Your professional reputation is the source of many, if not most of your professional opportunities. What people know about you and expect from you can be a huge boon to your career advancement. Few would argue that point, but fewer still really understand how professional reputation works or how to improve it.
Your professional reputation comes in three levels. Your “Level One” reputation is your reputation among the people you work with directly every day. Your immediate team of co-workers and peers, plus any managers and/or direct reports. In other words, the people that interact with you very regularly, and have first-hand knowledge of your performance.
Your “Level Two” reputation is your reputation among your entire company. For a very small company, levels one and two may have 100% overlap, but most of the time they don’t. Most of the time, there are plenty of people in your organization that have never met you. Some might not even have heard of you.
Your “Level Three” reputation is your reputation among your entire industry, or even ecosystem of related industries. People outside your organization, whether they work for competitors, vendors, clients, etc.
Most people think that in order to have a good professional reputation, they need to do good work and not be a jerk. That’s true only of Level One. Your Level One reputation is easy to manage – do a good job and be nice, and your immediate peers will probably like you. But that circle is also the circle that’s the least helpful to you in terms of your career advancement. That circle won’t contain very many new opportunities for you, and if you do switch roles, exactly zero of that reputation will be relevant. The new Level One group won’t know you, and you’ve started over.
Your real “career security” comes from Levels Two & Three, but those take work! You still have to do a good job and be nice, but you also have to advertise. You have to talk to people, broadcast what you’re doing. This doesn’t have to be some slick marketing campaign. Essentially, you have to just extend the visibility and awareness of you “doing a good job and being nice” to a larger circle.
The easiest way to do that is to just… do it. Be nice to a larger group of people, and do good work that can benefit a larger group as well. Did you design a new system that helps your team save some time on their job? Awesome – share it a little wider. Give it to people you don’t work with. You don’t have to “sell” it. You don’t have to convince anyone it’s great. But just offering it is a wonderful way to improve your reputations in Levels Two & Three.
I do this all the time. Probably half or more of these blog entries came from conversations I had in my own “Level One.” Upon realizing that the conversation was helpful, I opt to share it a little wider. It’s not slavering self-aggrandizement. It’s just me taking the same niceness and diligence I used with one person and spreading it around to benefit others.
You can do it too – and you should.