Credibility Matters: Advice for Aspiring Leaders

Credibility is important, possibly one of the most important things a professional must possess to grow in their career and be successful. True credibility can’t be bought and nobody should feel they are entitled to it. It has to be earned and it requires self-awareness, hard work, time and patience. Once earned, credibility cannot be taken for granted as it can be lost, damaged or enhanced by our actions every single day. Credibility should matter to everyone, regardless of their age or station in life, but this newest blog post in the Simplify series is written specifically for college students and new business professionals interested in growing their careers and making a positive mark in the business world.

One of the first things to understand about credibility is that your perception of your own credibility is likely not always the same as the perception of those around you. Like it or not, you are being quietly scrutinized by those who have a significant say in you getting the internship, first job, next job or promotion at work. This is the hard truth: you are being evaluated from the very first encounter on a host of areas that may have nothing to do with your resume, educational background or current work experience. During interviews or networking conversations, decision-makers in the business world are gauging your likability, integrity, values, professionalism, ability to do a great job, how you will mesh with the team, how you will fit into the company culture, etc. Their willingness to help you, advocate for you, hire you or promote you is based on the credibility you show through characteristics that you exhibit in your personal and professional life. If you have perceived credibility, this reduces their risk and builds trust in your capabilities.

How do we show up as credible?

I am fortunate in my professional and personal life to engage with college students and new professionals on a frequent basis. As I work with these aspiring leaders, I often share these 10 helpful and proven tips for making a good first impression and showing up as credible:

  1. Be Courteous, Respectful, Punctual and Grateful. These are table stakes and fundamental. A huge part of being considered credible during a first professional encounter is showing basic courtesy, respect, punctuality and gratitude. Always being on time, saying please, thank you, sir, ma’am and sending hand-written thank you notes after meetings are concepts that never go out of style and always enhance credibility.
  2. Be Responsive. When communicating with anyone, especially in the business world, being responsive in a timely manner is very important. I strongly encourage use of the 24-hour rule in all communication responses. Waiting any longer to respond signals lack of interest and creates a bad impression with professionals on the other end. Also, make sure all communications, especially via email, are professionally written and free of grammatical errors.
  3. Follow Through. Always, always, always do what you say you will do and never make excuses. Honor your commitments. If you say you will get back to someone tomorrow, then do it. If you say you will take care of a task or assume ownership of something, then do it. Lack of follow through and excuse-making is a red alert signal that perhaps you cannot be depended on and negatively impacts your credibility.
  4. Be Sincere and Vulnerable. True credibility comes from a place of sincerity and can’t be faked. Be real and don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. For example, admitting that you don’t know the answer to a question or sharing that you are sometimes uncomfortable with networking can help you gain credibility with more senior leaders.
  5. Always Do the Right Thing. Always live with integrity. Live by your values, principles and a code of ethics in all areas of your life. Be honest and accountable for your actions in all situations. This is hopefully core to who you are and nobody should ever be afraid of sacrificing a little professional success for the knowledge that they consistently did the right thing. The most credible leaders I know lead with their values front and center.
  6. Cultivate a Professional Image. In the age of virtual meetings, we all may have gotten a little relaxed in our dress code/image. When you are a student or new professional looking to establish yourself as credible, go the other direction. Always dress professionally and be well groomed. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a tie or nice dress to every encounter, but avoid jeans, t-shirts or anything else that indicates you are less than professional. Also, is your resume professionally done? Do you avoid sounding inappropriately familiar at the beginning of a new professional relationship? Do you avoid slang and inappropriate language? First impressions really do matter.
  7. Be Careful with Your Online Presence. In today’s polarized and politically charged world, be cautious about what you post online. Companies often research your online footprint and an inappropriate meme or an angry comment can negatively impact your credibility, career growth and even employability in a way that is easily avoidable.
  8. Tell Your Story Well. Every personal work experience, volunteer activity, participation on a sports team, travel experience and college course is part of your compelling personal story, regardless of your age. This is also true of where you grew up, adversity you may have faced and successes you have achieved. How well you weave these pieces of your story together and share them with others is a key part of being seen as credible and relatable to others.
  9. Do Consistently Good Work. It should go without saying that our work should speak for itself. Let your consistent hard work and excellent results do your talking for you. This is a foundational part of professional credibility and all new professionals have the same opportunity to shine.
  10. Volunteer, But Do Not Overcommit. Ask for the difficult tasks and the jobs nobody else wants. Endure longer hours to finish the tough projects. Volunteering can and should also mean spending time in the community supporting great causes. All of this enhances credibility, but…be careful to not overcommit yourself. Use good judgment and don’t overextend yourself to the point your day job suffers.

How do we seek help with credibility from others?  

Personal credibility is a worthy goal for all of us, but it is not a journey we have to travel alone. I have greatly benefited from the help and wise counsel of more senior leaders, friends and family in my career who have played helpful roles as I strove to be more credible over the years. Here are three important ways we can enlist the help of others:

  • Ask for Candid Feedback. Are you credible? Consistently go to people in your life who will be brutally honest with you. Give them permission to tell you what they really think and ask if you come across as credible. Get their specific guidance on what you can do to improve. This courageous practice can help you grow and stay on track.
  • Seek Out Mentors and Advocates. I benefited a great deal from helpful mentors early in my career who taught me through their personal examples how to authentically grow in credibility and I will always be grateful to these amazing men and women. I also encountered advocates along the way who went to bat for me regarding new jobs, promotions and other career opportunities. I had to earn their trust and advocacy through diligence, hard work and results, but these key leaders made connections for me and helped open doors that may have taken much longer to open on my own. Helpful Tip: When someone does something like this for you, they are taking a chance and putting their own credibility at risk. Go to great lengths to honor their kind act and never do anything to make them regret it.
  • Build a Strong Network of Relationships. Your goal over time is to build a deep and diverse network of trusted professionals/colleagues who will provide you with ongoing mentoring, advice and candid feedback as you progress at your job and in your career.  Always seek to associate with other professionals who are credible. The key is to work hard at getting to know as many people as you can on a more personal level. These contacts and connections can be critical mentors, sounding boards for your ideas and potential advocates for you and your work throughout the organization. Demonstrate to them your motivation, commitment, and relevant expertise, and when possible, find ways you can be of service to them and help them with their work.

I wrote this post out of a sincere desire to help and support college students and new professionals who may not be hearing enough of this candid advice in school or the workplace. I promise you that what I have shared comes from three decades of experience and I know these ideas and approaches actually work. I hope it is obvious to more senior leaders who are reading this post, that you and I have to be mindful of our credibility as well. We can never take it for granted and much of the advice in this post also applies to us. I also hope we will actively engage with this next generation of leaders and advise them on this important concept of credibility and most importantly, give them great role models to follow.













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