Having a great professional reputation can be its own reward: It's fulfilling to have people think highly of you. But beyond that, a great reputation can give you tangible payoffs, in the form of job offers, higher salaries, better project assignments and the security of knowing that you'll have somewhere to go when you're ready to move.
But what does it take to do that? Here are eight keys to assembling a reputation that will serve you well.
1. Show respect and kindness to everyone. It's one thing to be warm and polite to the head of the company; after all, most people manage to do that. But pay attention to how you treat others, too, such as the receptionist, the office temps and the guy who sells you hot dogs in the lobby. Make a point of treating everyone with respect and warmth, and others will notice.
2. Keep your word. Do what you say you're going to do, in whatever timeline you committed to – whether it's completing a project, getting back to someone about a question, giving feedback on a project or connecting someone to your contacts. People will learn that they can count on you and that your commitments are iron-clad.
3. Work hard. It sounds simple, but when you look around and see how many people kill work time on Facebook, or by texting throughout a meeting or taking one personal call after another, it becomes easier to see how truly working hard can make you stand out from people who don't. That doesn't mean you can't take three minutes to deal with personal email during the day, but it does mean that when you're at work, your time should be spent … you know, working.
4. Go beyond what's expected of you. People sometimes resist going above and beyond the basic requirements of their job, figuring that if they're not being compensated for it, they shouldn't do it. But when you regularly go beyond the minimum, you usually get rewarded for it in the long-term – either by your company or the next one you go to, and by the sort of enhanced reputation that will attract job offers, job security, higher pay, better assignments and more options overall.
5. Help others. One of the fastest ways to build a strong reputation is to help others out, without expecting anything in return for it. If you spot ways you could help colleagues or others in your network, offer to pitch in – whether it's assisting on a work project or helping a contact with her résumé. People who are generous with their time and assistance strengthen the bonds they have with others, and generally become known as valuable resources.
6. Be up-front about your biases. It's normal to have biases in the workplace; that's not a problem in and of itself. But if you hide those biases from your boss or others, you can harm or even destroy your credibility. For instance, if you criticize a colleague's ideas without acknowledging that you might be influenced in part by the additional work those ideas would create for you, you might look like you have a personal agenda. But if you acknowledge that reality before you explain your objections, your statements will have far more credibility – and so will you.
7. Welcome critical feedback – and even seek it out. People who are truly great at what they do generally want to know where they could be even better – they're not too insecure to hear where they have room for improvement. Asking for feedback shows you're confident in your work, but humble enough to want to improve … and it has the added benefit of helping you learn where you really could do better. And that's something you're far less likely to learn if you get upset or defensive when people try to give you input.
8. Always stay professional, even in the face of provocation. Don't blow up at an annoying colleague, vent to a client or walk off a job in anger. One slip like that can trump years of professional behavior.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.