A bad reputation can cost you jobs and promotions. You need to find out what people really think — before it's too late.
- Having a reputation for being hard to work with for any reason can limit new opportunities.
- That's why, experts say, you need to get a clear-eyed handle on how you're perceived.
You probably have some idea what other people think about you, but you can never really know everything.
That's a blessing to your self-esteem — no one needs a catalog of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. And yet, when it comes to advancement in the workplace, not knowing how others perceive you is a disadvantage.
Having a reputation for being difficult to work with for any reason — you talk too much, you have a tendency toward flakiness, or you're sometimes kind of a bully — can cost you new jobs, promotions, or other opportunities. Even a whiff of toxicity can send employers fleeing.
"Employers can't afford to have a cancer in the organization that will drive people out the door," said Scott Nostaja, a senior vice president at Segal, an HR consultancy.
In fact, that's already happening. Millions of people continue to quit their jobs every month— often in response to a toxic culture — leaving employers scrambling to fill 1o.3 million open roles. In their desperation to hire, but feeling burned by recent quits, many companies are turning to reputation as the deciding factor.
If you're in the market for a new job or promotion, experts say, getting clear what your colleagues and bosses think of you might matter now more than ever.
You have a rep to protect
Tessa West, a psychology professor at New York University and author of the book, "Jerks at Work," says social-media platforms like LinkedIn are making reputation a more relevant factor in hiring.
The aphorism, "It's not what you know but who you know," has never been more apt, she said. Recruiters are increasingly relying on "LinkedIn network nodes" to source and learn about potential job candidates.
"And because people tend to remember and encode negative information much more than positive, a bad reputation follows you around," West said. "That's why your behavior from six years ago can affect your job prospects six months from now."
That applies equally to your existing colleagues as well as hiring managers you've yet to meet.
"In this tough employment market, it would be easy for recruiters to overlook a candidate's behavioral challenges because they need to fill jobs," Nostaja said. "But there's an increased recognition among recruiters that a bad hire can have a significantly negative impact on the workplace culture and, post-pandemic, workers are voting with their feet."
It doesn't matter how high-performing you are, either, if others don't want to work with you, Nostaja said.
Gillian Williams, a partner and founder of the recruiting agency Monday Talent, knows this well.
Earlier this year, Williams was looking to fill a senior role for a global public-relations firm. Her top candidate went through five rounds of interviews, including one with the company's president, who adored her. The PR firm told Williams it was ready to extend an offer.
A few days later, though, Williams received a cryptic email saying the firm had had second thoughts.
She eventually learned the company pulled the offer because someone at the agency knew the candidate from a past job and felt she did not have a "strong enough personality" and was "more of an individual contributor than a leader."
"You never know how far someone's network extends or whether someone from your past will one day end up at an organization you want to join," Williams said. "Their opinion could make all the difference in whether you get the job."
Learn what your colleagues really think
So how do you find out what other people really think of you? You ask them — strategically.
Nariah Broadus, a career and leadership coach who works mainly with midcareer professionals, said to avoid the temptation to ask only your closest colleagues. They'll just sing your praises. Instead, go one or two levels deeper into your network.
"The people who you aren't super close to, but with whom you regularly interact, are in a better position to share because it's not as big a personal or professional risk for them to tell you what they think," Broadus said.
Moreover, she said, they likely have a lot of valuable intel. "They have direct observations, and they've also heard stuff about you."
Not all requests for feedback are created equal.
"Going to all your former colleagues and asking them what they did and didn't like about you is like going to your exes and asking, 'What did I do wrong?'" NYU's West said.
She advises asking for "extremely specific" feedback.
Don't ask: Am I good to work with? But instead: When I am in a meeting, do other people have a chance to be heard? How would you describe my style and approach? If you have hesitations about my leadership abilities, what might those be?
"Frame the behaviors around how others perceive you," she said.
If you're too shy to outright ask for feedback from former colleagues, Broadus suggested soliciting them through an anonymous survey. She advised using standard 360 review questions and creating an online survey. (Survey Monkey or Google Forms are good options.)
"Say to them, 'I'm thinking about what's next for me personally and professionally, and I'd appreciate your candid assessment,'" she said. "Asking this way shows a certain vulnerability. And you can always offer to do the same for them."
This story originally published on March 22, 2022.
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