I was in a meeting the other day in a private but open office space. One woman was having a moderately loud conversation at her desk that was carried through most of the office, openly dicussing her dissatisfaction with all of her clients. She’s an independent contractor of some sort, and I’m not entirely sure what she does – it involves a computer, that’s all I know. I was slightly taken back by her lack of professionalism, but I didn’t think much of it.
As I was leaving the office I picked up a postcard for an upcoming event the company was hosting which sounded interesting, and somewhat related to what I do with assisting folks in entrepreneurial career transition. I learned that the person hosting the event was actually the same Chatty Cathy from earlier. Always in my business mindset, I started thinking, “Well if she’s into the same types of events that I am, she’s either a great person to know from a partnership standpoint, or a potential competitor.” And I wanted to know which one, so I sat down and Googled her.
Unexpectedly, my friend’s company popped up at the top of the search results list. Curious about the connection, I shot off a quick email to said friend detailing my gritty detective work.
“Hey – weird thing just happened. I was Googling this woman I just met, Jane Smith, and your company popped up. Is this the chick you were telling me about a few weeks ago? She sounded kind of familiar. Anyway, just thought it was a funny coincidence. -D”
I promptly got an email back explaining how terrible the woman was to work with, how she skipped out on her contract and a variety of other professional faux-pas that almost led to a full-on legal pursuit. Whoa Nelly! All of this information from a 10-second Google inquiry? I had barely said hello to the woman and already her reputation was completely tarnished as far as myself and my network goes, which the more I thought about, the more I found equally interesting and unfortunate. How could she have known that I was buddy-buddy with her former client? She couldn’t have… and that’s exactly the point.
You never know who knows whom, in the room, on the train or within earshot of you. And the same goes for social media. Whether you’re building and promoting your brand as a job seeker or as a small business, remember that it’s a small world out there when it comes to the business landscape. You may think, “that makes no sense – there are literally millions of professionals out there…”, and you’re correct – but how many of them are in your industry, in your geographic market? When you break it down that way, the network shrinks exponentially, and suddenly it’s possibly for everybody to know everybody.
There are 114,016 Creative Director profiles on LinkedIN across the US. Narrow that down to within 10 miles of New York City and the number drops to less than a tenth of that. And how about ones that work in companies that cater to my hypothetical dream job of working in publishing? 300. So don’t think for a second if I criticize someone within that circle, or make an inappropriate comment via LinkedIN or Twitter, that it doesn’t have potential to spread and tarnish my reputation. Think: how many times have you noticed an impromptu mutual connection with someone on LinkedIN (or Facebook) that you never suspected?
Particularly in small business, reputation is everything. Because people read reviews, viral marketing occurs through word of mouth, and people want to buy products and services not from business entities, but from people – the people behind those business entities that they like and trust. The same goes for job seekers, because if you’re the type of person known to stir the pot, have a bad attitude, or be difficult to get along with in the workplace, you can be sure as hell no one is going to be pushing to invest in having you on their team. Culture fit is just as important in a hiring decision as the technical qualifications needed to do the job, and neither one is exclusive of the other. You need to be a great fit in both categories to qualify as the ideal candidate for the job.
Arnold Worldwide put it best on their website: “We hire people we would want to have a beer with.” And if I could sum up the moral of this laughable-but-important little lesson, I would leave you with 5 key ideas to keep in mind when it comes to networking, branding and simply maintaining your professional reputation:
- Remember that reputation is key. People hire and do business with people they like and respect.
- As an entrepreneur or a job seeker your brand IS your identity, and if your persona speaks negatively, your brand will as well.
- Anyone who has made a name for themselves in their industry, knows everybody else in that industry and therefore has influence.
- Culture fit is just as important in a hiring decision as the tangible qualifications themselves. Be someone they want to have around.
- There is no excuse for disrespecting a client who pays you for your services. And if there is, then they shouldn’t be your client because you don’t want to work with them.