Do you value your career? Of course. But do you value your reputation as much as you value your career? You should — because they’re carefully intertwined, and these days, you can’t have one without the other.
Sure, your resume, cover letter, references, and performance at work matter: they always have. But now more than ever, employers want to know more. Specifically, they want to get the lowdown on your reputation: are you trustworthy? consistent? a team player? They want to see so much more than what you can show them on paper.
Nearly half of all employers use search engines to research potential job candidates. And you’re not safe even if you’re already hired: your employer may consider your online reputation when you ask for a promotion or raise, or even take disciplinary action if you stir up trouble online.
This means your personal brand (and ultimately, your reputation) can have a significant impact on your career, whether you’re looking for a job, maintaining your current one, or working on a promotion. And if you’re working independently as a business owner, freelancer, or entrepreneur, your reputation is even more important, as you’re dependent on it not to simply get in the door for a job interview, but potentially for every new client, investor, partner, and anyone else considering whether they want to work with you or not.
You can make smart, basic moves like cursory networking, and acting and dressing appropriately for your next promotion, but how can you really make your reputation stand out and make a difference in your career?
We spoke with several experts: career consultants, authors, recruiters, and business owners to get their advice on building a career boosting reputation. They told us that it’s mostly about building connections, but that important moves like building a reputation as an expert, getting noticed at work, and offering a consistent, stable history shouldn’t be missed either. Read on to find out how you can support your career goals with a great reputation.
Build and Nurture Your Network
Of all the advice shared by experts on building your reputation for a great career, networking really stands out. Having others on your side can really make a difference in how you’re perceived — and being in the company of the right people is a great way to stand out as reputable and trustworthy. After all, if reputable, trustworthy people can vouch for you, others are more likely to assume that you’re of the same caliber.
“A strong network of professionals is key to developing a positive reputation in your industry,” says networking expert Brian Smith. “You own the reputation of how others perceive you.”
And while building and developing a strong network is a big part of creating a strong reputation for yourself, it’s not necessarily easy. Building connections takes hard work and time, and that means you’ll really need to put an effort into creating a network that supports your good name.
It’s all about relationships and communication, says Marilyn Santiesteban, assistant director of Career Services at Texas A&M University Bush School of Government & Public Service. “Most networks are the electronic version of a shoebox full of business cards,” she says. “Real networking involves regular communication.”
To nurture this regular communication, Santiesteban encourages networkers to master the art of the breezy update. Decide ahead of time how often you’ll connect with key contacts in your network. When it’s time to get in touch and refresh your relationship, do research to find something that would be of professional or personal interest to them: news about their company or favorite sports team, for example. Then, send a link to the news article with a question to encourage a response — and be sure to add a quick paragraph about what’s new with you to continue the conversation.
This type of ongoing communication is essential to developing a strong network that can genuinely support your reputation. Author Darrell Gurney encourages networkers to make connecting with others a continual practice, explaining that expanding your career tribe proactively means you’ll have a network in place before you need it. In fact, he warns that it’s not a good idea to reserve networking only for when you’re job seeking, as it’s more likely to push opportunities away rather than attract them.
Rather, Gurney recommends a more subtle approach to networking: creating relationships based on research projects. With these projects, you can get connected with influential people, and as you maintain relationships with them, you’ll stay on their radar.
Provide Value to Your Network
To build genuine, helpful connections, you should take the time to understand the people in your network and find ways to give them the support they need. Nina Parr, cofounder of the Love Your Job Project says that means making introductions, sharing relevant news, helping out with roadblocks, and even offering your services for free.
“When you do this without expecting anything in return, it naturally comes back around,” says Parr. “You can also look to your network for advice and support and in time, they will start to do the same with you. When you show people that you care, that you always follow through, and add value, they will remember you, and your reputation will spread as your career grows.”
Andrea Berkman Donlon, founder of The Constant Professional says it’s a smart move to surround yourself with experts, as you are the company you keep. And while it’s fun to enjoy the social side of networking, make sure you’re providing substance to your contacts as well. “Instead of being known as the one who goes to the best parties, be the one known for getting into the best sessions and speaking on the best panels,” says Donlon.
“Keep the focus on giving, not getting,” encourages Susan C. Foster of Susan Foster Coaching. “When you do your work with a desire to make the profession better, it shows. Promoting programs you care about and people who are good in your career field will enhance your own reputation as someone who notices the best in the field. Eventually, noticing others will get them to notice you, and appreciate you for it.”
Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders agrees that generosity with your network is the only way to go. “In your networking, be sure you are consistently giving to others and genuinely trying to help,” she says. Why? By not actually helping, you’re probably doing more harm than good. “Selfish networking or blatant self-promotion is a real turnoff — and easy to spot.”
Getting started with building your network can be as simple as getting involved with a professional organization that interests you, says author Richard S. Deems. “Volunteer for an activity, become an officer, provide a program,” he suggests.
And don’t stop there: GovernmentAuctions.org president and cofounder Ian Aronovich says it’s a good idea to turn any event into a networking event. How? always have a pitch ready to work into conversations. It can be a greeting, joke, compliment, or other hook that makes it possible for you to network virtually anywhere.
Another way to jump start your network: look to your colleagues. Nurture relationships with those you do business with regularly, whether they’re your coworkers, clients, or service providers. They’re the front line of your network, and an excellent resource for branching out to meet new people.
Call to Career president Cheryl E. Palmer says it’s essential to build a strong network inside and outside of your current organization — but be careful not to make your current organization your entire world. Palmer warns that staying in your work bubble is not a smart idea, as you’ll end up not knowing many people professionally who aren’t a part of the company you worked for — and you’ll have to build your network virtually from scratch if you want to use networking for a job search.
Instead of limiting yourself to your current organization, Palmer recommends joining professional organizations that can give you exposure both within and beyond your organization and help you build a strong reputation for excellence.
Ultimately, though, building a strong reputation boils down to simply being helpful. “Always approach people with service,” says consultant and coach Cecilia Bratt. “Be the person who helps out, follows up, sends an article that helps that person, introduces them to an interesting person.”
“In the end, a great reputation is about showing up for people,” says Bratt. “Online or offline.”
Develop a Strong Reputation at Work
While it’s clear that your network beyond your current job matters, don’t be mistaken: how you operate with your current organization has a serious impact on your reputation and how you’re perceived. You should work to become known as reliable and trustworthy and develop a reputation of excellence: others that work with you, both within and beyond your current organization will notice and appreciate your commitment.
How exactly can you get noticed and build a strong reputation at work? Our experts have a number of tips to share:
- Offer help where needed: Saving the day means you get to be the hero — and everyone loves a hero. “Jump in and assist with positive actions when you see an issue or problem at work,” says Stan C. Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer. “Propose meaningful solutions and volunteer to assist in implementation.”
- Take action: “Be a doer,” says Resume Deli CEO Joseph Terach. Work hard and don’t complain — but make sure your actions are visible to key players. This will help you become an irreplacable asset with a reputation for productivity.
- Volunteer for projects: Kimer says that volunteering to be on work teams and projects allows you to be an active, visible participant and contributor, not just a reviewer. And if you volunteer to assist junior staff or work as a mentor, it can really pay off, he points out. “Perhaps one day a person you mentor will become your boss and remember you well!”
- Toot your own horn: Being boastful is an annoying turn off, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay quiet about your accomplishments, especially when you’re sharing the news with others who have a vested interest. Deems recommends making sure your boss and other leaders know the exciting results of your work. Take a casual approach, sending a quick email or memo along the lines of, “Thought you’d be interested to know that the revised process reduced our costs per unit by at least 13%.” This kind of message gets to the point and shares information that others are eager to spread — while showing off your accomplishments. Maher points out that sending regular updates, and even weekly emails, can be a powerful tool when evaluations come around: you’ll have plenty of ammunition when you’re asking about your next promotion or raise.
- Get outside your company: Get noticed within and beyond your organization by contributing to your industry at large. “Write items about your project or people who are doing great work for industry newsletters and magazines,” suggests Foster. “Volunteer to be the person who works with an outside team to do something important for the company. This gets you noticed as an “up and comer” organization-wide.”
- Develop a beneficial mentor relationship: “Hitch your wagon to a star,” says author Barry Maher. He recommends finding a mentor who’s not just ahead of you, but on their way up. In addition to learning from your mentor, you should offer your assistance and help them reach their career goals, he says. Having a relationship with a rising star can really pay off as they reach higher levels of responsibility and influence.
- Be a team player: Working well with others could be the single most important factor for building your reputation, especially if you have your sights set on career building. “All employers want to hire and retain individuals who are both respected and genuinely liked by everyone, from the copying center to the CEO,” says 2MyCareer founder Jamie Peretz. Peretz says you can spot a team player a mile away: they’re the individals who treat everyone with genuine respect while at the same time always going the extra mile. And as they earn a reputation for being a team player and team leader, these individuals become a valuable asset that’s highly sought after — but they usually don’t have to point out their excellent relationship skills for themselves, says Peretz. “Their reputation often precedes them – everyone admires a true team player.”
- Do what no one else wants to do: There’s always an impossible task that practically everyone wants to dodge or pass the buck on. Being the person that gets them done can help you build a reputation not just as a team player who is willing to contribute, but as an individual that’s willing to grow, says Maher. “Never miss a chance to learn or to
grow,” says Maher. But, he warns, whenever possible, avoid “can’t win” situations and situations where you’re set up for failure.
Show Great Integrity and Trustworthiness
Building a great reputation means showing people that they can trust you: trust that you’ll come through for them, that you’ll do the right thing no matter what, that you are qualified to do the job. And consistently showing that you’re worthy of that trust is a great way to develop a career boosting reputation.
“Why do we ask someone for a personal recommendation?,” asks Flexible Work Solutions founder Joanie B. Connell. “It’s because we want to know the person is competent and has integrity.”
It’s for this reason that Connell recommends focusing on quality over quantity when building your reputation. “When you exceed someone’s expectations by being a high quality
person to work with, they will recommend you to others and your reputation will reach out on its own.”
Connell has personally experienced this on a number of occasions, and has found that by merely doing a good job and following through, she’s build a reputation of being someone who get things done.
Consultant Paul A. Dillon agrees: “The only way that I know how to build and maintain a reputation over time is to act in an ethical way in everything that you do,” he says. “It is how you conduct yourself on a daily basis that forms and maintains your reputation over time.”
Offer a Sense of Consistency
Of course, it’s not enough to simply show integrity, trustworthiness, and other important reputation building traits just once or even on occasion. That’s not how a reputation is built. Rather, you earn your reputation by consistently delivering on what others want and will come to expect from you.
What you’ve done in the past sends a message about what you’re likely to do in the future. But this is only true if you can consistently deliver. After all, if you’re stellar one moment and lackluster the next, no one can really be sure what they’ll get from you — not a good foundation for your reputation. Being consistent sends a message that you’re stable, that others can believe you’ll do what you say because you’ve always followed through before.
“People typically don’t remember what you’ve done,” says HR professional Tim Totheri. “They only remember (if you’re lucky) what you’ve promoted and only what you’ve promoted most recently.”
“For example, Nicolas Sparks might also be a ninja who enjoys finger painting and death metal, but if I asked you what he’s known for you wouldn’t hesitate in providing an answer,” says Totheri. “That’s a career brand.”
That’s why when building a reputation, Toterhi says consistency of word and action is critical — and it’s everywhere. It matters how you present yourself on social networks, your resume, and on-line profiles, and all of these should support the value proposition you are trying to get across to clients or current and future employers.
Hurt agrees that it’s essential to be consistent in how you present yourself. It sends a confusing message if you act one way on social media, but completely another in person. “For example, if someone blogs or speaks about humility, but comes across as arrogant in an interview or in the elevator, all credibility is lost,” says Hurt.
Focus on Your Strengths
Want to really be known for something? Specialize. Becoming an expert in one or two particular areas can help you develop a reputation as knowledgeable — and others will refer to you on the subject.
Paul Klein, president and founder of Impakt Corp says it’s essential to stay on strategy, even when you’re just starting out. “When people start businesses, money is tight and they tend to do whatever work they can – even if it’s off strategy,” he says. “When this happens, the quality of the work isn’t good enough and the company’s
reputation can actually suffer.”
Klein has gone through this experience a few times, and now strongly prefers to stick with hat he knows best — even if it’s more painful in the short term.
Aronovich agrees, and encourages individuals to focus on their strengths. “A lifetime spent working in an area where you don’t get to rely on your strengths for the majority of the time will cause you a great deal of stress, failure, and can also prevent growth and enjoyment of your career,” he says. “A good career will, as a whole, be something that plays to your strengths.”
Develop Smart Partnerships
Who you do business with reflects back on you, so it’s always a good idea to work with reputable organizations. Whether you’re developing partnerships at work, seeking out clients, deciding where to accept a job, or spend your time volunteering, consider how the reputation of who you’re working with will look to others.
“Aim high,” says Klein, who decided to target large businesses as clients. He says that although there are relatively few large corporations and the sales cycle tends to be
very long, it was worth the extra effort. Why? “I felt that being seen to work with large “brand name” companies would be more valuable in terms of our reputation,” he says.
Gain Exposure as an Expert
Ideally, you want to build a reputation for being an expert in your area of specialization. It can raise your visibility, and being an expert means that you’ll be respected and referred to in your field: all good news for your reputation. Experts recommend making a point to write and be active in your niche community as much as possible, whether you’re contributing to publications, writing a blog, or starting a Facebook page for a community of like-minded individuals.
“Raise your visibility in your field,” recommends Palmer. “By being published in professional journals and mainstream media as well as speaking at annual conventions, you can raise your visibility in your field while at the same time increasing your job prospects. The fact that you have distinguished yourself as an expert in your field as evidenced by your publications and public speaking gives you an edge over other candidates who do not have such credentials, and it adds luster to your reputation.”
“Write a lot!,” says Klein, whose business was greatly helped by contributing articles. “At the beginning I had very few clients and a lot of time, so I started to write articles and submit them to business publications.”
This strategy paid off for him, but he warns that if you’re serious about developing and maintaining your reputation as an expert in your field, you shouldn’t quit writing when business picks up. “Most business people write one or two articles and then stop,” he says. “Building a reputation depends on being relentless. Early on, I decided to write 2 articles every month and have mostly kept this up for the last 13 years.”
Anthony Kirlew, cofounder of digital marketing agency Imagine WOW! recommends first starting your own blog, then reaching out to related industry blogs where you can contribute. And, he says, LinkedIn is also a great place to produce content, either directly in their publishing platform or in a LinkedIn group.
A content producing strategy is a smart reputation move, says Brandamos founder and brand elevater David Shiffman. He points out that it’s essential to take control of your own content.
“It’s very easy for others to produce content about you,” says Shiffman. “So, if you can get out ahead of it produce content for and about yourself you can set yourself up to win.”
Take advantage of the platform social media offers, as it can allow you to position yourself as a knowledgeable resource, says Santiesteban. “Post updates every working day on LinkedIn, sharing an article of interest to your network. Choose a few industry groups and be a regular contributor. Comment on industry leaders’ blogs.” These are all good ways to get your name out there, she says.
Bratt points out that becoming a leader of a group is another great way to reach expert status — and it doesn’t have to be a huge step. She recommends a Facebook community page for like-minded people, book club, or simply a page for curating information relating to your field and interests.
And, says Bratt, this is really a low hanging fruit that’s easy to grasp: “The step up to ‘expert’ is not that high, because so few people actually do this,” she says.
Another great way to get established as an expert? Get in the news, says Kirlew. “Make it a point to develop relationships with journalists in your industry, and also use a press calendar so press is not an afterthought, but an ongoing part of your marketing efforts,” he says. “And don’t forget resources such as Help a Reporter Out.”
In addition to writing and community building, it’s a good idea to develop infomative videos in your area of expertise. “Create short concise YouTube videos on your subject that educate people,” recommends Butterflyvista career coach Sarah Weinberger. “Launch them professionally and frequently. People watch YouTube and go there for training. People hate to read.”
Of course, the ultimate method for achieving expert status is to write a book. “Becoming an author is a great career move — even more so if you find a respected publisher,” says author Shel Horowitz. “It establishes you as an expert, gives you a 200-page business card that impresses people, and can open many doors (including speaking opportunities — and speaking can be another great career-building move). And it can bring in revenue, too.”
What’s the best way to get out there? Author Brian Carter says it depends on your industry. In marketing, for example, it makes sense to have a blog, be a thought leader, write a book, and attract those “contribute with other experts” blog posts.
But, he warns, that in other niches, especially if your role is that of employee, having too much of a personal brand can make look overqualified or egotistical. You’ll need to answer an important question: do you want to be an employee, or do you want to be independent: an entrepreneur or consultant?
Independents will find that classic reputation and brand building like active social accounts and thoughtful contributions are a good idea, says Carter. But for employees, it may be a better idea to hold back and see what leaders in your industry are doing.
“For example, in higher education, the degrees you get (and to an extent where they are from), hold larger sway over employers. If you want a programming job, they may not look at where you learned your skills. You need the right list of skills, but they may be much more impressed by an open source application or a WordPress plugin you created. Once you have the kind of employee position you want, make sure you’re doing what the leaders are doing. And bear in mind that standing out means you won’t fit into some workplace cultures.”
But no matter how you get your name out there, be helpful. Meaningful, useful content, whether you’re writing, creating videos, or just sharing great resources should be helpful to others. “Nothing can be more effective in building a strong pillared reputation than helping,” says Keyline Creative Services digital marketing manager Harsh Singh.
Singh points to leading experts like Richard Branson, Neil Patel, Jon Loomer, and Barry Schwartz, who are able to encourage engagement and have used their communities to develop rock solid reputations.