CLMs.

Get the rules of etiquette for agency staff here

#1. Be Discreet

Failure to exercise discretion is one of the most common CLMs you see. A lot of people have a tendency to over-share (our society often promotes it) and running their mouths (or keyboards) gets them into trouble.

Have Social Media Sense

We all know at least one person who believes ranting on social media is their “right” to let off some steam. There’s often trouble when ranting over politics or other contentious issues, but consequences can escalate quickly if they’re using it to moan about work.

It seems like common sense, yet you’ll see transgressions every day. The bottom line is that anything you post online can potentially be found by others. You might think that your privacy settings are preventing people outside of your immediate contacts from seeing things, but this isn’t always the case (plus you don’t know who knows who, especially if you’ve got hundreds of “friends” on your account).

Hiring managers are commonly searching social media to help them make hiring decisions, many companies also monitor for mentions of their business or even what their employees are saying. There’s really only one rule to follow: don’t say anything on social media you wouldn’t be happy to repeat at work.


Ummm, no! Source: Daily Edge

Respect Confidentiality

You’ve probably signed confidentiality agreements when you started work with your agency, right? Don’t blow it! That casual conversation about a client project could potentially get not just yourself into trouble, but the agency you work for too.

You also need to be careful about what you’re talking about when you discuss work with outsiders. Even if you’re not talking about a client, you could be breaching the confidentiality around the private practices of the firm.

Avoid Gossip

Gossip can spread like disease in a workplace and the poor environment with results that can linger and impact office relations for a long time to come.

You might be tempted to join in, especially if everyone seems to be doing it, but your best policy is always to simply keep your nose clean and get on with your work. You never know when an indiscreet comment gets back to the boss or potentially really hurts a colleague.

#2. Keep it Together After Work

One of the perks of agency life is often the after-work social activities, especially when you’ve just wrapped a big project. The drinks are flowing and everyone is on a bit of a high for having completed a job well-done.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that “letting your hair down” means you can say and do whatever you like.

Many CLMs have occurred where alcohol has been involved and someone made a complete jerk of themselves. I’ve seen inappropriate behavior at functions where clients were invited, drunken staff trying to have a “deep and meaningful” conversation with the boss and (going back to discretion), people who have had a few too many shooting their mouths off about things that shouldn’t be discussed in that setting.

Use common sense and know your own limits. If you know you’re not to be trusted after a few drinks, avoid too much alcohol at those work functions.

#3. Avoid Upspeak

This is one of those CLMs that may not be as obvious to the person involved. Upspeak is where you have a tendency to end sentences with a rising tone, suggesting a question or apology. If you are always doing this, it can come across that you lack confidence or ability to do the job well.

Robert Half shared a study in which more than half of executives surveyed said that upspeak can kill an employee’s chances of promotion. “85 percent said the trait is a clear indicator of emotional insecurity or emotional weakness. Another 71 percent found the trait to be “particularly annoying.””

The key is to know you’re doing it and work at eliminating any upspeak from your conversations. It often manifests when you have to take part in something that naturally makes you nervous, such as an interview or presentation. Try practicing ahead with a trusted mentor and ask them to call you out if you start with the upspeak.

#4. Develop an Early Habit

Some people are just chronically late. It doesn’t matter when you set a meeting time for or what time they’re meant to start work, they’re going to be late anyway.

In some workplaces, you’ll find there is almost a culture of lateness, but most agencies worth their salt pride themselves on their professionalism including punctuality. Don’t be that person who is always late. You will be noticed for it!

If you’re constantly late, you send a message that you’re disorganized and possibly not to be trusted with any greater responsibilities. You’ve got to find a strategy to at least be on time.

When I was in flying school (long story), we had a saying; “early is on time, on time is late”, designed to really drill in the early habit. If you’re chronically late, try setting the deadline time earlier in your mind. For example, if you start work at 8:30, set that at 8:15 in your head so that you’re hustling to be there at an earlier time.

#5. Clarify Instructions

Have you ever worked with that person who, while being given instructions is busy saying “yeah, yeah, yeah” as though their head is already out of the room and doing the work? How many times did something get screwed up or not done as per instructions as a result?

Simple really, if you want to avoid CLMs for fluffing work, practice your active listening and make sure you clarify instructions first.

#6. Be Prepared

Working in a creative agency usually means plenty of opportunities to give presentations or to be researching material for copy.

If you enter a presentation less-than prepared, it will be noticed and counted against you. Ideally, should anyone ask, you want to have any facts or figures prepared and be able to give reasoning behind why you have chosen what you did.

Just. Be. Prepared.

#7. Keep Work and Personal Life Separate

We all experience times where something is going on in life outside of work that can have an impact on our demeanor and ability to focus. There are some situations where an understanding manager will be tolerant and won’t mind you needing to do what you have to do, as long as you’ve given them an explanation.

That’s different. What does annoy managers and co-workers is if you’re that person who consistently lets “life” interfere with work, whether it’s constantly wanting time away or to leave early (outside of a reasonable excuse), often being on the phone during work hours dealing with personal issues, or any other non-work related activity that is eating into work time.

Look, if you’re going to be this person, you’ll be seen as unreliable. Unreliable people don’t get promoted so do yourself a favor and do your utmost to keep work and personal life separate.

#8. Think Before Speaking

Hey, we all get fired up sometimes. Someone says something or proposes something you disagree with and it just grinds your gears. The key here is to take a pause before opening your mouth.

A fired up person has been known to burn bridges on a scale rivalling the 1666 Great Fire of London. Some things cannot be unsaid or fixed up with an apology. Get up and take a 10-minute walk, bite your tongue if you’re in a meeting and feeling wound up and importantly, stay away from your email!

In this industry, you don’t want to burn bridges. Companies change hands, managers shuffle around and you never know who you may end up reporting to (or requesting a job from!).


No! (And yes, she was fired). Source: Nursegermz

#9. Get Involved

If you want to be the opposite of a “CLM offender”, then getting involved with the company and showing you genuinely care is a great idea.

Be that reliable person who is prepared to roll up their sleeves and help, get to know your co-workers well and be known as that person who is willing to give something a go. This can help get you noticed, whereas if you are more reticent, the chances are you won’t be.

Need some etiquette rules for agency staff? Grab ours here

Final Thoughts

The “career limiting move” can take many forms but has the same net result for the offender; you end up stuck (or fired) with little prospect of landing a promotion.

It’s common sense really that you should simply keep your nose clean, develop conscientious habits, focus on doing your job well and maintain discretion outside of work. Don’t be that person who blows it over something stupid!