11/29/2012 06:36 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2013

Be a Person With a Reputation

Make a good name for yourself and don't leave home without it.

In our mother's generation, all a woman had to worry about was whether she was perceived as "a nice girl" or a "bad" girl. Back in the day, a "reputation" meant something exceedingly nasty, and was to be vigorously avoided. Today, though, if you don't have a reputation, you're going nowhere fast -- and nothing is easy.

These days, if you live and breathe, you have a reputation for something. Now the way I see it, you have a choice. Either you gear your actions and behavior to control what people think and say about you, or you take your chances, let people brand you as they will, accurately or not. Alternatively, as many do, you can let people you encounter out there in the world think a whole bunch of random nothings that adds up to a hodgepodge I like to call a "Mashed Tofu Reputation"-- lumpy and unmemorable.

Honey, your reputation is your most important career asset, bar none. A good reputation will get you U-P, a bad reputation will get you O-U-T and you may never get back I-N--anywhere.

There Are Some Things That Money Can't Buy...

Here's what we want you to do: think about your reputation as your credit rating.

When you are young and broke, you're not to likely spend much time pondering your credit report; you're not running out to buy any big-ticket items, you're just trying to make ends meet. You can get credit -- even before you establish any history -- simply because Visa, MasterCard and all the rest want your business and are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

It's the same deal when you get those first few jobs. Whether or not someone referred you, you are an unknown entity and are being given a shot to prove you were worth the risk she took in hiring you.

You must remember, however, that while it's insanely easy to get into huge trouble with credit cards in only a few months, it can take years to get out of debt. It can compromise your ability to purchase the things you truly want when you want them later, and hangs around over your head for years after you've long forgotten what you purchased to get yourself so deep the hole to begin with, as in: "What ever DID happen to those $300 lavender cowboy boots, anyway?

Your reputation works exactly the same way. The more you conscientiously do things to establish good credit in those first few jobs, the stronger your "Professional Reputation Credit Rating" and the more confident you will be that you have a decent idea about what people are out there saying about you. The more debt you rack up -- intentionally or unintentionally -- the longer it will take to undo it, and you will be perceived as a bad risk if a prospective employer decides to "ask around."

Finally, if you never bother to establish a reputation credit history in the first place, and the day comes that you to want that big chance, few will want to take that risk: "Her resume says she's been in the industry for ten years. But if she's really as great as her credentials, how come I'VE never heard of her? N-E-X-T!

Everyone has detractors. We're pretty sure even Mother Theresa had her critics. And, God knows, I have sure had mine. There are plenty of people out there who we are relatively certain have gobs of unpleasant things to say about me -- some of it reasonably accurate, because being human, I've made my fair share of blunders, and some of it patently false, because anyone who receives a degree of success or attention invariably suffers garden variety ill will -- just ask Martha Stewart. But for every one detractor out there, I figure we've got about 50 other professional people in many industries saying," Oh, I love her, she's the best."

Just like your credit report, your reputation is a numbers game. You can not please all of the people all of the time, but if you can favorably impress the majority of those you meet, your credit will be good "in all the places you want to be most."

What's in A Name?
It might seem like a stupid little detail, but every marketing person in the universe knows that you put your brand name out there not only in the bold type but also in the fine print. You must put your name on everything you do at work. Oprah didn't get to be Oprah by calling her show Clyde.

The more people hear and see your name, the quicker you can build a kick-ass Reputation.

Take the 30 SECONDS it takes to put your name on every paper you touch, as many times as is reasonably possible; in the $15 billion per year promotional products industry it's called imprinting, and it's effective as hell for building name recognition, which is why you'll see T-shirts, baseball caps and every other imaginable item emblazoned with corporate logos. Your name is your logo, baby, use it so others choose it.

Cover Me.
Put a nice crisp cover sheet on top of reports with a big headline for the title or topic followed by your name demurely on the bottom: submitted by Mary Oliver. This habit also can help prevent credit theft of your brilliant ideas and work. Use fax coversheets and cover letters for everything you send anywhere. Put your name, not just your company or department on each.

Name Me.
On Word documents, go to View, click on header/footer and put your name and the date on the file and it will show up neatly on every page, and while you are in there, Sugar, do everyone a favor and pop in the page numbers.

Sign Me.
On emails, use the Signature feature so every original email you send has your name, title, company, and contact information. Contacts will appreciate not having to dig out your card every time they want to find you.

Card Me.
Never say to anyone, "Um, my company doesn't give business cards to people on my level." If you don't have a business card, go to a local printer and get something classy made up with your home address, phone and cell phone. Need a title? Try "consultant." They're inexpensive and worth every penny. Don't leave home without them, all it takes is one card in the right hands to ROCK your world.

Take Credit: It Pays to Be Discovered
You may think that hard work is its own reward, and so it is, but if you want actual recognition for it, then you'll have to do some more hard work to reap the rewards. Just like the special awards offered by credit card companies, be they frequent flyer miles or shopping points, you have to do the legwork to redeem them. Yes, sister, we have arrived at the ever-dreaded topic of self-promotion.

Conventional marketing wisdom dictates that people are seven times as likely to repeat something negative as positive. So our rule of thumb is you need to put seven times as much positive stuff out there in the world as any negative stuff that might be floating around if you want to build a fabulous reputation for yourself. And you can promote yourself without coming off like an obnoxious blowhard. Here's the drill:

1. Chat.
Tell people in a non-braggy, but enthusiastic way what you are up to. Be POSITIVE. Like this: "I'm working on the most interesting project at the moment with Ms Uppity Upper, we are conducting an entire inventory and creating a new database... the technology is incredible and I'm learning a ton!"

Note the "we." People will use your name when relaying the information to Others, as in "Emily was telling me about the new inventory system...", but because you said "we," your listener won't think you are clobbering him with your self-promotion club, plus you are associating yourself with Ms Uppity and her Reputation for, say, always working with the Best and Brightest.

2. Compound Interest.
Every once in a while, drop a short friendly email to lots of people with whom you have some personal relationship -- even a tenuous one -- and tell them what you are up to. Constantly give people in your life good reasons to talk about you by keeping them updated. Potential topics include special projects you are involved with that you think might be interesting the recipient, professional development courses, travel plans, promotions, life changes (moving is always a good reason to reach out and touch someone) and the like.

3. Make PR Pals.
Make friends with people in public relations. Invite one out to lunch and offer to be her contact person in your division. Ask her if there is anything you can do to help the PR effort. If your PR people take a shine to you, they will give you the heads up on juicy office activities and talk you up with the execs, plus they are out there in the world more than most of us, and will mention your fabulousness out there, too. If your office doesn't do PR, take a quick class and volunteer to do it; it could be your next big promotion!

4. Press and Release.
Learn how to write a press release (go to the public relations section for instruction). There's a template in most word processing programs. It's not that hard. So if you have a new job, won an award, landed a big client, write a quick press release and send it to your Alumni magazine. Go to and find the little dinky newspapers in your area (free ones get read too), and send a release about yourself! They will print it -- local papers are always looking for free, well-written space fillers, um, er, we mean stories These articles will appear without a byline, so it doesn't look like self-promotion. Being known in your local community should never be underestimated, you have a natural and important loyalty connection with your neighbors and it can open doors you wouldn't even think to knock on.

5. Be the Media.
Either make friends with the person who does your company newsletter -- or suggest that you start one yourself. It will give you access to members of the company that you normally have no business with and give you opportunities to promote activities in your own division and support your boss and colleagues in a terrific Backscratching sort of way. See public relations for an article on how to put together a newsletter.

6. Designate yourself the awards person.
The world is full of prizes ripe for the picking. It's a huge pain in the ass to gather the information and package an entry for any business awards, but your company will usually foot the bill (entrance fee) if you do the legwork. Even if it's not your work that you're submitting, you get credit for making it happen -- but only IF you win, otherwise nobody cares. Go to your industry website and look for the awards tab. Join professional organizations -- they have loads of award programs. Even rinky-dink awards count -- enter for anything and everything. Uppities love to report that they are a "winner," and you, Dear, can make their dreams come true.

7. Your friends are your best assets.
Tell your great friends to brag about you and brag to your good friends. They won't take it the wrong way. Your friend, of course, will then tell everyone she knows because she likes you, looks out for you and your success makes her look good by association.

8. Surround yourself with positive people.
Negative people spread negative stuff that other people DO listen to. Cut off your Evil Network of Negativity at the knees by limiting exposure to toxic people in your life -- even if they happen to be closely related to you.

9. Find a mentor (or as I call her/him a rabbi).
A Mentor is an Uppity Upper in or outside of your company that you ask, formally or informally, to guide you along your career path. Most of our own mentors were informal arrangements, but boy, we learned a ton, and those people STILL have nice things to say about us -- as far as we know. Mentors are increasingly common in offices across the country. Figure out what it is you need or want to learn about to get you to the next level, and simply ask the person in your office you think best suited to teach you if they will be willing to give you an hour a week to help you reach your goal. WARNING: once someone is your mentor, you always have to treat her like a mentor. Even if you get more Uppity Upper than them someday, you still need to be very deferential, because yes, you OWE them.

10. Say nice things about your boss to everyone.
It WILL get back to her. Usually, the boss will return the favor, unless she hates your guts -- which still works, because that fact will get back to you faster than you can say "exit strategy."

11. Get it in writing. If someone -- a client, a vendor, anyone but your mom -- says something positive about your work, ask them for this tiny favor: "If it's not too much trouble, I would love it if you could jot me a quick note to keep in my annual review file!" Then you can walk around the office saying how nice it was that Mr. Client/Vendor/Anyone-but-your-Mom took the time to write this swell note to you. No, dear. This is not a move of desperation. If you truly gave someone good service, good enough for them to comment on, 99% of the time they will be delighted to return the favor with a note, plus you are complimenting them: you are saying that their opinion is influential. Come on, who of us doesn't like to hear that?