The ultimate guide to building professional reputation

The ultimate guide to building professional reputation

It was not that long ago when employers had all the power in the recruitment game. The only way for job seekers to land an amazing job was to leaf through tens of job postings, send out a bunch of resumes and hope for the best.

But the digital world has democratized the job market substantially. Through the power of social media and content publishing you can leverage the job market as a potential hire, too. We have a bunch of promotion tools available at our fingertips and we can build our own brands just like those dream companies have done. If you build a strong personal reputation and showcase both your personal and professional strengths, you’ll be the hire everyone wants to have or the freelance expert clients wish to work with.

You are leaving a digital footprint whether you like it or not. So it’s important to be aware of what you’re leaving for others to find. You’re better off actually planning your professional public image and making the best of it when it’s time for your next job switch or you are trying to get noticed in your local peer group.

Part 1: How to position yourself in a balanced way?

At the start, it’s hard to know how to approach the personal branding issue. The best way to do it, in my opinion, is to focus both on your personal and professional strengths. Not to come out too strong, you should also know how to point out those strengths in an objective manner.

Showcase both your personal and professional self

We like to talk about business communication as if it’s something hugely different from personal communication. But the fact is people work with other people – and they like working with people they… well, like. That’s why modern recruitment management has to do with accessing culture fit first, and only then turning to experience and skills.

Think about it yourself – when’s the last time you had a strikingly interesting conversation with a business acquaintance? I bet you spent at least half of the time discussing non-work-related topics – books you’d recommend, hobbies you share, passions you’re interested in.

That’s why your public image should strike a healthy balance between the personal and the professional. It just doesn’t make sense to exclude all personal information from your personal brand. Just the opposite: it allows for interesting conversations and a more personal connection with hiring managers, team leaders, potential clients – you name it.

Most of my work interviews have been 30% about work experience and accomplishments and 70% about everything else that makes up my personality – favorite books, my obsession with productivity techniques, love of theatre and volunteer work for popular science events. At first it may feel uncomfortable, so you can think of a way to tie personal interests and work passions together. I can always circle back to my experience in amateur drama classes, to what I’ve learned about preparation and improvisation or presentation skills. Build a narrative, but keep the personal story in there – it’s a tactic that will help you stand out. 20 candidate interviews later, you’ll be “that guy who likes to build rockets in his spare time” in a sea of homogenous people only talking about their professional accomplishments.

Bragging? Who said anything about bragging?

Quite a lot of people are afraid they’ll sound over-confident when they share their successes. After all, you don’t want to be the one that’s constantly bragging online, do you?

Strike a balance by framing your experience in terms of achieved results. When you share specific things you’ve achieved in your public profiles, your statements will sound much more objective. You’re not bragging, you’re simply sharing the facts. There’s a difference between “I was the most indispensable person in the team!” and “Campaigns I led achieved 25% rise in sales on a quarterly basis.” One makes you sound like a douche, the other shows you’re focused on results and know well what’s the most important thing a business person wants to see – specifics.

As Keats wrote “beauty is truth and truth is beauty” – so let the true facts speak for themselves.

Part 2: How to build your public brand and stay on top of it?

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression and that’s especially true online, where you have just a couple of seconds to attract attention. Your profile info on social media can make or break a relationship with future business partners or recruiters. It can define the way people see you. A messy online presence guarantees those 80% of recruiters who google you before calling for an interview may never reach for the phone.

The most important 2-second contact: your photo

The first thing everyone sees is your photo. Use a crisp headshot – ideally, one that’s consistent across different online channels. It’s vital to have a clear photo with no distractions – in the Twitter stream, your profile picture is just 50 pixels wide. That’s tiny! And if your face does not clearly stand out, people won’t be able to make heads or tails of your profile look.

Your profile photo should include you and only you. Leave out your dog, your hubbie or your best friends at the hen party. If I need to pick the profile owner out of a virtual lineup, then that’s not a good profile photo.

It’s generally a good idea to use a solid background – this naturally guides the viewer’s eye towards your face and eliminates distraction. Neutral backgrounds are considered a safe option, but if you want to add more personality, you can add some color to the background – there is evidence to show that bright one-color backgrounds attract more profile clicks and increase your visibility on social media.

There’s three types of photos people usually use online:

  • The Pro headshot – that’s a good solution for people who are actively seeking new work opportunities;
  • Casual headshot – you can pull off a nice casual shot, especially if your industry’s regular dress code is more relaxed;
  • You doing something fun or something important – doing a “breakaway” move at the local yo-yo competition or giving a presentation on stage. Those shots give a glimpse into your day-to-day and can be really powerful conversation starters, but it’s best to keep them for your cover photo.

One personal advice: make sure your profile photo doesn’t look like a stock photo of a business person. No pointing an index finger at the camera, doing thumbs up, etc. It just makes you look fake.

Here’s a pretty substantial guide on everything you need for the perfect profile picture.

Tell me about yourself: your bio

The second thing people do after looking at your profile photo is to read your description or short bio. You don’t have a lot of space there – you can usually count on some 150 characters. Even in platforms that allow for a longer summary section, you need the good punch of a 100-character intro to drive attention. So make every word count with careful preparation.

There’s a nice formula you can use to describe yourself in short:

In any case, the rule of thumb is: lead with your work field and industry. Drop an interesting personal fact. Ask people to connect.

If you don’t want to be directly associated with your current workplace, point towards your field of expertise – be it operations management, sales or design. But drop the silly titles – you’re not a ninja, guru or pirate, start acting like a grown-up!

Clean up your social media profiles

You’d be astonished what comes up in Google when you search your name. Go ahead, do it now, I’ll wait… Bet you had totally forgotten about that MySpace account you had when you were 16, wore black from head to toe and thought Evanescence “totally got it”? Yes, the Internet can be an unforgiving place, but unless you’ve been featured in prime news, you have a significant amount of control over the first page of results.

Close any profiles you created years ago and aren’t updating anymore and focus on the ones that matter. Contrary to what many online marketers will tell you, you don’t have to be at all places, but make a significant impact in the social media you participate in – publish content regularly and keep your profile up to date with your latest projects (keeping it performance-centered, as we already said).

You don’t have to keep all content visible to everyone, but I wouldn’t recommend making your profile private, either – especially on networks such as Twitter or Instagram, where discovery is spread widely across hashtags and retweets. Facebook and LinkedIn, where we tend to share more in-depth information, give you a lot of control so that you can limit what your publicly discoverable profile looks like. Remember, you shouldn’t make it sterile – leave in a flare of personality. Both platforms offer an option to view your profile as other users, so you can get a pretty clear idea what information you share with whom.

Where to find privacy info on:

  • Facebook: click on the three dots at the right-hand side of your cover photo to find the View as… functionality. You can limit past posts with one click to quickly clean up your public history – the option is in the Privacy tab of your Settings page.
  • Linkedin: view your profile and click on the Edit your public profile link right below your cover photo to see how it’s displayed to strangers. You also get access to show or hide different sections there.
  • Twitter: if you still feel you want to limit the visibility of your Twitter activity, go to the Privacy and safety tab of your settings and click the checkbox next to the option Protect my tweets.

Monitor your brand

You’ve done everything right and your own channels set up. Now what? Well, you’ll have to make sure your reputation stays squeaky clean so that the next time a possible business partner or recruiter Googles you, your professionalism shines through. Part of that has to do with monitoring what others say about you.

You can use a tool like Google Alerts or Mention to monitor what’s being said online about you or when others link to your content. Include your full name, popular short versions, as well as any common misspellings, so you cover any case an alert may be needed. Make sure you participate in the conversation, even if it’s a negative one. After all, they will be talking with or without you – better make sure you’re part of the discussion.

Don’t be phased by negative mentions or what they might do to your personal brand – rather than investing time to take down unflattering comments, use your energy to create something positive worth talking about. And that brings us to the next point – creating content.

Part 3: Build your professional reputation with great content

This day and age brands are striving to become publishers all the time. And this is not just some passing fad – content builds brands in a consistent and effective manner, as it showcases what you are all about and brings tremendous value to the audience.

Creating content showcases your worth as a professional and clearly states you have an opinion about your industry’s hot topics. Take it from someone who’s three recent professional gigs came due to her blog 🙂

Why is content publishing so effective? It’s simple statistics – blame it on the 90-9-1 rule. According to it, 90% of people read, but don’t contribute, 9% produce content only occasionally and just 1% are heavy content contributors. This is one of the rare occasions where you can take pride in being the one percent!

Everyone’s a publisher

There are many different options for publishing content online. You can build your personal brand through social media with content curation – sharing the most interesting pieces of industry news other people create. In this way you’ll serve as a filter for your peers, reviewing lots of news sources and sharing only the most interesting ones. But don’t just post a link to your Facebook feed – enrich the shared content with your personal opinion. Not being shy about sharing your opinion is the mark of a true professional.

Another option is to go long-form. Write your own full pieces and become a true publisher. Even if you don’t feel like you can write something of value, believe me, you do have something to share – download our list with more than 30 content ideas for building your personal brand.

The weapon of choice for many content authors is a personal blog. However, this can be a laborious task and if you still don’t feel you’re ready to commit, you can dip your toe into long-form content waters by publishing on Facebook Notes, Linkedin Pulse or other mediums. Those channels are already well established with popular influencers like Robert Scoble and Arianna Huffington posting there. You will have a base audience made up of your friends and contacts, so seeing first results will be quicker – and as you settle into a writing routine of your own, you’ll be able to move to your own writing space, be it Medium or a personal WordPress blog.

A word of caution: take some time and make sure you understand the context of each social media. The difference between Twitter and LinkedIn is not just character limit; it’s that one channel is much less formal and the other’s value lies in detailed commentary on business topics.

Build a community or be part of one

The Internet is a vast place and building a name for yourself there may seem like a daunting task. But your local community is another story – and you can easily start there.

Professional groups are an invaluable source for connections. Look for active industry communities in your area – Facebook Groups or LinkedIn Groups, for a start. Spend dedicated time each week to engage and bring value there. Reply to comments, give advice, share your opinion. Don’t shy away from discussions – safe for a few trolls you’ll invariably meet, most professional groups have strict behavior rules and communication is moderated. Even if you’re a novice in your field, your feedback is worthy – sometimes the best out-of-the-box ideas come from those with a fresh unbiased mind.

Not everything needs to happen online – look for offline events in your niche, too. I’m not talking solely about big conferences. There probably are many small meetups that don’t get advertised widely, but are perfect for you to meet new people. They’re usually free, smaller and much more relaxed, which will help even the shy ones to get started. Go through Meetup to find some events. Many of them will get shared in industry groups, too, so keep an eye out when browsing social media.

If you’re more experienced, you can even organize your own community group or a small meetup. Starting a group requires some time and energy investment – the first month will be crucial to get it going, so you may need to spend many hours to share content and engage with others. A meetup may sound daunting, but it may turn out to be quite easy. You’ll have to set the place – small bars have slower nights when they can surely let you make a big reservation with no upfront cash. Then share the time and place in your local industry groups. First you may see just 10 people showing up, but don’t get discouraged – consistency builds traction. Take it from someone who’s been organizing monthly science geek meetings that now reach 150+ guests 🙂

The art of networking

Talking about offline events and meetings, we need to cover the topic of networking. Like most skills, talent or “being a people person” can help, but practice makes perfect, so try to rehearse some parts of your networking routine. This will help you build confidence and make it easier to go into a conversation. Once you’re sucked into an interesting discussion, shyness steps away.

It’s convenient to think of a ready intro line – e.g. after a conference session keep in your mind a point that stuck with you. At the lunch line you can easily engage the person behind you with “I found it really interesting that they mentioned… Do you find it relevant for your business?” That will open up the conversation for further discussion.

The other networking staple you can rehearse is your personal introduction. What’s the one sentence you’d mention when you get introduced to a new person? Draft it out and test it out loud, so you can see if it rolls off your tongue or by the end of the sentence you’re out of breath.

Here’s a really comprehensive intro formula you can try out. “I’m [NAME] with [COMPANY]. I do [FOCUS AREA] for [INDUSTRY]. But I really love [HOBBY].” In three short sentences you give your conversation partner lots of potential touch points – you can connect on industry or expertise level, you may even share a hobby. That last bit, in my experience, makes for the most interesting conversations.

One last point – build a proper contact habit. Always have business cards handy. We do live in a digital age, but exchanging contacts in paper is still the most common form. When you get the other person’s contact, make a note what got you two talking in the first place. You can digitize contacts in a bunch of ways. For me, the easiest way is scanning your business cards and uploading them to the cloud (I can’t recommend Evernote enough for that feature!). Make a note to send a follow-up after the event ends. Think of a person or resource you can point out to the other person. It will bring value straight away and they will remember you for a long time.

In the end…

The road to a perfect personal and professional reputation is a long and laborious one. But that’s OK – it means if you invest the energy needed, you will surely reap the benefits. Very few people do it. From my personal experience, I can guarantee it’s worth it and the only way of getting the status of a knowledgeable influencer is by consistently being present and bringing value. So get our full list of content ideas to start contributing and building your reputation.

To read next: Check out our resume examples section that got people hired at their dream jobs.