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Career Hacker: Fix your professional brand

June 09, 2014

Have you ever felt like you were working hard and acing your job … but not getting anywhere? Your professional brand—or collection of skills and personality traits you’re known for—might be to blame. Sometimes you can do almost everything perfectly but let a few small personality quirks get in the way of your next promotion. To fix your professional image, try asking yourself a few questions. 

1. What do people think of you? To find out how your coworkers perceive you, follow the steps in last week’s Career Hacker post, Want a promotion? Find out what people think of you.  

2. What do you need your professional brand to be? This depends on what you want to do next. If you’re gunning for CIO, you’ll want to be known as a leader who understands your organization’s big picture. If you’re looking for a developer spot, you might wish to cultivate an image as someone with top-notch problem-solving abilities. 

3. What can you realistically achieve? You can’t make a 180-degree personality transformation; you need to reach for more realistic goals. If you’re a perfectionist, you’re not going to cultivate an image as a relaxed coworker. And if you hate working in a team, don't even think about faking a collaborative spirit.

First, own your faults. Perhaps you’re prone to being disorganized. Accept that you probably always will be. While you shouldn't give up on trying to improve your organizational skills, accepting that you’re disorganized allows you to compensate for this trait. It also gives you the freedom to ask coworkers for help. That might mean requesting people to remind you when you forget to respond to emails, or insisting that people put meetings in your calendar instead of inviting you verbally. Don’t use your weaknesses as an excuse for inconsiderate behavior, but also don’t squander too much energy attempting to change a trait you were born with.

Here's what you should work on:

  • Enhance your top skills. If you’re the person who knows a lot about open source software or keeps up with identity and access management trends, embrace that and take it further. Seek additional training and find time to stay abreast of new research. Offer to serve on committees or advise on projects that require specialized knowledge. Mentor others in these areas. Become known for an area of expertise, and your company may reward you with promotions and high-profile assignments.
  • Be consistent. To cultivate a reputation as someone who remains calm under pressure or who can be counted on to give clear-headed, nonjudgmental advice, you have to consistently demonstrate those traits. If you’re great 75 percent of the time but slack the other 25, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Once you figure out what traits you’d like to be known for, remember to always display them. 
  • Advertise your gifts. As much as you should accept your weaknesses, you should also own your strengths. In fact, speaking publicly about your weaknesses lays the groundwork for talking about your strengths without seeming like a tool. If you know your Java skills are top-notch, or that you really get technical writing, you shouldn’t be afraid to say so. Offering to tutor people or to step in when others’ projects are faltering are opportunities to advertise your assets. Harsh but true: excessive modesty has earned no one a promotion, ever. So get out there and take charge of your brand!
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