Create Your Own Credible and Authentic Professional Image

Have you been letting others dictate your career progress, or are you taking ownership of your own development? As a subcategory of your career development, have you started thinking about your personal branding?

Instead of getting too wrapped up in day-to-day details and stress, it is helpful to step back and evaluate the big picture of career progress and personal development. Either you can take ownership over your thoughts and behavior patterns, or you can let other people determine your path. Choose wisely.

Professor Lauren Morgan Roberts shared insights from her research on managing professional image in an interview with Mallory Stark. As with effective career development, Dr. Roberts points out that developing a desirable professional image is best undertaken strategically and proactively.

Dr. Roberts defines professional image as “the set of qualities and characteristics that represent perceptions of your competence and character as judged by your key constituents (i.e., clients, superiors, subordinates, colleagues).” She points out, “Research shows that the most favorably regarded traits are trustworthiness, caring, humility, and capability.”

Closely related to trustworthiness is reliability. Be a person that people can count on to deliver time and again, especially when the stakes are high and deadlines are tight.

Dr. Roberts gives insights related to closing the gap between your desired professional image and how others perceive you. Consider what you want people to say about you when you aren’t there, and compare this to the concerns you have regarding what people might think and say about you. Tune in to direct or indirect feedback about how others perceive your “competence, character, and commitment.”

According to Dr. Roberts, three factors can undermine your perceived professional image. First, making mistakes or having gaps in your skills and knowledge can create predicaments related to your professional image. Secondly, although not necessarily through any fault of your own, your identity with certain negatively stereotyped groups can create devaluation in how others perceive your professional image. Thirdly, if others perceive that you lack legitimacy, your professional image will be harmed.

To overcome these challenges, Dr. Roberts proposes these steps: “People manage impressions through their non-verbal behavior (appearance, demeanor), verbal cues (vocal pitch, tone, and rate of speech, grammar and diction, disclosures), and demonstrative acts (citizenship, job performance).”

However, when attempting to manage impressions, there is a risk of others perceiving your efforts as “deception, delusion, preoccupation, distraction, futility, and manipulation.”

This is where one of Dr. Roberts’ key insights comes in: “When you present yourself in a manner that is both true to self and valued and believed by others, impression management can yield a host of favorable outcomes for you, your team, and your organization.”

In other words, be authentic and credible. These attributes must be balanced since some people might need to downplay particular natural tendencies in order to meet professional expectations and be credible. At the same time, this should not be overdone at the expense of authenticity.

Dr. Roberts concludes with a list of action steps and provides this insight: “Be the author of your own identity. Take a strategic, proactive approach to managing your image.”

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