This is sort of a hot button with me–hot enough that I plan to include it in the book. What you do is important. What you accomplish, ditto. But there’s still that extra little bit–how you do it–that can make the difference between whether you’re hired or not. Your reputation boils down to your personality and work habits: are you pleasant to be around? Are you known for your attention to detail? Your ability to hire and lead good people? Are you a hard worker?
Again, these are things you don’t necessarily put on your resume, but they are the things people notice. If I had to guess, I’d say that my personal rep includes things like being a hard worker and a quick worker. I can also kick out decent prose on a deadline, regardless of topic or document format. For the most part, I’m perceived to be a decent, funny guy to be around. On the other hand, I’m not always the most detail-minded person in the room (I could name two or three people who are MUCH better editors than me, for example, and I happily recommend them). I also get flustered when I’ve got too many things happening at one time. I spend a great deal of time on my own, and while I’m a good talker for an introvert, I keep my distance from new people for a while until I get to know them. And I can get a little quite cranky if I think I’m being accused of something falsely.
But then that’s my impression of my reputation.
Why should you care?
The thing is, what you do builds your reputation, but how others respond to what you do is where your reputation really resides. It boils down to what people think about who you are and what you do. That can be vexing for some, who think, “Who the heck cares what other people say about me? I do good work!” And really, you can’t control what other people will think or say about you. That’s a hard lesson to learn; however, you can control what you do and how you do it. If you’re not sure what your reputation is, and you’re willing to accept honest feedback, you’ll get it. If there are things you don’t like about your reputation, you can make efforts to fix them. A bad reputation can cost you relationships or even jobs.
One major challenge with reputation-building is that it can take years to build and a moment to completely shatter. Keep the books honestly for 20 years but then get caught embezzling? You lose your reputation instantly–and your job, and quite possibly your freedom. But even something simple like having a reputation for an even temper can be blown away if you spend a whole day yelling at people. Or a normally kind person stabs a coworker in the back. Political campaigns can hinge as much on reputation as someone’s “record.” Or, conversely, a renowned curmudgeon is suddenly discovered to be tutoring an immigrant in English. But, again, reputations can be made or broken through single incidents…and they don’t always have to be in person, either. I’m sure if you take a look through the news or your local divorce proceedings, you’ll find any number of reputations that have been destroyed by personal behavior on the internet.
Building your reputation “account”
Another approach would be to treat your reputation like a bank account, and all the good things you do day by day amount to “deposits.” If you do something awful and you barely know the person, you won’t have built up enough “deposits” for them to want to forgive you. On the other hand, if you’ve known someone for a long time and have done a lot of good things for them, they are likely to be more forgiving when you have anything from a mood to a meltdown. After that moment, however, you need to get back to building up your account with them.
The bad news, again, is that you have little to no control over what other people think of you. You do, however, have control over the behaviors you exhibit and they observe. So if you crash your reputation with a large segment of your acquaintances, you have the ability to take action on the things that caused you to lose it; just be aware that it’s a very long process that requires a great deal of patience. You might not win back your rep with everyone, but you can with a few, and they can spread the word from there.
Note what can happen if you have a bad reputation…