15 ways to not get fired from your dream job

You’ve got your dream job, now how do you keep it? Columnist Rob Enderle shares 15 things you should know before you even start your new dream job in order to not get fired.

man holding box of personal items after being fired from job

This week a famous pitcher who clearly should have known better, lost his very high paying job at ESPN. It reminded me how many kids fresh out of college undid all of those years in school by getting fired for doing something similar.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen kids bust their hump to get a job at a named company only to lose it a few days later, or even before they officially start. This applies to more than just tech jobs. So if you are a parent and don’t want your kids to boomerang home unemployable or are a manager and don’t want to have to fire one (or explain how it happened on your watch), I’d suggest sitting your soon-to-be-hired kid or recently hired new employee down and giving them some personal perspective. You see we really don’t understand consequences until we are nearly 30-years-old. A 2012 Yale study says, the best way to keep kids from doing really stupid things is get them to understand the consequences of the things they do.

Here are the 15 simple things kids should know before starting a new job in order to not get fired.

1. Know the zero tolerance rules in the company. I’ve even seen experienced executives forget this one. Zero tolerance rules are rules that get you fired immediately, there is no review, no second chance, you break one they walk you out.

For instance, many companies have don’t date subordinate rules. A third-line manager started dating one of his low-level employees and when it got serious asked another third-line manager he thought was a friend to allow a transfer so he wasn’t breaking this rule, both he and the woman he was dating were fired shortly thereafter.   Here is a story of a guy who loved the job but clearly didn’t understand that zero tolerance rules were unbendable, and lost his dream job. You may think the rule is silly, but explain that to your parents when you have to move back home unemployed.

2. Substance abuse rules are not suggestions. You not only can get fired, you can be rejected during the hiring process as well. Recently, a young man who has a young bride and child was pitched into a really good job that had a drug test. He kept using and showed up with a vial of clean pee not realizing these things are monitored. He then tried to drink lots of water and delay the test, they immediately caught on and he is now literally working at an hourly job where he shovels fertilizer. Minimum wage and no benefits. You get caught using, in most companies, you are gone and you’ll be red flagged for anyone else.

3. If you can’t hold your alcohol don’t drink. We had one young employee fresh out of college and we sent him on a plane trip. He got so drunk they escorted him off the plane. This immediately red-flagged him, ruining any chance of advancement for years. He was effectively on unlimited probation and the next mistake he made he was gone. There are lots of stories of folks who got fired for something they did while intoxicated, and god save you if you get arrested for drunk driving while on a business trip.

4. Don’t pursue a relationship with co-workers. This was actually the same guy. He was attracted to one of the women in the office and he sent her inappropriate emails. She flagged this as harassment and he was warned once, he did it again, and was terminated. These days you’d likely not get the first warning, particularly if you were already on probation for another infraction. Generally, it is just a bad idea to date in the office because, if you break up, it can make the working environment hell. But if you are turned down, the sexual harassment rules tend to be really nasty.

5. Don’t tell jokes. I know this seems severe but a lot of folks, particularly when they are young, haven’t learned what topics are acceptable. Jokes about managers can get back to them and off-color jokes can get you fired. We had a senior sales executive who, after being told of IBM’s zero tolerance policy on racial jokes, decided to test the policy. Two of the biggest security guys I’ve ever seen picked him up and carried him out of the building never to return.

We had a call center manager who, after being asked by a female employee, how to get a raise, responded in jest that she’d have to pleasure him (he was a tad more graphic). She didn’t report him, and actually thought it was funny (they were friends), but two woman sales reps who overheard him did report it. He was a well-regarded senior manager and he was demoted out of management and sent to a branch office, his career effectively over. A less well-connected employee would have been terminated.  

6. Don’t pad expenses. You are given a certain amount of trust when it comes to things like travel expenses and some folks think they can pad their income by padding their expenses. One of the greatest pleasures an auditor has, and I used to be one, is reviewing expense reports and catching folks who have abused this trust. The reason is that much of what we catch is boring process stuff that showcases exposures but doesn’t actually catch crimes.

Expense reports are a fountain of bad behavior and catching someone is not only fun, but it makes for great stories at the end of the day.   We had one idiot who would buy a ticket for a flight well in advance and another right before the flight. The first ticket was really cheap, the second really expensive. He would use the first ticket but expense and return for refund the second. He was easily caught and fired (systems flag expenses that fall out of cost ranges for review).  

Let’s expand this to say any theft from the firm will get you fired, and don’t think you won’t get caught. And some thefts will land you in jail.

7. If you are upset talk to your manager, talk to your parents, you can even talk to HR. You can’t talk to social media.   Back when I started, what folks used to get fired for was sending emails to every employee in the company talking about a co-worker or manager they were pissed at. These days it is more likely to be social media, likely because it is far harder to send email to every employee (it used to be an easy one-click option). In all cases this will get you fired. Few companies have any tolerance for employees who speak out publically about them period let alone negatively.

[ Related: How to craft an effective social media policy ]

8. Don’t have sex on company grounds. Boy you’d think this would be obvious, but I’ve even seen a CEO and a CFO fired for this. For some reason folks think it is exciting to have sex on company grounds. Realize there are security cameras all over the place now and that this generally falls into one of those categories of being fired on the spot. It may not even be a written rule, but you get caught doing anything sexual while on company property, you are gone.

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