Build your reputation, build your career.
Your professional reputation dictates your career trajectory.
So, what reputation do we all want? We all want to be seen as role models. We all want to be seen to be problem solvers, team players, hard workers, talented professionals, go-to experts. We want to be known to be ambitious, and to be known to be able to back up our ambition.
You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well. — Jeff Bezos
Your reputation is the single most influential thing you can build, and it can change the course of your career.
10 things to do
- Find the problems. Ferret out the problems your organization has. Make yourself the person who wants to, and who will, solve the problems. (reputation: I solve problems)
- Nail what you’ve been asked to do. Consistently, dependably, and on time (reputation: I can be counted on, I get stuff done)
- Embrace and enjoy the unglamorous work, and nail that, too. (reputation: I do what it takes)
- Volunteer. Volunteer to help others. Find out what else you can do. Don’t limit yourself to what you’re assigned. You’re limiting your career by letting others define the lane you drive in. By volunteering to help others, you’re learning new things, but you’re also being generous with your expertise and your time, and people don’t forget those gestures. (reputation: I am a team player)
- Don’t complain. Don’t complain about the work or about others. When you want to criticize something, offer a solution to the problem you just found. Steer clear of the complainers. Being in their company will quickly make you one. (reputation: I don’t whine, I offer solutions)
- Approach work with enthusiasm. People enjoy working with enthusiastic people, and enthusiastic people are forgiven many mistakes because they bring their joy to their work and their joy is contagious. (reputation: I love my work)
- Look for the people with exemplary work ethic. Model yourself after the people who appear to be in love with their work, and not those who are punching in the clock. Look for the people for whom this is not just a job, but a gateway to a career. (reputation: I model myself after the right people)
- Be curious. Don’t wait to be trained. Don’t wait for the training to come to you. Start training yourself. Ask lots of questions. Don’t be a passive participant in your own career. Instead, ask, “How does this work?” and “Why does it work?” (reputation: I take charge of my learning)
- Find out what your organization’s competitive advantage is, and make sure that you align yourself and your work with that. If your work feeds into the organization’s competitive edge, you become an amplifier for the organization. You become indispensable. (reputation: I help the organization be more competitive)
- Discover what your individual competitive edge could be, what you could uniquely bring to the table. Your individual competitive edge is the thing that you are the best person for, and the thing that you know you can outwork and outdo anyone else at. It’s the thing that makes you indispensable. Nurture your competitive edge, and fine-tune it. Every single day. (reputation: I am making myself more indispensable)
10 things to ask
In your one-on-one meetings with your manager, ask the following questions, and act on the answers. The answers give you the actionable steps to build your reputation.
- What problems would you like me to solve? (reputation: I am a problem-solver)
- What are the skills that you want me to acquire that would make a difference to the team and to our organization? (reputation: I am eager to learn)
- How, and how often, do you want me to keep you in the loop on what I am doing on a daily basis? (reputation: I want to be held accountable)
- What types of problems do you want me to escalate to you, vs. problems that you want me to figure out on my own? (reputation: I can work independently while still being accountable)
- If I finish what’s assigned to me, how do I go about getting more work to do? How do I sink my teeth into more? (reputation: I am capable of easily knocking out my assignments, and I am hungry for more)
- What should I do in the next 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, that would make you declare my hire a resounding success? (reputation: I intend to succeed here, so tell me what success looks like)
- What actions of mine would make you want to give me more responsibility? What does more responsibility in my role look like? (reputation: I intend to get promoted)
- What actions of mine would make you want to give me less responsibility? What should I not do? (reputation: I intend to get promoted)
- If I could throw my effort and energy into something that is not within my job description and something that I might not be qualified for, what would you want me to do? (reputation: I am fearless and I like working outside my comfort zone)
- How do I make myself indispensable to the team and to this organization? (reputation: I want a seat at the table)
It’s your career, so be an active participant in influencing its trajectory and pace from the beginning. By taking charge of your reputation early on, you can make your career happen, instead of letting your career happen to you.
Start building your reputation in your first 6 months at a job. It might seem audacious to aim for these things in the first 6 months at a new job, but start as you mean to go on. And, even if you’re 6 years into your job right now, it’s never too late to reset the clock, to start afresh, and to start to (re)build your reputation. Your reputation dictates how people see you. It’s up to you to make sure that people see you the way you see yourself.