The Internet offers up endless examples of professional reputations being undermined or destroyed by an unwise or accidental click of the mouse. While the jobseeker who famously attached to an email a crazed photo of Nicolas Cage instead of her resume may go on to accomplish great things, it won’t be in the job she applied for because — spoiler alert — she and Cage failed to impress the hiring manager. Fair or not, the unsuccessful applicant became an Internet sensation, arousing both pity and scorn as someone who apparently lacks attention to detail.
Technology aside, there are plenty of old-fashion, tried-and-true ways to ruin a reputation, from backstabbing and badmouthing others to having an affair with the boss. Most workers know the potential consequences of these behaviors, though awareness doesn’t guarantee avoidance.
But where is the manual on reputation-enhancing behaviors; those actions and habits that earn the respect and admiration of people who matter?
There are basics: “Be prepared for meetings, make good on your commitments, leave your personal troubles at the door,” lists Nancy Juetten, founder of AuthenticVisibility.com. “Dress for success. Speak and write properly. A complete sentence is a beautiful thing.”
He who obsesses about becoming BMOC (Big Man Outshining Colleagues) may in fact develop a reputation for overreaching and underperforming. “Do not get so absorbed in getting ahead that you lose focus on doing your current job exceeding well,” warns Lynne Sarikas, executive director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston. “Do all that is asked of you and more, and do it with a smile. Look for ways to improve the current process. Put in the extra effort to research and develop a viable solution for any problems you encounter. Track the results.”
The “team player” reputation is a good one to build on, “So help others in the department and look for opportunities to make them look good,” Sarikas says.
Just don’t develop a reputation as a pushover.
Beyond a strong work ethic, reputation building requires self-reflection and planning. Employees must first decide what it is they want to be known for. Examples include problem solving, innovation, creative genius, subject matter expertise, leadership ability, or a certain style of charisma that creates consensus and woos clients.
Establishing a reputation as an industry-wide expert, for example, requires visibility and a strategic means of reaching a relevant audience. Publication credits, speaking engagements, and a robust online presence will help with name recognition, Juetten says.
On the other hand, “While it would be great to know what you want to be known for, in my experience it becomes obvious over time,” Sarikas says. “Self-awareness is critical. There is also a level of inherent ability. You may wish you could be the creative genius but if you do not have that skill set it is not likely to happen.”
Visibility-seekers must also think about what they wish to set in motion by building a following, Juetten says. What do they want people to do after hearing their message? They mustn’t come across as though they are for hire if in fact their dream is to grow with their current organization.
Online profile pictures can enhance or undermine reputations, and we’re not even talking about the ones with cleavage or red Solo cups (or both). We’re talking about snapshots that subjects love because their smile looks genuine and they had a good hair day. Never mind that there’s something distracting in the background or the photo is awkwardly cropped to create a head shot from an obvious group shot, with the presence of disembodied shoulders to prove it.
“Some people make the mistake of using a photo from 10 years ago, and then when people meet them, right off the bat there’s a disconnect,” says Juetten, adding that people might reasonably suspect other misrepresentations have occurred. “If your profile picture doesn’t match your reflection in the mirror, it’s time to hire a professional photographer.”
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