Thursday, April 23, 2009

Is Credibility on the Job Becoming More Rare?

I know a lot of people are afraid to tell the truth right now. They're afraid if they don't "embellish" their credentials they won't get the job. They're worried if they say what they really think at work they'll alienate colleagues and be accused of not being a team player. They're concerned that in order to be interesting in today's hyper 24/7 world, they need to be something they're not.

It's a weird sort of phenomenon: At a time when we use "transparency" and "authenticity" with abandon, some of us seem to be moving further and further away from it. It's as if these buzzwords have killed the simple art of telling the truth.

I hear from employers every day who say that one of the things they are most concerned about with job applicants is that these people are who they say they are -- that they actually believe the views they espouse and they have the skills they claim.

At the same time, employers worry that current employees may be hurting the company's credibility if they're not behaving in a trustworthy way with clients and customers. They fear they are one Twitter away from having their reputation trashed by some employee's bad behavior or judgment.

I think one of the solutions may be that we all go back to basics. We need to remember that what we say and do has power -- the power to destroy our credibility or the power to establish it.

Let's consider some ways to stay on the up-and-up:

* Don't exaggerate. Cable television and the Internet have certainly increased the rhetoric regarding certain subjects, but sometimes it descends to the cesspool level. Don't try to "one up" yourself or the competition with words or ideas that belong in a soap opera. If you worked on an award-winning project as part of a team, then it's fine to say so. But don't stretch the truth by saying that you headed the project or did it all by yourself. It's easy to verify your role, and once you're caught in a lie, it will be difficult not to be labeled as an exaggerator -- or worse. Keep in mind that once you're known to over-dramatize the truth or cry wolf too many times, others may simply give you an eye roll and ignore anything you have to say in the future.

* Follow through. We've all said, "I'll call you" and then forget. If that happens, say so. But don't say "I'll call you" and then have no intention of doing so. Don't offer to help with a project, and then not respond to an e-mail requesting that help. It's important not to make promises you can't keep. These days, I think everyone understands, "I'd like to, but my plate is really full right now." Or, "I just don't think this is a good fit for me right now, but I appreciate you thinking of me." It's humiliating to be the person who has to keep trying to chase you down for an answer as if you're the Queen of England and we're trying to get an audience.

* Give respect to get respect. If you're known as a gossip, as someone who is unkind, self-centered or grumpy, don't expect anyone to value your input. Your attitude is likely to be delivered back to you in the form of disrespect and a lack of trust. Your credibility is shot, and in your career, that's a critical element for success.

* Don't rush. If you're new to a job or position, it may take you time to gain credibility among your peers or customers. But if you try and push yourself on others too fast, it can backfire because they may mistrust your motives. Credibility isn't something you can make happen. You will have to earn it through your consistent actions and words. If you make a mistake, admit it and move on. In fact, messing up sometimes may gain you more credibility because you're seen as human and more likely to be understanding of another person's mistakes.

Finally, look at your credibility as your responsibility. If you don't work to establish it in a real and honest way, it won't be able to withstand tough times. Building it with care will be something that will pay off in your career for a long time.

What are some ways you build your credibility?


Anonymous said...

Hi Anita,

Oh boy, what a sore subject! Here's the simple concept I live by: "Under-promise and under-deliver". I've been known to directly tell my managers that this is my philosophy. Wonder if they hear...

GREAT blog!


Anita said...

I think I'm a bit confused by your comment and hope you can clarify. Are you saying that you try to "under-promise" in order not to set expectations too high? And that by "under-delivering" you don't damage credibility? Would appreciate if you could expand on this so I can understand!

Anonymous said...

Hi Anita,

DUH. Sorry. Long day today. :( I meant "under-promise and OVER-deliver". I attempt to dazzle them at every turn. The expectations of me are very, very high, but I still like to pull out a little surprise now and then...

Sorry for the misquote.


Anita said...

Aha! Now I get it. That makes MUCH more sense! Thanks for clarifying. Love the idea of pulling out a little surprise now and then -- who doesn't love nice surprises?