Professional credibility and reputation are decisive factors in entrepreneurship, job seeking and career building. But how to establish and maintain this reputation?
Recruiters face three pressing questions when faced with a stream of applicants, and the same goes for people looking for a freelancer or their next career executive. “Does this person have the skill to do the job?”, “Can we work with this person?” and “Will this person add value down the line?”. No matter who’s asking the questions, they want to look beyond the resume and the cover letter, to find out if they are hiring the right person for the job, and potentially gain more benefits than expected during the hiring process.
These three questions immediately lead to four principles of developing and maintaining your reputation as a skilled and reliable professional which greatly increase your chances of getting hired and developing your career.
The value for Recruiters and Clients is that these are also the four principles that you will be looking for in hiring your next professional. Each of the sections below will outline behaviors and signs that you can use to determine the quality and integrity of the person you are looking at, and can prevent a costly hiring mistake or a misalignment between personal goals and company culture.
Know how and where to display your assets
The primary importance of having an online presence and reputation is that without it you are not going to gain any passive views. You might actively apply to job positions, or send in a resume as an open solicitation, but without any presence at all no one will be able to find you.
Establishing this online reputation starts out in most cases with placing one’s resume on job sites where agencies publish jobs they are looking for candidates to fill. A Linkedin profile is usually next, containing most of the same information as a resume would.
But here is where your online profile should diverge from a regular resume; a switch in quality of presentation as well as a change in way of thinking. Your online presence is not just dictated by your profile being accessible online, but by its connections to other people, companies and causes. It gains value from how others perceive and judge your presence.
This explains why joining Groups and following Companies becomes so important. By taking part in discussions you showcase your expertise, by posting articles you show that you can go beyond simple commenting and can create content by yourself. How you then engage with your audience and respond to comments, as well as the number of likes and shares, becomes tangible evidence of your credibility. Like with a blog post, each article becomes an achievement, and its score is determined by how others interact with it.
This exact technique is used to approach customers’ decision makers through their network, in Social Selling. The techniques and approach are the same, except rather than bridging the gap for others, you use it for your own benefit. By becoming closer and more familiar to decision makers who decide on you for their next hire, you increase your chances.
See this post on how you can maximize the effectiveness of your profile and your engagement with others. Using this, combined with the techniques utilized for Social Selling, you are presenting yourself to the largest possible audience.
Maintaining this reputation is an ongoing activity. You need to keep engaged with others to remain relevant in the eyes of others. Especially on Linkedin, where this is expressed as your Social Selling Index, there is a clear indicator of your success which can act as a guideline. Daily visits to your groups, liking and commenting on others’ content, producing your own content on at least weekly basis, those are the hallmarks of a professional who is entrenched in their networks, and this will allow you to float to the top when others are looking for people with your skill and experience.
A final push in your profile can be gained by continuously observing the actions and updates of others in your field (or where you want to work). Their educations are a sign of what you can learn – mark it as an interest in your profile. Their groups and causes indicate sources of knowledge, but also places to interact and gain entry to sometimes very exclusive circles. How do they describe themselves in the summary? Do they use Emoji and if so, where and how? Are their achievements and experiences marked in first or third person? When you look at their profile, what is your first reaction? Where are your eyes drawn to?
The answers to those questions become lessons to learn for your own profile. If a profile you visit seems slick and well-designed, learn from it and apply that to your own.
- Completed profile with picture
- Joining relevant and quality Groups
- Liking and Commenting on others’ content
- Sharing updates on your professional life
- Creating articles and engaging with your audience
- Re-sharing the content of others
- Searching for and learning from others
Present yourself as a person, not a spare part
Many people use Linkedin or job vacancy sites as an extension of their resume, simply listing their previous jobs and education in reverse chronological order. They list what they learned, what they did, and give concise descriptions of what their job description entailed.
But when you want to step up from task-worker to professional, you need to move beyond the mechanical motions of describing what you know and what you did. It’s no longer important that you performed certain tasks or read certain books – what you achieved through that, what essential learning you did that is applicable later on, those are the golden nuggets you should put on display.
Most guides on writing your Linkedin profile or job resume already tell you to list your achievements, the value you added with your actions. Be concrete and quantitative, describing that you “improved the efficiency of your processes by 30% by redesigning the workflow”. That’s great advice, and it will improve your chances. But you’re not just looking to get hired for a job when applying for it. You want others to approach you. You should want to attract potential employers by the weight of your reputation and the quality of your profile, rather than waiting for jobs to open up.
What attracts employers is that you as a person are self-motivated, skilled beyond mechanical tasks, and able to mesh well with the corporate structure and the culture of your department. You will be hired on character, with your resume being the check-in-the-box stating your expertise.
To do this, people who read your profile and online interactions need to get good insights into your personality. And they need to be able to grasp it quickly.
Showing you are a leader can be done in discussions, by being factual and courageous in your comments. Stand by your opinions and convictions, but be mature enough to admit it when you are wrong, or another person’s arguments prove persuasive enough to change your opinion. Don’t disparage a person on their attributes (which are ad hominem attacks or even discimination) when they are antagonistic. The greatest of debates and stories of heroism stem from the conflict between two evenly matched, professional opponents. Welcome this as an opportunity to hone your capacity to form and relate your point of view, and a test of your mettle.
Mentorship can be seen from your attempts to educate and assist others. Support others when they need encouragement. Give advice or links to self-education when you see a request for knowledge or feedback. Be courteous and positive in your feedback, focusing on how to improve and structurally help others become more professional and skilled. Acknowledge that others have different skills and experiences that you do not, and seek to learn from them in turn. If your feedback can be seen in a negative light, send a private message or reply privately, do not air others’ dirty laundry in public. If you are not sure if you can be a positive influence in a discussion, it’s usually best not to take part.
Courtesy for others marks a team player. Acknowledge the achievements of others, and congratulate their efforts. Competition is sports as well, and being sportive in business is the hallmark of a person with emotional maturity. Contain your urge to be right in a discussion over the value to the team. Sometimes, even though an idea cannot work, it is best to let things play out and learn from this. Do not sabotage your own or others’ efforts just to prove a point. Being technically correct while on deck of a burning ship is not a cause for celebration, especially not if you started the fire.
Learn to listen to others deeper than the words being said. A person who repeats their words every time feels that they are not being heard – acknowledge that you heard and understood them and they will open up for further discussion. A person who keeps nay-saying you may feel the need to be in control. Ask them for their suggestions and involve them in the process, and their influence becomes more positive. A person who keeps asking questions may be very interested, but could also be insecure. Be open and transparent about their role and what you expect of them.
Finally, make sure to connect to causes and topics you care for, because they not only give you inspiration and energy for your life, but they also show to others what you are dedicated to. For example, I follow topics on architecture, sustainability and beekeeping because I love structure (even though I technically am an ENTJ) and function-to-form, care for the future of our planet (and stand for the values of the Green Personality) and how we co-exist with it, and because bees are endangered yet a critical component of our existence. A company who neglects these topics likely would not be a very good fit with me, and thus my profile warns them that they should not wasted their time with me. Conversely, companies that feel strongly for these topics are more likely to contact me and mesh well with my development in the future.
- Describe your education in the form of learned skills and insights, not nondescript topics
- Describe your job experience in terms of value added, lessons learned and growth you experienced
- Show your ability to discuss, lead, mentor and grow in your discussions and posts
- Strive to become a better person and better professional, every day
- Display your interests and dedication to causes to show your personal beliefs and dedication
- When you look at your own profile, could you be replaced easily? Or do you seem like a unique individual who is not easy to compare to someone else?
Display your potential for the future, not just past achievements
When we first look for a job, we build a resume to showcase our education. We have little to no work experience yet, no professional community to reference, and little insight even into our own capabilities. That first job is landed on trust, on the glimmer of potential that you bring to the table through your application and in your engagement of the person on the other side of the table.
But in order to make the transition from task-worker to professional the expectation is that you have a good grasp of your future prospects, value and career goals. Rather than being reliant on the development plans of your HR department, or limiting your career by available options within the company as they become available, a career professional makes their own plans and plots their own course in their lives.
Becoming the rock that the river of your career flows around is not an easy feat, and displaying this professional prowess to potential recruiters and employers is even harder.
To become in control of your professional destiny you first need to consider what it is you want to achieve in life. This may sound like a broad topic, but what is most important to you is likely already on your mind, and should directly inform your choices. Such topics include:
- Do you want to work for yourself, or for another?
- Do you want to (and can you) plan your own time?
- Do you want a temporary (rental) home or a permanent residence?
- Do you want to live urban, rural or suburban?
- What is important in how you eat, your transportation, family life?
- Do you want to go on holidays, and how often?
- What does your perfect day look like?
- What would you do when you retire?
- What hobbies do you have?
These questions are varied, but all are relevant. For example, the question on working for yourself or others is a direct qualifier for becoming an entrepreneur (self-employed, self-times) or employee (employed and potentially self-timed). If you want to live a life close to nature, you likely live further from the city which means a distance job or a long commute. Is that worth it to you, and can you keep that up? If your hobbies are very urban, it also means most of your life takes place in the city, while if they are rural you will live most of your life outside it.
The questions answered should lead to the following “employment profile” for yourself:
- Self-employed: I need to be close to my customers
- Employed: I need to be close to my employer
- I live [urban/rural] and I [rent/own] which means I need [X] finances to sustain that
- I live mostly [urban/rural] and thus need to commute for [work or hobbies] using [own transportation/public transportation]
- I save up for [hobbies/holidays/investments/retirement] which informs how much additional financial gain I need from work
- I should have disposable income for [going out/hobbies/emergencies] which informs additional financial gain needed
This list not only gives you an estimate on what you need to maintain your current lifestyle, and what you need it for, but also whether you could comfortably have irregular income or not. If you need a lot of savings or disposable income for your lifestyle, you might prefer fixed, predictable employment. If your lifestyle is self-sufficient, rural and spartan, you likely require very little income, and might prefer seasonal or entrepreneurial work relationships.
Tenure is also a thing to consider. A stable professional life over decades is one thing, but what about a “burst career”? For some people, it can be worth it to have a comet-like career, rising to a high position that is demanding, but very rewarding, for a decade or so. After that, they have sufficient income to live and safeguard their entire life. At that point, you can work as, and if, you desire. It’s not for everyone, because it means you focus all of your efforts in rising to the top, and to almost literally burn out your career in a decade. But if it provides enough to live out the rest of your life as you please, it can be a valuable investment. After that, you still have the option of becoming an author, public speaker, or consultant…
Also consider any partner you might have; if you live with someone who has a fixed job and is comfortable with their current work/life balance, you will have more options to go solo or entrepreneur than when you are the sole provider for the household. Always discuss these things, and future plans, with your partner. In this, like most other successful endeavors, teamwork is everything.
A clear plan on what you want to achieve should then be part of your online persona. “I prefer to work off-site and at a distance, but I am agreeable to employment as well as entrepreneurship. I am good at zoning my own time, and my hobbies (gardening and beekeeping) give me a strong way to refocus and gain new energy during lean times of creativity”.
This doesn’t just show others that you like gardening and want to be flexible in your time. It also shows that you have a good idea on how you want to live your life, and made a conscious decision about it. It shows that you know what to say yes to – but more importantly, what to turn down because it will not fit. You will be approached by people who support that statement, and those who can’t will avoid you – to the benefit of both.
Maintain integrity and consistency in work and private lives
It is a serious error in judgement to believe that private and personal lives are truly separate. Even when you have separate accounts (such as Linkedin and Facebook) for your career versus your daily life, your actions and engagement are noted, quantified, stored, processed and judged. The internet does not have a work/life balance, so you should be careful and thoughtful when it comes to your actions online.
But even in physical reality what you do can have consequences for you professionally. When people go over the line socially (in terms of racism, sexism, or breaking the law) this has immediate consequences for your business life, as evidenced by #MeToo for example. Conversely, a lack of business integrity (corruption, fraud and theft) has more than professional backlash, as you might face fines, prison time, or publication of your criminal record.
These things are cyclical. A good reputation breeds trust, while a bad reputation breeds mistrust. There are a number of dangers to this balance that you need to be aware of, and avoid.
For one, always observe your actions in business or private through the lens of the others. If you are not sure if something is a bad practice in business, try and see how you’d feel explaining it at the kitchen table during dinner. If it gives you a bad feeling, it’s something to avoid in business too. In reverse, if you are planning to share something online where you are not sure it’s in good taste, imagine what would happen if you’d publish it from your business account. If it’d result in protests and loss of business, it is likely a bad idea in private as well.
Second, business ethics apply to personal life as well. If someone wants you to do something and pays you for it, it’s work. If someone wants you to break a rule for it, or prefer them above others, it’s corruption. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a personal level, if it is judged as corruption it will impact your career too.
And finally, be sure to always mark the boundaries between work and private in your social life. But also mark the boundaries between you and your employer. If you have a twitter account and mention you work for company X, also note “my views are my own” to show that your opinions are not those of your employers’ (and vice versa). If you have a private account, don’t use it to promote your company’s products or services. If someone contacts you on a private account for a business purpose, redirect them to your business account or your company – don’t use a personal account for business purposes, and be very strict in that separation!
Integrity is the foundation of your professional career. Without it, you are quick to fall prey to stereotyping and categorization by others. It is in my opinion always better to be anonymous and with integrity, than to be famous and lose it. Building your integrity and credibility as a professional takes a lot of time and effort – but you can lose it in a heartbeat if you are not careful.
Consistency is key to managing your life. Separate public and private lives, professional and private account, work time and life time. Create your own ethos on how you want to live and work, and abide by it. People will respect a person who is centered, clear on their purpose and capable of saying “no”.
These four principles and the actionable items contained in each are sure to present you in the best possible light and put you face-first in connection with potential recruiters and employers. But aside of all the practical benefits that this gives you, always remember that your professional identity should be an integral part of you, not a mask you slip on to be employed.
None of these tips are going to work if you want to present a socially acceptable front for employers to agree with. You will likely be hired, but the cracks in the relationship will show quickly. People will know soon enough that the person you presented yourself as is not your professional self – and if this mismatch is bad enough it will lead to you being dismissed and your professional reputation lowered as a result.
In addition, from personal experience, I can tell you that acting as the person you truly are, rather than what is expected of you, is a truly liberating and defining moment.