Repairing Your Professional Reputation

In the past couple of weeks alone we have seen many a reputation tarnished: Columbus Short for alleged Image by Stuart Milesdomestic abuse was ousted from the popular series Scandal, Donald Sterling, the owner of the Clippers has been banned from the NBA for life due to racist remarks and, in what some might consider a lesser offense, New York Yankee Pitcher was suspended for 10 games for using pine tar to aid his grip. (It’s also a safe bet that Bieber did something to raise an eyebrow or two.) Hopefully you care more about your reputation than he does.

But what if you have made some mistakes? Maybe a happy hour with co-workers led to some poor judgment on your part when you had one drink too many. You stole someone else’s idea at work…and got busted. You’ve been a notorious gossip. You’ve been pulling a Costanza (for you non-Seinfeld fans, that’s looking busy at work when you’re not actually doing a darn thing) and your co-workers are on to you and threatening exposure. Are you stuck with your bad rep in your company or is it possible to bounce back?

Perhaps.

While some people’s choices have ended careers, others have been through the wringer and come out on the other side of it worse for wear but determined to rebuild themselves. After his admitted infidelity, Tiger Woods held the traditional “apology press conference” then had to get help and lay low for over a year before he was once again accepted, some might even say embraced, in the public eye. In 2009 Michael Phelps lost Kellogg’s sponsorship and had a 3 month suspension from USA Swimming after a picture of him using a water pipe surfaced. Phelps immediately owned his mistake and publicly apologized, calling his behavior inappropriate. As a result the negativity died quickly. He was hailed as a champion at the 2012 Olympics and has maintained that status judging from the excitement surrounding his comeback meet with Ryan Lochte mentioned on GMA just last week.

Apparently time really does heal wounds, but while some might be forgiven there are always going to be those who will continue to scrutinize them closely. Who wants to live like that, constantly dealing with doubters and defending your reputation? If you’ve suffered the consequences of disciplinary action or termination or your personal brand has taken a hit it’s time to make a change. You can still be a person any corporation would be proud to have on their team. The challenge is, if all you’ve known is deception and cheating it can be very difficult to get back on track without a major wake up call.

Start out the right way and you can rest assured you won’t have to battle your past. But on the off-chance you’re looking in your rear view mirror at some serious infractions here are a some tips to help you make a fresh start.

Acknowledge and apologize. If you have offended someone you are not going to get very far in winning them over without wiping the slate clean—but you must be sincere. You can’t make progress if you avoid talking about whatever it was that caused the divide in the first place. Take this opportunity to also tell the person you are trying to change. Then prove it through your actions.

Be an open book. Don’t do anything that might tempt you to lie later on. If you can’t talk about it, don’t do it. If questions are asked of you, unless the information is confidential, tell the truth. If it is confidential explain that, unfortunately, you can’t share the information because: you would betray a confidence, you’d be violating a policy or whatever the case may be. If there are no secrets to discover, over time that bad rep will begin to fade and your integrity will shine through.

Find an accountability partner. Choose someone you can trust and confide in. Share what happened to hurt your reputation, ask for advice and allow them to ask you questions going forward to keep you from being a repeat offender. Ask that person to be bold enough to pull you back if you head down the wrong path. Keep in mind this doesn’t have to be someone who works in the same company, but it will require honesty on your part.

Confess. If you’ve done something wrong it’s going to be discovered soon enough. I have much more empathy for candidates who own up to mistakes than those who try to explain them away, often blaming others. You must, however, be prepared for possible consequences.

Good deeds. Make good choices going forward and hopefully they will outshine the flubs you’ve made in the past.

Surround yourself with good people. Understand the people you’ve offended are not going to be eager to be in your presence initially because of the distance you’ve created or for the sake of their own reputation (you know the saying, birds of a feather flock together) so you might need to find people with integrity outside of your organization. Spend time with them, pick their brains and adopt their behavior and outlook. People will begin to take notice.

Make a fresh start. If you’ve tried to turn your reputation around for an extended period of time yet that deed keeps haunting you, it might be time for a new start. If you stick around too long you could stagnate your career. Yes, you were in the wrong, but if you’ve made a sincere attempt to get past it and it’s not working you need to be somewhere where the bad vibes no longer exist. This is not running away from the problem—unless you leave without ever taking ownership. Once you get that new opportunity make sure you embrace it and let the new you reign. Soon the old you will be a distant memory.

Take time to rebuild. If what you did resulted in a termination you might have to take a job below your skill set to prove yourself for a few years—yes years—depending on the severity of the matter. This will give future employers someone to reach out to ask about your work ethic, integrity and character.

When you implement these tips it will still take some time for others to believe you have really changed, so don’t give up too soon. Will NBA fans someday forgive Donald Sterling? Will Columbus Short recover quickly or fall off the radar for a few years like Isaiah Washington, also terminated from a Shonda Rhimes series years ago? (Last week’s cameo aside.) Only time will tell. Your future, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be a question mark. Start rebuilding your brand today.

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Don’t Give Up

Your #1 New Year’s resolution was Find a New Job. What you might be discovering is tons of people made that same resolution. And not just December grads. Many experienced people joined the January frenzy too.

You might not get the first job you pursue, but don’t be discouraged. Given the volume of applicants recruiters are receiving it might be more challenging and take more time before you get that coveted offer. If you are beginning to feel frustrated here are a few tips to keep in mind while you continue your search.

 Image by Stuart MilesDo some soul-searching

Be honest. Did you miss some offers due to your own errors?

Perhaps you came across as cocky instead of confident during the interview. Confidence is a wonderful attribute, however, overconfident body language and answers can be off-putting. This happened with a candidate who told one of our hiring managers, “When you call to offer me the job—and you will be calling me…”

This kind of attitude doesn’t make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. If the manager was rubbed the wrong way, how will customers and co-workers feel? If you want to convey you are the best person for the job simply reiterate your strengths.

“I think the leadership experience I gained as Vice-President of my sorority will be a real benefit to the Project Manager role. I’m looking forward to hearing from you regarding your decision.”

Did you walk into an interview without preparing? Maybe you went just for experience and the recruiter sensed that—despite the fact that you discovered mid-interview the job would be right up your alley. Even if you’re not excited about the opportunity when you apply, if you accept an interview take time to prepare and go with an open mind. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I applied for my company simply because it was in my home city where I planned to return after college. To my surprise, the person who interviewed me had such great things to say I was sold. I originally thought I’d stick around for 3 months then move on.

That was in 1994.

Have you been aiming too high? If you only have 1-2 years of experience (or maybe even less) and every opportunity you seek requires 5+ years, you are barking up the wrong tree. Commit to searching for entry-level jobs and you should see some doors begin to open. The same is true for more seasoned candidates. If you have a wealth of experience and your goal is to walk into a management role, cross entry-level opportunities off your list. They more than likely will not offer the compensation or responsibility you are seeking.

Remain Positive

Whether you are in the application stage or face-to-face interview stage, no one likes to hear the word no. When those no’s multiply over a few weeks, though it may tug at you hard, resist the woe-is-me mentality.

Do some things that make you feel good. Go to the gym, spend time with friends, participate in a sport or treat yourself to dinner or a movie—within your budget, of course. Give yourself permission to not think about your career search while you are out having fun.

If the negative thoughts come, replace them with good ones. 

Don’t lament because you got passed over. Again! Consider this: there is something out there that is a better fit for you. Had you gotten the other position(s) you would have missed out.

Years ago when my husband and I were looking at houses we found one we both liked and put in a bid. I was absolutely convinced it was the house—the perfect one for us. Imagine my disappointment when we didn’t get it. Then there was a second one I fell in love with. My husband, not so much. Yet I kept dreaming about that place. Finally we found yet another one that we both agreed on: open floor plan for him, attached garage for me and a bonus sun room. That was the one we got, and it is so much better than the others. Think about your job search in the same way. Even if the position seemed like the one that got away, keep believing something better is on the horizon.

Don’t cry reverse ageism. It’s the timeless dilemma: How can I get the experience required for the career I want if no one will give me a shot?  You are not totally devoid of experience. There are entry-level careers that only require the skills you were able to pick up at your high school and college jobs.

When my husband first began his career in IT no one was willing to give a young guy with no computer experience an opportunity. After a long search he was grateful to land a job in his field making less than minimum wage. He used that time to his advantage, learning as much as he could, proving himself and, slowly, other opportunities opened up. He eventually became a Senior Manager and a Director in his field. The moral of the story: don’t knock humble beginnings. Pay your dues and you will reap the benefits.

Don’t dwell on the interview that was an epic fail. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. Prep for the next time. Brush up on interviewing tips or sign up for a mock interview at your alma mater (Bonus tip: recruiters who conduct mock interviews are hoping to find some leads).

Bitter is not better. I’ve seen it dozens of times. You don’t get the offer and then you lash out. The problem is, when you become bitter it can show in your interviews. If you get a rejection notice and feel a need to respond, keep it professional.

“Thank you for reviewing my application. Should any other opportunities become available for which you feel I am qualified, please keep me in mind.” This is a message that could score some points with the interviewer, so she just might give you a call when another position becomes available.

On the other hand, “I’d like to know why I wasn’t considered for the job. I meet every single qualification listed!” more than likely will not elicit a reply. Even if it does, it won’t be, You’re correct. I made a mistake. Your demanding email indicates you’d bring unity and harmony to our team. The recruiter will not be inclined to keep you in mind for anything except an example of what not to do during the interview process. What grandma taught you still rings true: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Walk into every interview as if it’s the first

It might sound odd, but if you have a fresh mindset it will show. If you are replaying rejections in your head you could come across as desperate, defeated, or both. Remember this when you ask for the job, emphasis on ask, not plead.

Don’t rule out a part-time gig. Yes, student loans are around the corner, but a few months might allow you some time to find direction now that you don’t have fifteen things going on at once — classes and projects and meetings (oh my). Even if you begin your new career in April, you’d still beat the May/June grads and have a few months before you have to face the loans.

Remember, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it (Charles Swindoll), so choose wisely.

Make it a great day!