How to build a great professional reputation (and get raises, job offers, and admiration)

Having a great professional reputation can be its own reward: It’s fulfilling to have people think highly of you. But beyond that, a great reputation can give you tangible pay-offs, in the form of job offers, higher salaries, better project assignments, and the security of knowing that you’ll have somewhere to go when you’re ready to move.

But what does it take to do that? Here are eight keys to assembling a reputation that will serve you well.

1. Show respect and kindness to everyone. It’s one thing to be warm and polite to the head of the company; after all, most people manage to do that. But pay attention to how you treat others, too, such as the receptionist, the office temps, and the guy who sells you hot dogs in the lobby. Make a point of treating everyone with respect and warmth, and others will notice.

2. Keep your word. Do what you say you’re going to do, in whatever timeline you committed to – whether it’s completing a project, getting back to someone about a question, giving feedback on a project, or connecting someone to your contacts. People will learn that they can count on you and your commitments are iron-clad.

3. Work hard. It sounds simple, but when you look around and see how many people kill work time on Facebook or by texting throughout a meeting or taking one personal call after another, it becomes easier to see how truly working hard can make you stand out from people who don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t take three minutes to deal with personal email during the day, but it does mean that you’re at work, your time should be spent … you know, working.

4. Go beyond what’s expected of you. People sometimes resist going above and beyond the basic requirements of their job, figuring that if they’re not being compensated for it, they shouldn’t do it. But when you regularly go beyond the minimum, you usually get rewarded for it in the long-term – either by your company or the next one you go to, and by the sort of enhanced reputation that will attract job offers, job security, higher pay, better assignments, and more options overall.

5. Help others. One of the fastest ways to build a strong reputation is to help others out, without expecting anything in return for it. If you spot ways you could help colleagues or others in your network, offer to pitch in – whether it’s assisting on a work project or helping a contact with her resume. People who are generous with their time and assistance strengthen the bonds they have with others, and generally become known as valuable resources.

6. Be up-front about your biases. It’s normal to have biases in the workplace; that’s not a problem in and of itself. But if you hide those biases from your boss or others, you can harm or even destroy your credibility. For instance, if you criticize a colleague’s ideas without acknowledging that you might be influenced in part by the additional work those ideas would create for you, you might look like you have a personal agenda. But if you acknowledge that reality before you explain your objections, your statements will have far more credibility – and so will you.

7. Welcome critical feedback – and even seek it out. People who are truly great at what they do generally want to know where they could be even better – they’re not too insecure to hear where they have room for improvement. Asking for feedback show you’re confident in your work, but humble enough to want to improve … and it has the added benefit of helping you learn where you really could do better. And that’s something you’re far less likely to learn if you get upset or defensive when people try to give you input.

8. Always stay professional, even in the face of provocation. Don’t blow up at an annoying colleague, vent to a client, or walk off a job in anger. One slip like that can trump years of professional behavior.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Lillie Lane*

    Unfortunately, when you have a boss who is a lying liar who lies, and blames you for things to cover his mistakes, it’s hard to build up a great reputation when people believe him instead of you.

    Sorry, I am incredibly bitter today.

    1. Erik*

      Amen – I’ve been there. A few years ago I got thrown under the bus in front of senior management thanks to my boss. I no longer acknowledge his existence and avoid any contact.

    2. Chinook*

      Lillie Lane, I don’t know if it will help with today’s bitterness, but know that you can’t be the only one to know your boss is a filthy liar and they probably take his word as seriously as you do.

      You can still build up your own reputation with him around, though, with direct interactions with people (unless you are his assistant and don’t interact with others. If that is the case, run fast and hard). Being known as someone who respects other people’s time, skills and resources, working hard and following through with what ever you promised will earn you the respect of those you interact with.

      As an added bonus, when you boss lies in a way that contradicts what others have seen from you, his credibility is undercut. It is rough that this type of sawing away at his credibility takes a very long time (think tiny knife on thick rope), but there always comes a time when the rope is cut, his credibility is gone. If you are lucky enough to be there when it happens and you have handled this situation professionally, it may even make you look better because they what odds you were truly fighting against.

      Unfortunately, this type of things can take years and you may never see it. For your own mental well being, I hope you are already looking for other jobs and working with building references that are not him.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This. Time can be very kind. A family member worked for an idiot. This guy was way out there. Well, after 8 years the family member collected what was left of himself and got a new job at Excellent Company. That is when people let their guard down. “How did you last 8 years with Idiot?? You must be a very strong person!” The running commentary was amazing. Everyone knew the old boss was a total jerk. My family member received many compliments on his strength, willingness to stick to his commitments, the quality of his work etc.

        I saw it myself with a job that I lasted at for a few years. After I quit the comments just flowed. “I don’t know how you did it- you are amazing.” OR “You have a heck of a work ethic to keep going in a place like that!”

        What got me was that people knew all along the situation in both cases was bad-bad-bad. And they did not say anything until we left our jobs. Just goes to show you- you think a job/boss is ruining your reputation and it’s not. People already know the beastie you are battling.

        1. Seal*

          This x2. When I gave notice at my last job, I was amazed at the number of people who came out of the woodwork to tell me how horrid my boss was and how sorry they were that I was leaving instead of him. Would have been nice if they had been so forthcoming and supportive while I was trying to maintain my sanity in the months leading up to my leaving.

          On the other hand, I still see people from that job at conferences and the like who tell me how sorry they were to see me go some 7 years after the fact. I generally take that as a complement.

          1. Twentymilehike*

            This is the truth, for sure. People notice who the sour grape is, even if its not clear at the moment. Been there, done that, and when I finally left, the kind words from others were so reassuring. It was almost overwhelming, but I really needed the boost.

      2. FormerManager*

        Also, if you’re able to join an Association or even do some volunteer work, this can expand your influence and expose you to people who recognize your talents and can vouch for you.

        I was in a similar situation and spending time outside work with a volunteer organization had a way of making me feel better when I had a similar supervisor.

    3. Brett*

      Dealing with the same thing right now. I just stay focused on my professional reputation outside of my company. Fortunately my disruptive colleagues have no clue who my industry peers are.

    4. Lillie Lane*

      Thanks everybody! I was in a really low place and your comments made me feel better. For the record, I have been job hunting :)

    5. Jessa*

      I have known bosses like that. Document, and just know that it will come back to get them sooner or later someone will notice.

  2. ProcReg*

    I once had a boss so clueless, I went behind him to fix his errors in our spreadsheets, then he blamed me for poor performance before I got the chance to finish fixing his mistakes.

    I’ve just now recovered with a new full time job. Bosses absolutely effect careers, and they’re clueless.

  3. Erik*

    This is a great list – keeping your word is probably the most important item. If people can’t trust you, forget it. Game over.

    I can relate with #8 – that was my blind spot. I’ve learned to maintain my composure, even if someone genuinely deserved a lead pipe upside the head.

  4. Annie Onymous*

    #3 is particularly interesting when you work in a place where your boss and coworkers spend most of their time on the Internet. I’ve asked for extra work, been praised for showing initiative, and then told there is no extra work. I can’t wear headphones so taking classes online is a challenge. I can’t read books in view of the public eye. And the other day my boss said it would be great if our new part-timer was hired full time.
    Yeah, we need another person sitting around here updating their Facebook status.

  5. ChristineSW*

    Great list – I love #1 in particular. I’ve always tried to make a point to greet everyone–even the regular janitor at one past job–graciously. A little bit goes a long way in making others feel welcome.

    I’d like to add a 9th item: Show self-confidence. This, to me, can be a delicate balancing act and one that I’ve struggled with. You don’t want to come across like you don’t think you’re capable; yet, you also don’t want to come across like a know-it-all.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think self confidence comes from knowing yourself. I started by making a short list of things that I consistently do well and I am comfortable doing.
      (We automatically make a list of what we do poorly, so I am skipping that step here.)
      Look for opportunities, meaning projects/issues, where these type of skills are needed. Then volunteer or ask to help. Even if you only help for a very short time and then go back to your regular work.

      What is different here is focusing on the positives about yourself. Low self confidence is about spending too much time thinking about what you cannot do. No one can do everything well. But everyone has something that they do well. Figure out what you do well. For me, that started when I realized my stomach did not knot up when doing something things. Why? In part because I understood the work and I could inch through it to find an answer.
      Also, I had to make myself actually hear compliments. Compliments clue us into what other people think we do well with. It’s easy to blow by compliments. But make yourself listen and absorb what people are saying. People are telling you where your strengths are. If three people tell me I am good at X, I have to rethink my usual thought of “I am never good at X.”

      1. Chinook*

        Self confidence comes from knowing yourself and, I believe, being aware of the power of those around you to affect you. I know my stress leve went down and confidence went up when I realized how little power that TPTB have over me (I will explain more in a minute). That didn’t mean that I slacked off on AAM’s points 1-8 but, instead, it gave me the courage to take risks and fake being self-confident once I realized what I was really risking.

        What can TPTB do if I screw up at work in an office?
        – fire me
        – put me on a PIP
        – deny me future raises
        – if I am professional licenesed, report me to the licensing board
        – assign me to a job so mind numbing that I quit rather than have to count pieces of paper again

        What can’t they do (based on real consequences from DH’s and my job history)?
        – fine me
        – physically hurt me (whether with a punch ar by throwing coffee at me)
        – confine me to the worksite 24-7 as group punishment (even on the day I elope with boss’s knowledge – gotta love the military)
        – give me 5 day’s notice to move to the other side of the country
        – make me scrub anything with a toothbrush
        – polish the top of a shoe polish can until the label is rubbed off and it is shiny
        – refuse to call me by my given name

        This can also work when speaking publicly. What is the worst that can happen in a professional setting? See the above list. In most settings (except for the most toxic), the following would also never happen (based on my teaching experiences):
        – no one will stand up, point fingers and laugh or say derogatory things to my face
        – no one will start beating up the person next to them out of bordeom/stress/bottled up anger during the presentation

        Sure, bad things can happen when you take risks, but being able to label them and acknowledge how likely they are can go a long way in allow you to do anything with confidence.

        P.S. Yes, I did lvoe teaching and would go back to it in a heartbeat with those exact same risks.

  6. ThursdaysGeek*

    That’s a great list, but how does it result in better pay?

    Once you’re at a job, you’re pretty much stuck with the pay and small raises they might provide, no matter how much you’re considered a great employee. Unless, of course, you have one of those mythical bosses who are willing to fight to get you a good pay increase. I’ve had a boss who believed upper management that the maxium raises possible were 5% (back when the economy was great) and he got that for me; now that the economy is poor, I’m not happy, but somewhat resigned to be earning the same as I was about 15 years ago, because at least I have a job. It’s a job I’ll need to stay in for at least a year or two more, so that I’m not a job hopper.

    Still, I do have and want to continue to have a great reputation, and this list is good advice. It’s just a good thing that a repuation is worth more than money.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It (often) results in better pay in one of the following ways:

      1. You get better raises at your current company, if your company does merit raises and has any sense.

      2. You’re a stronger candidate when you apply for other jobs and thus are in a better position to negotiate.

  7. Hooptie*

    Alison – here’s my favorite:

    Anticipate the Need

    People will think you can do magic if you can master this.

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