What Do People Say About You? (Issue #355)
You should intentionally nurture your professional reputation
Note: Next week, I will be working with premium subscribers on their professional branding for an upcoming Invincible Career exercise. On Monday, they will have access to my private office hours to share their ideas for crafting their professional reputation and getting feedback from the community and me.
Are you interested in participating? Please upgrade to a premium subscription at 25% off and join us before the end of this week!
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
― Jeff Bezos
It’s kind of funny when you think about it, but the biggest decisions about you and your career are typically made when you’re not in the room — or on the Zoom. For example, when I was a corporate manager, we made hiring decisions about candidates in meetings without those people being present. When we made decisions about the employees we would put on an upcoming layoff list; those people certainly weren’t invited to those conversations.
You won’t be present for these types of decisions about your career either, so you can’t defend yourself if someone in a meeting with your manager thinks you should be demoted or fired. You can’t use your best communication skills or your mastery of the art of persuasion to try to convince people in some secret Zoom call to hire you or promote you.
People make these significant decisions using the information they have at hand (e.g., your performance review, interview notes about you, your portfolio). But, these decisions are also influenced by how people view you and think about you. We wish that decision-making could be a purely rational process, but we all know that emotion plays a significant role, too. So, your reputation and “brand” will either help you have fans and supporters in those meetings or critics and detractors.
On that note, how do you feel about the phrase “Personal Branding”? Many of us probably believed it was only relevant for people who make a living from their name and who they are (e.g., models, celebrities, actors, athletes). The concept of personal branding can also feel a bit distasteful or annoying when you think about how it has been used and abused by social media influencers (e.g., the Kardashians).
By the way, if you’re in the mood for a laugh at the expense of some influencers, check out Influencers in the Wild on Instagram. You’ll see some of the most ridiculous behavior in public that you can imagine, and it’s all captured on video.
After viewing some of those videos, I wouldn’t be surprised if other words come to mind, too:
The new poster child for fake personal branding is Shimon Hayut, AKA Simon Leviev, and AKA The Tinder Swindler. This new Netflix documentary tells the story of a notorious conman who used the Tinder dating app to live a life of luxury while defrauding numerous women across Europe (and maybe worldwide). He stole an estimated $10 million from his victims!
He developed a fake personal brand and online persona as the wealthy son of billionaire Lev Leviev, known as the “King of Diamonds.” That guy should be in prison, but, believe it or not, he now claims to run business workshops (probably helping other con artists become better con artists).
When we see examples of obviously fake personal brands all around, no wonder many people think the words “personal” and “brand” shouldn’t be used in the same sentence. I get it. No one wants to be viewed as superficial or manipulative.
However, there is a difference between a personal brand and a professional brand. I’m not a personal brand kind of person, nor do I encourage it for others. But, I do believe you should treat your career like a business, and the product that business sells is the work you do professionally.
Therefore, I do encourage building a professional brand for your career and the value you deliver through your work (either as an employee or solopreneur). Another way to think about this is your professional reputation. How do people think about you and the work you do?
A professional brand is your reputation at work with colleagues, managers, customers, etc. You build it with the quality of your work and how you get things done. It is reinforced by your words, accomplishments, communication style, behavior, and interaction with others.
Intentionally define your reputation
Rather than letting your professional reputation organically and haphazardly happen by chance, you should take control of what you want it to be. As part of next week’s exercise, premium subscribers will have access to a workbook that helps them explore and define their professional brand and reputation. But, you can think through the following questions to start exploring yours:
What comes most naturally to you at work?
What are you good at doing?
What are you known for doing well?
How do coworkers and friends tend to describe you?
What comments have you seen in your performance reviews?
What descriptors fit your personality and feel genuine (e.g., considerate, competent, compassionate)?
How do you want to be viewed by your professional peers?
What personal attributes will help you get to the next level in your career if people believe that about you (e.g., persuasive, high potential, leadership material)?
You should find out how your manager, peers, and partners currently view you. See if it already fits the reputation you wish to cultivate.
However, if a mismatch exists between your desired professional brand and your current reputation, you have some work to do. Take control of your brand and shape it the way you want to be perceived and remembered vs. letting it just happen.
Intentionally craft your brand and build the evidence to support that image of you at work. Develop a career portfolio and behavior that supports the professional brand you know is best for you and employers will value.
I also recommend aligning your brand with who you really are. It’s too tiring to maintain a fake persona, anyway.
Start by choosing one core attribute that you want at the center of your professional brand. It’s the word you wish someone would use to fill in the blank in this statement about you:
“They are so _________!”
What single word do you want as the foundation of your professional reputation? I know this is a challenging exercise. How do you boil down the essence of who you are into a single word?
But, I would bet you probably describe other people you work with this way. Here are some positive examples:
“Amy is brilliant.”
“Brian is very reliable.”
“Sarah is so creative.”
“David is fast.”
“Tina is persuasive.”
You can probably think of some negative examples too. We’ve all worked with a few people who have a poor professional reputation. These are things you’d never want someone to say about you when you’re not in the room.
Andy is a liar.
Beth is lazy.
Chris is slow.
Dani is always late.
Edward is a jerk.
After you’ve selected your primary professional reputation/brand word, create a list of secondary attributes that are also important to you. These words will enhance and extend your brand. Feel free to explore words and phrases that reflect your unique knowledge, talent, and the way you see the world.
How do other people describe you (e.g., your parents, loved ones, teachers, bosses, colleagues, peers, friends)?
How do you want people to view you?
How do you wish that people in your industry described you?
What attributes support the reputation you are building?
What descriptors will help you get hired, promoted, etc., when the decision-makers believe them about you?
Years ago, I used this same exercise to help define the brand for my solopreneur business. I considered my target audience and ideal customers. I thought about the problems they faced and the solutions they needed. Then, I brainstormed words, attributes, and descriptors that I assumed they would want to be true about someone they hired to solve their problems.
First and foremost, I wanted potential clients to view me as a very helpful person. Otherwise, no one would want to hire me.
Of course, I also had to be trustworthy and dependable.
They would want someone who listened to them.
In my case, being a bit “techie” was a helpful descriptor.
They wanted help from someone who had “been there and done that” and had learned from a wide variety of experiences (i.e., they viewed me as older and “wise”).
I found the visualization above helpful. It put my core brand attribute at the center with a “cloud” of supporting attributes around it. It helped me remember to develop and maintain a professional brand that made people feel this way about me as I built my business.
You can do this homework on your own, of course. I created a workbook that makes it easier to capture your answers, define your brand attributes, and build your own professional brand cloud (access it here).
However, if you want to share what you’ve captured and get some feedback to make it better, join us in the community. You can discuss it with the rest of the premium subscribers and me during our office hours on Monday.
Prove your reputation
Now that you know how you wish to be perceived, what are you doing to build and support that image? Simply claiming a professional brand is not enough.
For example, over the years, I’ve seen many people claim they are “innovative”, yet I couldn’t find anything in their background that supported that claim. So, if you want your reputation to grow and people to believe in you, you need to back it up with actual evidence.
You build credibility and support for your professional reputation every day. Every meeting is an opportunity to reinforce your professional brand. For example, if you claim to be a compassionate leader, act like one during challenging meetings with your employees. Every accomplishment is your chance to elevate your professional reputation, too. If you claim to be dependable, you can’t drop the ball on the work you deliver.
The proof of who you are as a professional will be reflected in:
The work you do.
How you interact with people.
Online social proof (e.g., what you tweet).
The content you create.
How you communicate.
How to protect your reputation
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.”
— Warren Buffett
A few friends of mine have always been careful with their professional brands. They’re even cautious about their behavior outside of work that could impact their brand. In this modern world of social media, instant tweets, and photos shared globally with a single tap, are you ever “off the clock”?
The people you associate with may help or harm your reputation. I’ve seen both happen in the corporate world.
Your actions can build your reputation. But, thoughtless actions can also damage it (e.g., shouting at someone in a meeting).
Obviously, what you say can support or damage your reputation too. That can happen during live conversations, and with the words you share online. I’m sure you’ve read about people who lost their jobs after posting something offensive on social media.
If you’re ambitious and your career matters to you, then your professional reputation should matter to you, as well. Nurture it and protect it!
How to rebuild your reputation
You’re only human, and you will make mistakes. We all do! Unfortunately, sometimes those mistakes can damage your reputation.
However, even when that happens, all is not lost. It is possible to repair and rebuild your reputation. Some people have made remarkable comebacks after colossal failures.
I won’t go into more detail here since I already wrote an article about how to do this. If you’re interested, check it out.
Your professional brand matters
Personal branding may feel icky to you, and perhaps it should. But, I hope you now see how professional branding is quite different.
It’s not fake.
It’s not based on a fantasy.
It’s not artificial.
It’s not about manipulation.
Your professional brand and reputation are a reflection of who you really are and who you want to be. When you build it successfully, people know your name. You also tend to climb the career ladder more quickly when you have a strong professional brand.
Your name will come up when new opportunities arise. When hiring managers and recruiters start making calls, you will be top of mind.
Hiding from the spotlight and hoping people discover you won’t do you any favors for your career growth. If you’re an ambitious professional who wants to get ahead, you must put yourself out there and be visible.
That starts with defining and owning your professional brand.
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I've really been enjoying the Invincible Career newsletter by Larry Cornett (@cornett). If you want to get ahead at work and be happier in your job, but you aren’t subscribed yet, you’re missing out.
Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who hosts a private mastermind community for ambitious professionals with weekly challenges, office hours, and confidential support. If you’re interested in starting your own business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” course (launching later this year).
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.