What do people say about you when you’re not there?
If you are in a job search, or looking to move up in your career, it makes all the difference. I speak regularly with professionals who are looking to move up or move on in their careers. Some rake in referrals to new contacts, informational interviews, and job leads like leaves in the Fall. For others, it’s like they are walking through a Winter wasteland.
Even though the job market is rebounding and there are about 4 million jobs filled each month in the US, it can take time for that just right opportunity to appear and for the offer to come. But job seekers who are not getting referrals or warm introductions or never make it past the first interview need to carefully assess the reasons. In particular, they need to be brutally honest with themselves about their reputation. Here are some of the issues I’ve seen poison reputations:
- Talking at people rather than with them. You can’t build a relationship on a one-way street. When you don’t listen to others, they feel you don’t care. Plus, this is just annoying, and people don’t like to help or hire those who annoy them. Remedy: listen twice as much as you talk. The old adage about having two ears and only one mouth is an old adage for a reason.
- Being a user. If you only reach out when you need something and never have anything to offer in return, even something as simple as information, you may get what you ask for, but you’ll never get more than that. It is okay to ask for what you need, but you also need to show willingness to give. Remedy: Ask “How can I help you?”
- All talk and no action. If you have a habit of overpromising and underdelivering, or contributing tons of ideas and leaving others to do the work, they may be only too glad to leave you out of the loop now. Remedy: Roll up your shirt sleeves and start making good on your promises. Consistently.
- A Debbie Downer attitude. Wah-waaah. You know the old Saturday Night Live skit. Debbie is the person who can find the rain in every rainbow. Who tells you all their personal problems. People find this draining and are only too glad to get away when they have the chance. Yes, sometimes critical analysis and worst-case-scenario thinking is needed. But it’s not needed all the time, everywhere. Remedy: Outside of your sacred circle of trust, only communicate the negative when it will actually add value. Otherwise, keep it to yourself.
- Instability. This one is tough but it’s real whether we talk about it or not. If you drink too much, use illegal drugs or abuse prescription medication, and think it doesn’t show, stop fooling yourself. Not everyone may be able to identify what the exact issue is, but drug and alcohol abuse causes behaviors that tell people something is “off”. Things like absenteeism, emotional outbursts (this includes anger), or poor memory. Others will be very reluctant to stick their neck out for you when they see these behaviors. Remedy: Seek professional help. Now. You will need to act differently for people to see you differently. Others have done it and you can too.
If none of these describe you, your reputation is probably working for you, just like a good investment. However, if any of these sound uncomfortably familiar, it may be time for a course correction. The good news is, you have the power to change, starting today. The bad news is, reputation repair takes time. Just because your intentions change and even your behavior, it will take time to show – like a Polaroid picture slowly becoming clear. Keep at it.
Investing in your reputation is like saving for tomorrow – it compounds and can pay amazing dividends down the road.