Finding a new job can be both daunting and exhausting. But once you land it, there’s still more work to be done. Very important work. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So you need to thoughtfully prepare for the first impressions you’ll be making with all your new colleagues. No pressure...
The Importance of Setting Your Reputation in the Workplace
Starting a new job is something most everyone experiences at some point in their adult lives. It often comes with feelings of nervousness mixed with hopeful anticipation. By joining a group where a rapport already exists as well as unwritten expectations of procedure and behavior, you feel like a temporary outsider trying to rapidly become part of a new equation.
Like being a new kid in school, joining a new social club, or being the newest member of a family, that initial time is a unique window of setting expectations for you and for them. Everyone is trying to gauge how your inclusion in the dynamic is going to change things and what you can come to expect from each other.
These initial interactions can be most critical in building your workplace reputation and assessing, for yourself, the caliber of your new colleagues. If done with strategic thought and deliberate action you can settle into your new assignment projecting a persona that you alone cultivate and therefore control.
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Preparing Before Your Job Even Starts
While there was probably lots of preparation that went into your interview process now that the first day is approaching, it’s not the time to let your focus dissipate. You will now be stepping into new territory with an unknown cast of characters and unspoken codes of conduct.
And all eyes will be on you.
Like it or not, they will be evaluating you on a number of things including your ability to assimilate. Like walking on a cliff’s edge, navigating such new terrain can be treacherous as the outcomes can be potentially rewarding or ruinous. The best preparation for such an endeavor is to give forethought to your own personal brand.
Personal branding has become a popular buzzword but it’s really just a fancy term for reputation. Most people focus on cultivating a personal brand for the purposes of career growth. Advice on building a personal brand focuses most on curating a positive online presence. But your reputation is more than what can be determined in a Google search.
How you present yourself in real life matters too. Your brand both online and in the real world encompasses every single thing about you. From the way you dress and speak to the hobbies you enjoy, the causes you believe in, and the people you hang out with. In short, it’s how someone would describe you holistically.
Steps for Laying a Foundation of a Personal Brand
A good starting point is to think about what you stand for and what makes you uniquely you. What do you want to be known for?
Your personal brand can encompasses your:
Think broadly and creatively. It may be helpful to ask your friends and family for their perception of you.
An effective yet morbid exercise is to write your own eulogy. What will you be remembered for? From this exercise, create a brand statement about yourself. It should be a concise description of who you are through and through. This will serve as a foundation and as a guiding light for when you make decisions about how you present yourself to the world whether online or offline.
“In my roles of mother, wife, and business owner I dedicate both my personal time and my professional pursuits to ensuring every child is given the chance to have a successful and happy life by supporting their physical, mental, and spiritual health.”
A statement such as this is broad but represents the essence of who she is and what she cares most about.
While it’s not realistic that every move you make will directly pertain to your brand, at the very least, nothing you do should detract from it.
Demonstrating Your Personal Brand
A big part of your brand is how you physically present yourself. It’s the first piece of information people get about you. This is especially important if you will be in the presence of colleagues in a work environment.
From your clothing and grooming choices to your communication habits, this can be a recognizable way for you to present yourself and for others to assess you. Take inventory of these characteristics and determine if you are happy with them or wish to present something different.
There are certainly more elements to make up a holistic personal brand but for now, we are focusing on what people can visibly perceive. The opportunity to dive in deeper to who you are from a philosophical point of view will come when more time has passed and some professional relationships have formed.
Clean Up Your Online Presence
With rare exception, we all have some kind of online presence. Everyone knows this including your potential employer. It’s likely they googled you as part of the early vetting process. And your new colleagues may do the same. Do yourself a favor and clean up anything that is remotely questionable. Be conservative in your judgment.
First, delete any unsavory pictures or controversial posts that don’t reflect the brand you are aiming to project. Then complete an audit of your online accounts. Is how you participate on each platform in accordance with your personal brand? If not, create some guidelines for yourself on how you plan to interact in online social forums.
Query your name on major search engines and see what else is out there. See if there is anything more you should delete or clean up on your own. For the truly committed there are professional services like Reputation Defender. But for most, this may be overkill. Here’s a better DIY resource. To be proactive you can create a Google Alert with your name. When information about you is posted or updated, you’ll receive an email about the content.
Why It’s Important to Set Your Reputation from the Start
Many employers consider the first three months to be a probationary time. They want you to take the time to get assimilated and not get ahead of yourself inserting your opinions and ideas before fully appreciating the culture.
Likewise, this is a time intended for the new organization to observe you and size you up. They want to make sure they made the right hire so for these initial months you will be under the microscope and this is when your reputation will be set.
This is a crucial time because unfortunately there are people who are rigid in their thinking. Once they make up their mind about someone, it cannot be changed. Very unfair I know but I have run across enough of these types in my corporate career. That is why it is very important to be very mindful and intentional in your behavior in these early days.
Approach Your New Workplace with an Investigative Mind
The safe approach is to be hyper-observant. Listen much more than you talk. Be extremely mindful of what is being said and done overtly and what is being signaled subtly. You will need to sharpen your perception skills and read between the lines. Can you pick up on the vibe? Take a read on the dynamics among colleagues, among management, and between management and staff. Figure out who is respected and who is not.
Sniff out the office gossip, the moocher, the know-it-all, the brown noser, the go-getter, the incompetent manager, etc. and make some determinations of whom you wish to further cultivate a relationship with. When a new colleague offers an opinion about someone, take it with a grain of salt and don’t be baited.
Remember management has these people sized up already so part of their evaluation of you will be which colleagues you gravitate towards. Fair or unfair, you will be judged by your associations.
The best strategy is to be friendly with everyone but a little aloof until you can make firm determinations of where you best fit in. Like the gregarious kid in high school who was friends with everyone — the jocks, the nerds, the skaters, the gamers, the mean girls — be friendly and cool with them all, just don’t commit.
As your probationary time comes to a close, you can probably relax a little. You will feel more comfortable with the surroundings, your colleagues, and the management style. Plus a new hire will likely be coming in behind you taking some of the pressure off. While you can let your hair down a little and share more of yourself, be sure to continue to honor your brand on an ongoing basis.
Evaluating Your Long-Term Commitment
One more thing to think about after these first few months is your own compatibility with the organization or the team culture. Does this fit with you and your brand or not? A lot of times this is a gut feeling.
There is nothing more difficult than trying to fit in where there just isn’t chemistry. You can try rationalizing it all you want but when your gut’s tied in knots or when you have persistent feelings of dread, it’s hard to ignore.
I worked for a company for four long agonizing years even though I knew practically on the first day it was a bad fit. Misery is measured in dog years. It’s easier to call it sooner rather than later.
There is plenty of advice out there on how to land the perfect job but little direction in advising how to navigate a new workplace culture. Starting a new job with a clean slate for your reputation is a unique window of time that most people fail to consider much less optimize. As a result, they never quite claim the reputation they deserve. By being strategic in your preparation and execution of your own personal brand, you will create professional equity that will pay dividends for years to come.
Even if you’re not about to start a new job, take stock of your professional reputation. What do you think it is? Are you happy with it or not? How can it be improved?
Are you brave enough to get feedback about this?
If needed, you can attempt to reset it. This will take planning and consistent execution as others already have expectations of you. But with enough time and a consistent presentation of your new brand, they can come to see you differently.
How would you describe your personal brand? Share with the rest of us in the comments below.