Your Reputation Precedes You
We’d like to think that we are analytical when it comes to choosing people to work with.
We’d like to think that we de-identify the resumè, and assess people on their merits.
We’d like to think that when other people hear about us, they get a fair version of the truth.
Interestingly, in every conversation I hear about recruitment – be it for a job, a project, a guest speaker or a brand ambassador, the conversation always starts the same way.
The speaker says the person’s name, then makes a statement about their character.
Not their qualification, but about their reputation.
“So Jess Fakename, she’s so lovely, we’re thinking of bringing her in for the next event”
“Michael Pseudonym, total flog, has put his name forward for the role”
We put so much time into crafting a CV, yet it says just a fraction about who we are.
We look at job listings or position descriptions about roles, but they rarely mention the culture of the organisation.
That doesn’t mean that they’re not discussed – people instead call referees to get the real story, or employees go on glassdoor.com to see what life in the organisation is like.
Jeff Bezos described a brand as “what people say about you when you’re not in the room”
Or as Maya Angelou said:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”
How much would you like to know about what people say about you?
This goes for specialists and service providers too.
A lot of people speak to me about our accelerator program because they’ve heard good things from past participants.
This is a biased sample of course, the one who hear negative things will probably not make contact with us at all.
I bet you do the same thing with restaurants, movies, cafes, dentists, mechanics, music teachers, accountants, etc.
Not because you want specifics, just to know if they have a trustworthy reputation.
I think it’s why services like Uber, Airbnb and Zomato work – we trust the aggregated stars as an instant reputation.
Who cares about the make and model of the car when the driver holds a 4.8 rating?
There may have been a few 1-star ratings in there for whatever reason, but over time the truth shines through.
This emphasis on character and reputation can have serious impacts on your career.
With so much of our lives documented online, it’s easier than ever for people to become instant experts on you and your qualities.
LinkedIn tells them which friends you have in common, Instagram tells you what their life looks like, Google tells them about your past appearances in the media, and Facebook tells them if you’re racist.
The reader of all this forms an answer to one single question:
Do I want to spend time with this person?
If the answer is yes, they will look for ways to bring you into their world.
If the answer is no, then it becomes very hard for your talents and skills to overcome that initial judgement.
That’s because our mind tends to form an opinion, based in emotion, and then uses data to support that snap judgement.
With the amount of information that’s freely available, your brain’s confirmation bias (picking the evidence that supports it’s suspicion) is able to create a narrative that suits their feelings.
On the flip side, this is also the basis of second chances.
If you’ve broken the law or had a public failure, and are still considered to be likeable, you have a good shot at being given a second chance.
Look at the number of celebrities and athletes with awful skeletons in their closets.
As time goes by, people forget the negatives and instead focus on your strengths.
This is the power of recency bias and social proof.
If you’re able to eventually build an audience, produce good work and have people speak highly of you, it will go a long way towards painting over the past.
There are still plenty of talented jerks out there, but these aren’t people who are unlikeable.
Instead they’re polarising – likeable to their very specific audience, and they know how to keep them happy.
In fact, their notoriety may even help their image.
By contrast, unlikeable people who fall out of positions of power tend to find it hard to re-establish themselves.
People always talk about the benefits of networking, but they often overlook the important caveat.
Networking is meaningless if you come across as being rude
e.g. looking over their shoulder, not listening, bragging or being perceived as bigoted.
In fact, you’re probably making life harder for yourself.
Networking only has benefit if you’re making a good impression – either to create a reputation or to support a reputation.
Most people who are reading this will have a different job in five years’ time.
If you’re under 30, it will probably be in a different industry.
The work you produce is probably secondary to the habits you form and the reputation you build.
As Whitney Cummings said:
“Most likely, the problem won’t be around in a year, but my reputation of how I dealt with it will”