Professional Reputation: When do you start building it?

Reputation is something that many younger people seem to take for granted. They don’t seem to understand that by not following through on commitments they are negatively impacting their reputation.  Part of this is a lack of understanding of time management and priority management. Not understanding that reputation is earned and not a given.  

Many people in the workforce take specialized training on how to create their boundaries, manage time, priorities and expectations. But is there a better time to learn these skills before entering the workforce?

Yes, there absolutely is.

The best time to learn these skills and build your reputation and integrity is while you are in school. As you move through your academic career, and treat it as a career, you gain skills and a network that can follow you throughout your money making career.  The people you are in classes with could one day be your colleagues or even your manager.  If they remember you for “flaking” on a group project it will negatively impact your reputation and even influence if you obtain the job they were offering.

To take this a step further, how you act when in your academic career can spill over into your professional career.  Habits, ways of speaking, interacting and even your visual presentation can speak volumes about your reputation and your integrity.  If you are habitually late in school that can and likely will spill over into being late in the money earning career, which isn’t acceptable to employers and frankly, isn’t really acceptable during your academic career either.

Now that I have made you think a bit about how your are presenting yourself let’s get to some tips on how to ensure you are building the right kind of reputation.

  1. Understand your limits.

Knowing how much you can take on and still properly function is learned.  However, if you take some time and reflect on your schedules growing up you will start to see when you functioned well and when you struggled.

Struggles consist of times where you felt overwhelmed, fought with your parents or siblings about what needed to be done, or even felt like you had no control of say in what was going on.  Likely these are the times when you have reached your limit.  Needing control, having things a particular way at particular times is our way of managing our limits.  Each one of us had a different tipping point, different triggers to when you feel like life is out of control.

Knowing your practical limits, not your imagined ones, is extremely important to ensuring that you are presenting yourself in the best light and are able to meet expectations, deadlines and complete tasks.

2. Learn how to say “No”.

The ability to say no to a request from a manager, colleague or friend doesn’t negatively impact your reputation unless you are doing that for every request.  There are also ways of saying “No” that aren’t harsh or will make the other person feel rejected.  Again these are learned, and we truly have to learn them and feel okay with them.

Having someone say “No” to you can and usually does carry a negative feeling.  I believe that this comes from all of the times you were likely told “No” as a child and if there were disappointed feelings associated with these instances.  Many of us don’t like to create these feelings, which leads to saying “Yes” too often and to things that aren’t really within our scope of work.

Christine Carter has a wonderful article published in the Greater Good Magazine from UC Berkley that lists “21 Ways to Give a Good No”.  The article contains practical responses to a number of different scenarios.  I use a number of these daily.

3. Learn time management and strategies to protect your time

Knowing how to effectively manage your time is an essential to having a good reputation.  This goes beyond knowing how much you can do in a day, but also consists of knowing how long it will take you to complete a particular task or group of tasks.

There are many different ways to manage time and set priorities.  Many people use lists, time certain events, and stick to a plan each day. However, in high impact or fast moving jobs this may not always be possible. Blocking out time to focus on certain tasks, turning off email notifications and other things that are distractions can help get tasks done.

Being able to be consistent is important. Consistently getting the work done in a timely manner positively impacts your professional image. Continually asking for extensions, only shows you haven’t learned how to manage your work and impacts you negatively. Asking for the occasional extension is not a negative thing, but shows you know when you are needing more time.

Managing your time goes along with prioritizing what needs to be done.

4. Prioritize

Being able to understand what is most important to get done each day is again something that you will learn and may be different for each job. Being able to prioritize requires the understanding of deadlines, how long a task will take and where you are mentally at in your own thinking process.

Asking questions of those who are working with you on projects the help you determine the level of priority is also important. “When does this need to be done by? Do you need this today? How much time do I have with this project?” Are all good questions that help you to determine the level of priority.

Clarifying when someone says they need something today is also important. If you are providing information for someone for a report that’s due you might need to push priorities around to be able to meet the deadline. Confirming if you are able to meet their expectations is critical to ensuring that your professional integrity is maintained. If you aren’t able to meet the deadline say so, but also provide a reasonable time frame to get the information.

5. Take responsibility for yourself

All of this comes back to you. If you make a mistake, aren’t able to meet a deadline or don’t understand what is being asked it is up to you to clarify. Taking ownership of your abilities, time and confirming your understanding strengthens your profession image and integrity.

Mistakes aren’t the end of the world, but you must own them and be part of the solution. Being able to see where mistakes could happen and mitigating them before they do is a great way to improve your image within the organization. However, this is only related to you. Pointing out someone else’s errors or potential errors will only make you look petty and be seen as bullying or harassment.

As you go through your career, from education through employment, remember the strategies you learn and find ways to implement them in your daily life. You likely don’t go to the grocery store without at least a small list. Why would you tackle your career without a set of tools and plan. Everything that we learn prepares us to be successful in some way, even if it’s learning how to pick ourselves up and start over.

You never know when you will run into a friend of a friend, old school buddy or someone who knows of you. Your professional reputation starts early, and can be impacted by things you never considered, especially in this age of social media. Which is a whole different topic.


Published by Sabrina J. Adams (Syryn TheVoice)

I have many different hats that I wear. Throughout my life I have been many different things: a small business owner, problem solver, mother, friend, sister, writer, designer, employee, manager, consultant, gamer, leader and many more buzz words that I can't think of. Many of these I still do, but some I have let go to focus more on the here and now. I like to share my experiences, ideas and funny things I run across. Ask me something and I will provide an honest and likely unfiltered opinion. I am still learning about life, myself, relationships, parenting and well everything else. I am not superwoman and don't really have my life together, but I manage and am willing to share my tips and learnings. Writing for me can be cathartic and sharing makes us not feel so alone in this crazy, mess of a world we currently inhabit.

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