As you progress in your career, your success largely depends on your personal brand as a professional.
Everything you do contributes to this brand.
Early on, you are focused on learning, adding value, and developing as a professional. During this time, it’s essential that you avoid behaviors that have the potential to become brand-damaging habits. Curating these behaviors is difficult for a few reasons:
- These behaviors are subtle and are easily overlooked. Nevertheless, it’s better you notice them before your manager does.
- It’s impossible to fully control how you’re perceived. A well-intentioned gesture always has the chance to be taken the wrong way. In life, this is inevitable.
- While your personal brand is mostly in your control, its effectiveness depends heavily on your environment. The same you may be a great fit at a large corporation, but may fall flat at a start-up.
In this post, I share 5 mistakes that damage your personal brand as a young professional. Recognizing and avoiding these behaviors may save you a lot of time in your career.
5 Mistakes That Damage Your Personal Brand As A Young Professional
#1 — Optimizing The Individual Instead Of The Team
If you are working at a company, place the company first. This is a general attitude that lays the foundation for impactful behavior.
Do not repeatedly ask your boss for a checklist of activities to get you promoted; repeatedly ask your boss what’s the best thing you can do to ensure the team is successful. The latter strategy usually gets the promotion faster.
Place yourself in the shoes of a manager or CEO. What attitude would you prefer in an employee—individual-first or team-first?
You look out for yourself by looking out for the groups you’re apart of. If you’re able to internalize a team-player attitude and add value at the same time, it’s only natural for responsibility and compensation to follow.
#2 — Pushing Too Hard For Compensation / Promotion
Everyone must push for compensation. Money talks and people have responsibilities. Compensation will always be a critical factor with anything you pursue.
Raises and promotions are sensitive issues that must be dealt with tactfully. There is a time and place to discuss compensation—new job offers, performance review cycles, large changes in responsibility. Recognize these moments and take advantage of them.
When the time isn’t right, refrain from excessively pushing for compensation. If you’re unhappy with your performance scores and the subsequent raise you’ve received—how much time do you want to spend fighting for more money, or making a plan to increase your performance? Is your best move to switch employers? Perhaps—but what if this situation happens again?
Maintain goodwill and negotiate gracefully. Build a case and accumulate data to back yourself up. Do not resort to questionable tactics that modestly bump you in the short-term, but compromise you in the long-term.
#3 — Speak Ill Of The Company
Do not speak ill of the organization you work for.
Whether it’s over a casual lunch or a 1-1 with your team lead, bad-mouthing the company hurts your professional brand. You do not want to be known as the engineer who is constantly complaining. Having a discussion about the last all-hands meeting is one thing; labeling the company’s software as subpar compared to your previous employer is another thing.
Do not give off negative energy. People notice.
#4 — Being Defensive
Every day you will be tempted to be defensive. Your manager gives you feedback you don’t agree with, you receive a snide comment on a code review, a staff engineer makes a flippant remark about a technical design you’ve spent weeks thinking about. Whatever comes your way, humbly try to not be defensive.
Assume positive intent.
Even when someone else is rude, be courteous.
None of us have a perfect track record in this category; you just don’t want your default behavior to be defensiveness.
#5 — Visibly Moody At Work
Everyone has their lives to deal with.
Do not let your personal mood affect your professionalism. Being visibly grumpy and disengaged at work will be noticed—”Hey, Jerry seems to be in a funk this week. That meeting was a little awkward. What’s going on?“
Your energy should not affect others to the point it makes them uncomfortable. Work is work. As a professional, you are committed to being engaged and accountable. If something happens in your personal life that prevents this from happening (which is OK), acknowledge it quickly and take time off to rest and recover.
Mistakes are natural and unavoidable. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you make some, just be sure to learn something from them. Developing your personal brand is an active exercise. It includes both leaning into brand-building behavior and stepping away from brand-damaging behavior. You’ve worked for many years to develop this, don’t let a preventable mistake ruin it.