How to take control of your reputation at work

The most important career capital you have isn’t your technical skills or academic pedigree. It’s not your high-flying title. It’s not even your relationships… It’s your reputation.

In every job, people will wonder if you have what it takes to get things done and if you can deal with a wide range of people. They’ll be more than curious if you can handle crises and adversity. My favorite mentor has been known to caution, “Your reputation gets to the next place before you do. … What will it be?”

To take control of your own professional reputation, you need more than just good everyday performance. Consider the following simple but effective reputation-builders to improve your credibility at work:

Don’t go in unprepared

Priscilla, a marketing up and comer was excited to get invited to a meeting by a departmental leader that she admired. Since she’d been busy with her ongoing projects, she quickly skimmed the pre-meeting materials that were sent around in advance.

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The problem was, when Priscilla got there, she asked a series of questions that were easily answered … had she carefully read the pre-meeting materials. This short interaction in front of a powerful and influential group led others to see her as “nice, but ill-equipped.”

Think of your preparation time as something that translates to respect for your audience.

Be consistent

Have you ever worked with someone who was particularly moody — leading you to wonder which character you would get on a given day? Being known this way only frustrates people and worse, distracts them from your knowledge and talent.

In contrast, I recently partnered with a client on some consulting work and was struck by the wonderfully competent young woman who supported the project. In each interaction I had with her, she was reliable, pleasant, and effective, offering insights above and beyond what she was asked to do.

It was her consistency in every single medium from email, to in-person meetings — even voicemails — that made me think, “This woman won’t be in this role for long.”

Keep your promises

Sometimes in our zeal to show our value to new people, we over-commit to what we can do and leave the other side high and dry. Imagine networking with a like-minded professional, making plans to partner on a joint project, and then never hearing from that person again. It may be easy to over-promise, but it’s very hard to recover your reputation totally when you mislead someone.

The lesson? Don’t waste people’s hopes, time or energy by making commitments you won’t keep. I guarantee your forgotten deliverable or oversight will be more memorable to them than your pleasant personality!

Buy into yourself

If our body language is apologetic … if we don’t go for the higher-level job we think we’d be great in … if we feel like imposters who don’t really deserve our job and title … then guess how others will see us?

The foundation of a great reputation is believing you have something of value and importance to share and contribute. Without this essential ingredient, you may fly under the radar, never making enough noise to be noticed or seen. In my dozens of interviews with top women leaders, I heard frequently that a non-reputation — being a virtual unknown — can be as hard to overcome when it comes to advancement as having a faulty reputation.

Don’t complain

When I interviewed the wonderful Fizzah Jafri, COO Fixed Income Research and Economics at Morgan Stanley, for my book Pushback, she cautioned strongly against becoming known as someone who’s impossible to please.

Said Jaffri,You need to articulate your objection early on and then bounce back quickly. Don’t dwell on issues. The ‘complainer’ perception tends to stick. … Become known as a constructive thinker.” Consider some of the colleagues you most admire and I’d bet most of them know how to frame their ideas and objections with tact, and more importantly with a solution or suggestion for improvement.

Gossiping, triangulating — and not following the basic rules of your workplace — can certainly undermine your credibility. But in the end, it’s about more than just keeping composure or being nice.

You need to manage your career like … it’s a VIP business project. If something damages your credibility, act! Either take responsibility for that misstep or campaign for the issue to be seen in the right light.

Selena Rezvani is a recognized consultant, speaker and author on women and leadership.  A seasoned human capital consultant, Selena uses workplace culture assessments to help corporate clients be more inclusive and welcoming to women.  She’s also the author of two leadership books targeted at professional women – Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want(Jossey-Bass, 2012) and The Next Generation of Women Leaders (Praeger, 2009). 

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