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“Your reputation precedes you”: The importance of reputation

A reputation, an image, is something extremely hard to build. The reason is because you’re building trust.

But there’s something slightly different between the normal trust you build with a person and a reputation. A reputation is the trust that you build with society. As you continuously behave in one way, people (society) come to expect that same behavior from you in the future. There is a trust that is formed here, a trust that you will behave the same way.

A reputation helps you build trust even before you meet people

It’s hard to build trust with an individual, it’s hard to make them think you’re a nice guy. But it’s very easy to shatter that trust and make them think you’re dishonest. In the same way, a reputation takes a lot of hard work to build and maintain. But it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because it’s a shortcut to that ever important personal trust we talked about a minute ago. It gives a foundation for that trust to be built upon.

Why does this work?

Social proof

No matter what we say about being unique individuals, we will still naturally trust society. Guess what happens when everyone buys product A instead of product B? We naturally tend to believe that product A is better. When everyone is talking to one person over another? We naturally tend to believe that first person is better.

Now, what if everyone around you only says the nicest thing about this new guy you’ve never talked to? What would you think about him without having ever met him? This stranger’s reputation will count for a lot in how you perceive him.

This phenomenon has a simple enough name. It’s called social proof. When society has already “told” you that this guy is nice and fun and worth talking to, that “proof” is good enough for you to instantly judge him as trustworthy.

Imagine walking into a restaurant and seeing everyone smiling and waving hello at this one guy. Instant social proof. The person that everyone else likes must be a person with high social status right? He’s gotta be someone you can trust… right?

Your reputation online

In the old days, when you met a person and wanted to know more about him, you’d ask people. You’d ask your friends, what kind of person is he? Is he nice? Trustworthy? If you wanted to hire him at your workplace, you’d call his references and again ask the same things. The fact is, your degree and academics are only a small part of you. A more important part of you is how you behave with people.

Nowadays, we don’t just ask other people. In fact, in today’s world of “internet-everywhere”, it’s not even the first thing we think of when trying to find information. One of the first steps that anyone will do is google the person’s name. Now, don’t deny it, you’ve done it too. So then, here’s the question: If they google YOUR name, what would come up?

Your reputation can make or break you. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the internet is now part of that reputation. You’ll have potential employers googling you, current employers facebooking you and colleagues or clients checking online to see who you are and what you are worth.

So what do you do when you know someone is looking you up on google? There are 2 solutions to this:

  1. Have no reputation at all.
  2. Have a bad reputation. (Not a good idea)
  3. Make sure the reputation you have is a good one.

Having no reputation

Having no reputation is exactly how it sounds. Delete yourself, put facebook, twitter and your google profile on full privacy, never post your phone number or home address or email address. Make sure that you’re invisible. It helps if your name is common or is similar to a celebrity’s name. That way, the internet will always show them first and your name can hide safely on page 67 of a google search.

There are definitely some benefits to not having a reputation. It means that you can ensure your privacy and that if you ever screw up, then nobody will really notice.

But it also means you lose out on the instant trust you get using social proof. That’s why I believe that the better way is to build your own reputation and ensure that it’s a good one.

Because having a bad reputation is definitely not a smart move.

Having a bad reputation (not a good idea)

When something goes on the internet, it never truly disappears.

You might have heard this before. Well, that’s because it’s true. It’s true for the following reasons:

  1. Google will cache pages.
  2.  There’s a site called the Internet Wayback Machine that saves every single webpage since 1996.
  3. If you put up a picture that might be embarrassing, somebody might also have downloaded that picture.
  4. The website you posted on might not allow you to delete whatever it is you posted.

Bottom line: Once something goes on the internet, there’s a good chance that you CANNOT take it back down again.

So what you should first do is to never post anything remotely damaging online. You lose control of it. And you lose control in a space where any potential employee can find out everything about you in 5 minutes using the internet.

But what if you already did the idiotic move and posted something embarrassing?

When you post online, you lose control of that information

This is when you take the next step and tailor your online reputation.

Tailoring your online reputation

That’s right. You tailor your CV to make it look good right? What’s wrong with doing the same for your online presence?

Tailoring your reputation follows the same rules as tailoring a resume. You should never lie about yourself. However, there are always personal things that you want to keep private. So what should you do?

  • Make a website for yourself with your name on it. At least that way, you can choose what events and pictures show up on that website. Put up all your awesome achievements in here.
  • Don’t use your real name for playtime. Enjoy watching anime? Great. Use a pseudonym (fake name) when writing on the forums. Isn’t that the beauty of the Internet? Anonymity.
  • Ever done work that brings your name up on the internet? (Work that you can be proud of anyway). Then link to it on your website. Show off the awesome side of you.
  • If your hobbies or work on the internet can look professional or can help with your work, use your real name. It’ll link back to you, I promise.
  • Bury the embarrassing content to page 67. Use people’s natural laziness. Most people won’t go past page 7 of a google search. So you need to pile up all of your own chosen posts into the first 7 pages.

So… when do I use a pseudonym and when do I use my real name? If you pay attention to those tips, you’ll notice that the overall theme is to be open and loud when you’re doing things that look professional and can be mentioned proudly during an interview. If you would hesitate to mention it in an interview, it’s probably best to use a pseudonym.

By promoting content about yourself that’s relevant to your career, and demoting stuff that looks bad, you can tailor that online reputation. And trust me, it’s important to not have bad stuff online.

It’s natural to think that on your resume you would only include the best stuff about yourself. You have to carry this mindset wherever you go, including the internet. Once you think of the internet as one big resume for your future, it starts to make much more sense to never ever show any embarrassing photos or behaviour online.

If you would hesitate to mention it in an interview, it’s probably best to use a pseudonym.

Websites are pretty cheap anyway. In fact, in terms of financial cost, it’s free. There are free blogs on wordpress.com.

In terms of time cost, I’d say it only takes about 4 or 5 hours to build a “personal nameplate site” (you can google that term). Try Vizify, or About.me or any one of those new nameplate sites.

But what about offline?

Your reputation offline

Offline, your reputation would most easily spread through word of mouth. Every time you interact with people and every time you talk to someone, they walk away with an impression of you.

The image you show to others, whether offline or online, spreads. This is what people rely on to know who you are. You know how first impressions are important? Many times, the first impression happens not when you meet, but even before that. It happens before that when they hear about you from others for the first time. And that first impression is obviously based on the reputation that you spread.

So it’s ALWAYS important to show respect to everyone you meet. That will definitely be part of your reputation.

Personal branding

It’s not just companies that can make their brands stand out. It’s probably a good idea to start building your own personal brand as well.

It’s especially important I think, because a lot of the people from my generation like to jump jobs. A year here, another 2 years somewhere else. Instead of being defined by a single company, they jump around, experiencing more workplaces. But if you’re not defining yourself using the company brand, you’ll have to define yourself using something else. You’ll have to make your personal brand stronger if you want any presence.

A lot of you are moving away from introducing yourself as a “Microsoft engineer” (defining self using the company brand) for example, and instead moving towards saying that you’re “a computer engineer who works for Microsoft and is interested in Big Data & reforming education” (defining self using passions as well as work).

Conclusion

So, the shortcut to lay a foundation of trust with people is to start building a good a great reputation. It’s simply done by always showing respect, and by trying your best to limit stupidity where everyone can see it (online).

Think about the internet as one big resume, whether for work or future potential relationships, and you’ll start to be a little more careful what you put up online.

Now go and build your reputation.

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