Should You Bend the Rules to Advance Your Career?

The easier it is to rationalize behavior, the more risks you might start taking.
i Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images

Bending the rules to climb the corporate ladder can be a double-edged sword, helping you advance your professional life while potentially causing personal regrets. Even if you don’t break the rules, getting caught bending them can come back to bite you years later. Before you consider taking any shortcuts to further your professional aspirations, consider all of the downsides.

Playing the Game

    To prevent hiring discrimination, the federal government has created rules for fair hiring practices. Employers can’t consider your sex, age, race, religion, sexual orientation or other personal factors that don’t affect your ability to perform a job when hiring. During interviews, employers reduce their legal exposure by not asking questions in these areas. If you feel volunteering personal information will improve your chances of landing a job, including giving you an advantage over other candidates, you might consider it. Before you do this, consider what this might mean once you go to work for the company.


    Building a professional network of businesspeople who can help you throughout your career is key to climbing the ladder, getting on trade association committees and boards, winning awards and improving your professional profile. Although your company expects you to hire the best candidate when filling a position or to pick the best vendor when signing contracts, helping your friends can pay dividends later on. If you’re thinking about hiring or rewarding a friend or business contact with someone else’s money, consider the downside if the person doesn’t perform or what will happen if a co-worker or manager reviews the candidates you didn’t choose.

Fudging a Resume

    If you leave negative information off a resume or “enhance” your credentials to get a job, you won’t be the first person to do so and certainly won’t be the last. Depending on the information you doctor, you might cause legal problems for yourself, especially if you’re a contractor bidding work. Think about the potential outcomes that might result from getting caught lying on a resume -- including getting terminated -- before you doctor your CV.

Breaking vs. Bending

    The more successful you are at bending the rules, the more tempted you might become to break them, suggests Jonathan Cooperman, Chair, Ethics and Judicial Committee of the American Physical Therapy Association. This might include claiming credit for others’ work, inflating expense reports, lying about competitors to make a sale or other outright dishonest acts. Drawing an ethical line in the sand and refusing to cross it, even if it’s a telling a “little white lie,” will help you prevent blurring right and wrong and potentially pulling a career-ending stunt.

Your Reputation

    The more you bend the rules, the more you are likely to spill the beans to a co-worker who might not keep your secret. You might be part of a corporate culture where the company takes shortcuts when it comes to customer service. The more you bend the rules, the more you can damage your reputation as word gets around your profession. Consider the short-term gains you might get from crossing ethical boundaries vs. the long-term damage you can do to your career.

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