Employers are not just interested in what you have to say—they also look at how you say it. When you come across as unprofessional, it can keep you from job advancement, receiving support from your colleagues, and earning positive recognition for your achievements. Focus on how you present yourself, how you perform at work, and how you communicate. Corporate perception can make or break a career.
This may seem harsh but, sometimes the truth hurts. Here are the words and phrases that make you look unprofessional.
When you try to downplay the importance of something, you are really selling yourself short. Don’t minimise your contributions because it gives you less credit than you deserve.
For example, when you meet with a manager to explain your project, don’t say, “I just completed the presentation.” Similarly, in an interview, you shouldn’t say, “I just used to do some administrative work.”
Instead, develop more confidence.
You didn’t “just” perform administrative tasks. Instead, you “engaged in word processing, created spreadsheets to help develop compelling presentations, fielded telephone calls, and helped direct clients and leads to best serve them.” Use detail and be specific. Share your accomplishments with enthusiasm; be passionate about the work you’ve done and how you did it.
Over-apologising is a major turnoff and makes you appear anxious, fearful, and unsure. When you make small mistakes or express an opinion, don’t say sorry. That’s not to say you should ignore personal accountability. Certain situations do indeed warrant an apology. We all make mistakes and should recognise that publicly. This shows a healthy sense of self-awareness.
For example, let’s say your immediate supervisor corrects you after you process a purchase order that did not follow company policy. Express gratitude for the feedback and ensure them that you plan to improve moving forward. “I apologise. Thank you for pointing this out to me. I will review our company process again to ensure I follow the correct protocol in the future.”
The term “sorry” is overused and often sounds insincere. When you say “I apologise,” you are expressing a genuine regretful acknowledgement of your misstep. Then you are following up with an actionable solution, which shows you are forward-thinking.
‘Umm,’ ‘uh,’ and ‘like’—all this verbal stumbling diminishes your credibility. This is an easy mistake to commit since most of us aren’t aware we are even doing it. The umms and ahs are bound to make an appearance a few times, but when it gets repetitive, you appear unprepared and unsure.
To gain some self-awareness, record your next conference call or presentation to see where you stumble. It most likely occurs when you feel a need to fill silence during a transition in thought.
Avoid rambling and chunk your information ahead of time. Then, remember to take a pause between sentences to establish a rhythm that keeps you on track. Prepare transitions before your next meeting or interview so you can confidently establish each point before the next one.
[Related: 4 Tips to Nail a Video Interview]
Using profanity in the workplace is a major no-no. They’re meant for exclamations when you hit your finger with a hammer, not for conversational use at the office.
People rely on profanity when they are emotional. And you certainly will experience some intense emotions in the workplace or in an interview. Frustrations, anger, confusion, and intense stress can push people to the point of cursing, but just as you stop using filler words, you need to develop a self-awareness to avoid them.
Remain calm, and articulate the information you hope to convey. Slipping into profanity shows a lack of restraint. Swearing has a time and a place — and those times and places are outside the office.
It’s overused and often improperly used. Just avoid it altogether. It does not improve the power of any point.
This term becomes hyperbolic because while it’s intended to emphasise something surprising, it often does not. Most people misuse it as a filler word, which makes them appear ignorant.
To put it simply, don’t use this term unless you are clarifying that something actually happened exactly as you’re describing it.
TELL US: What words do you use or hear that come off as unprofessional? How did you self-correct?