In your first job, someone likely helped you learn the ropes by showing you what you needed to know, from the proper chain of command to the secret of using a moody coffee machine.
But one thing probably not mentioned was that from that day forward, you began to build your professional reputation -- a reputation that would continue to grow and follow you for many years and many jobs to come.
Your professional image, or what others think about you even before they meet you, is not something that develops overnight but, instead, is something you earn as a result of consistent behaviour over time. Fortunately, it is also something that is completely within your power.
To take stock of your reputation, consider the references your current managers and past employers might give for you. What kind of picture would they paint of your work ethic, attitude and interpersonal skills? Hopefully, they would use words like "enthusiastic," "mature," and "quick to learn," and not "arrogant," "unreliable," or "poor communicator."
Young employees need to grasp the importance of having a good reputation as it can open many doors for them. It can lead to job recommendations, invitations to participate in high-profile projects and introductions to influential mentors who can help further a fledgling career. After all, people naturally gravitate and want to offer their assistance to those with good reputations and promising futures.
But something else that too few young employees are told is that, unfortunately, it is all too easy to damage the professional reputation you have invested considerable time and effort in building. It can take years to restore people's confidence and rebuild work relationships after a major misstep.
Therefore, employees (young and older) need to especially pay heed to the areas that contribute to how people perceive them:
Do what you say you will do. It is important not to get bogged down by taking on too many opportunities at once, lest you end up overextending yourself and overpromising to others. Carefully choose the activities you want to participate in and honour your commitments. It is much better to devote your time to a few than quit, disappoint or break promises to many.
Always leave a professional impression. When dealing with others, whether online or in person, always follow the golden rule by treating them with the same respect and professionalism that you would value in return. Even if it is a difficult discussion or a challenging situation, you want the other party to walk away impressed by how you handled yourself.
Share the credit with others. It takes a village to build a success story, and shining a spotlight on those who had a hand in your development and accomplishments goes a long way in enhancing your personal credibility. Acknowledging the assistance of others does not chip away from the credit you deserve; it shows you are a generous and appreciative team player.
Be known as genuine, honest and loyal. When someone is seen as credible based on their experience and intelligence, they are considered trustworthy. And when they are known to be trustworthy, they are embraced as honest, fair, kind, empathetic and caring. Constantly displaying these characteristics will always increase your reputation, while an obvious lack of them will most certainly be detrimental.
-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai
John McFerran, PhD, F.CHRP, is managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protect your professional reputation online
Long before you shake hands for the first time, people can find out about you within a mouse click or two. It is vital that you manage your digital footprint and protect your reputation when using social network websites. Here are some things to remember:
-- Familiarize yourself with each website's privacy settings and activate appropriately to ensure details of your personal life can be viewed only by the people you choose.
-- Seek out social networking sites that will allow you to make connections with people in your field or stay updated on the latest news in your industry.
-- Do not use social networking sites to gripe about work, criticize managers or complain about policies. Be discreet and stay positive when making comments.
-- Consider hosting two profiles, with one restricted for personal use (vacation photos, personal updates) and one for professional use (work-related news and events) only.
-- Boost your credibility and image by blogging or tweeting about your area of expertise. Building an online reputation on a specific matter helps others to see you as an expert and that can help you advance professionally.