3 Personal Brand Killing Habits to Unlearn Now

Personal brand killing habits learned in college can delay a young professional’s job and career future. This blog post addresses three habits that need unlearning before irreparably damaging a job applicant or an employee’s personal brand in the eyes of important career stakeholders.

College is a time for independence. 3 Personal Brand Killing Habits to Unlearn Now

College is a time for fun.

College is a time for friendships.

College is a time to learn.

And, post-college is a time to unlearn.


Unlearning is the process of removing what was previously learned and replacing it with something better.”

After four long hard years as a degree seeking millennial (five, if a super senior), 21 or 22 is a good age and time to conduct a self-review of what you learned in college that is career worthy, and what you should unlearn from college that is not so career worthy.

College Life is Not Like Real Life.

While college life is a real experience that will be remembered for a lifetime, the learning comes with a good and a bad side.

The good side: a fortunate few may discover their career passion and take the first steps toward a future career.

The bad side: an unfortunate many may acquire a few habits that can damage their personal brand and delay their first job and future career success.

Yes, research has confirmed that college students today see themselves as better prepared for the work world than do potential employers and recruiters.  And, some employers have declared their preference to not hire millennials.

Say it isn’t so.

No doubt, millennials as a whole are faced with this preconceived personal brand image problem.

That is strike one against millennials.

Additionally, the presence of career breaking bad habits can make an indelible first impression and contribute to or confirm this personal brand image problem.

That is strike two against millennials.

For recent grads, if not unlearned, these bad habits will negatively define your personal brand in the eyes of others (personal brand image) and overshadow the greater abilities, skills, and qualifications that you intended for them to see (personal brand identity).

The Need to Unlearn.

While there are many personal brand killing habits and questionable behaviors that need post-college unlearning, here are three to consider:

  1. Thinking that “always-on” is always acceptable.

If you are always on the phone, always on the Internet, or always on the social media, then:

“Step away from the smart phone before it makes you look dumb.”

When used in private, the smart phone can enhance your productivity, improve communication, and provide a personal learning network unsurpassed.

When used in the presence of others, the smart phone can divide your attention, offend others’ perception of professionalism, and create a negative first physical impression that can ruin a young professional’s personal brand image (how others remember or think of you).

Yes, always-on can turn others off.

Smart phones and tablets are invaluable tools for a professional career in any field. Nonetheless, there is a time and a place for professional use.

“The personal brand killing habit of “always-on” should be unlearned, and replaced with a respectful and professional attentiveness.”

  1. Foolishly believing that you are most productive when multitasking.

“There is time enough for everything, in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” ~ Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

Multi-tasking is a myth. While modern research confirms this, most of us know and have experienced this as true.

We all work on our tablets and computers with our music playing.  Yes, this is multi-tasking and likely not a major deterrent to getting things done.  At some point your mental focus adjusts to the work task at hand and the music becomes background sound.  If you are truly gifted, then your focus may go deep to what is called flow, and the work becomes your best, most efficient, or most creative.

Conversely, if the music is arresting (too loud, or thru headphones or ear buds) your mental focus on a work task could be negligible. This is an epic fail for so-called multitasking while working (or studying).

In practice, your mind cannot fully focus on two or multiple things at one time. In other words: there is truly no such thing as fully focused multitasking.

Ideally, your best successes come when you learn to create a work environment free of distractions (people, activities, noise, social media, phone, email, appointments) so that your mental focus can flow deep on one task at a time.  This effort is called single or uni-tasking and a much needed conscious effort to replace or unlearn the risky business of multitasking.

Uni-tasking is the process of giving your undivided and uninterrupted attention or focus to one work task at a time.

Even better, you should strive to replace multitasking for work with uni-tasking and switch-tasking.

Switch-tasking is the planned movement of mental focus from one work task to another.

For example, you should attempt work with a deep dive mental focus free of distractions.  Yes, you should lower the music to the background and close your social media mobile apps, web browser tabs, and anything with a notification.  When you feel a mental focus slow down or lag in productivity, then shift your mental focus on to another work task.  When this second mental focus is fatigued or shallow, then shift back to the original task.  When focus is fleeting for either work task, then open your Facebook or Twitter and take a break (or turn up the music and dance).

“The personal brand killing habit of multitasking should be unlearned and replaced with the good work productivity habits of uni-tasking and switch-tasking.”

  1. Allowing procrastination to prevent you from doing and showing your best.

Procrastination is an anti-productivity disease that is acquired in high school (or earlier), perfected in college, and a lifetime career neutralizer of the highest order.

I, too, learned to cram for exams, start assignments the night or weekend before due dates, and generally put off the things that were less important than the more fun things of a college life. It took me many years to basically unlearn this commonly practiced career breaking bad habit.

There are two extremely negative repercussions of procrastination:

One, procrastination shows others that a particular work task or assignment is not important to you.

Of course, we all procrastinate.  And, we are most likely to procrastinate the things we are less excited about. Alternatively, some are passionate about their work but still procrastinate work tasks due to overextending themselves coupled with a lack of planning, organizing, or prioritizing skills.

Regardless of the cause, procrastination is a career breaking bad habit.

In a young career it is critical to show others that you can handle and get excited about completing a less than desired work task.  While some of these assigned work tasks may not bring forth your passion, at a minimum you can attend to them with efficiency and the proof that you can handle the more important and career worthy work tasks to come.

Two, procrastination prevents you from doing your best.

If you procrastinate a work task (even if you can hide your procrastination from others), you can never do your best and you can never show others your best work.  This can only result in an average performance for an average career result.

“The personal brand killing habit of procrastination should be unlearned, and replaced with better planning, organization, and time management.”

The Take-Away.

You do not need to be a millennial to have personal brand killing habits.

Nor do you do need to be a millennial to unlearn those bad habits.

Bad habits are easy to learn.  We get them, they become ingrained in our subconscious thru repetition, and we often do not realize they have become a part of our work behavior and performance until a colleague or boss points them out.

Bad habits are difficult to unlearn.  Psychologists say it can take 21 to 30 days of conscious behavior to replace a bad habit with a good one.

Only the good habits die young.  The bad habits will live forever and harm your personal brand unless you make a strong, continuous, and conscious effort to unlearn them.

Let the unlearning begin.

What personal brand killing habits did you learn in college and know you should unlearn now?


Image credit: by Denny McCorkle

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Denny McCorkle @DennyMcCorkle

Professor of Marketing, Monfort College of Business at University of Northern Colorado
As a nationally recognized and award winning Marketing Professor in the Monfort College of Business at the University of Northern Colorado, I help students, professors, and professionals to gain a Digital Self Marketing Advantage through the use of social media marketing for personal branding, job search, skills development, career advancement, and life-long learning.