Executive Centre

The linkages between Image, Credibility & success in a professional career

Recently, the author came across an incident which was so avoidable for the afflicted individual- a Yale student, an aspiring Investment banker, was the center of jokes in corporate America for months together. His was an episode worthy of mention for the simplest mistakes can cause the gravest of blunders as far as image goes. The embarrassment becomes too strong for a makeover then.

The student sent a video resume entitled "Impossible is Nothing" to an American financial institution. In his video, the student shows off his varied skills: lifting a 495-pound weight, ballroom dancing, serving tennis ball at 140 miles an hour, and, as a dramatic conclusion, breaking seven bricks with a karate chop. Within hours, this video spread like fire thanks to forwarded messages being sent from one mail box to the other, thus turning the student into one of the biggest jokes in corporate America.  The video quickly traveled to blog sites, mail chains, causing irreparable damage to the image of this person. This e-embarrassment has been career damaging with little opportunity to self correct in the short to medium term.

Every executive has an image which helps build his/her reputation & credibility. These are strengthened by stimuli a person emits to the outside world; an accidental message is ignored but if repeatedly sent, reflects the person’s credibility. It is our image & the interlinked reputation which drives success or lack of it. Once people form an expectation about you, their opinion about you are then driven by that perception. One’s image can be a major factor in success; conversely, a poorly managed image can result in the person missing out on opportunities. 

Credibility is the most important factor deciding the career trajectory of any senior professional. Along with professional competency, this is one facet of a professional’s existence which takes years to shape up & is thus, equally hard to change in the short run. Credibility is a judgment made by a person concerning the believability of the individual and it is a quality that is constantly changing. Credibility can be high and low & can change with time, or somebody else’s opinion. 

In our professional life, credibility is not just restricted to closing a deal or doing business- to effectively influence co-workers & peers, to effectively change people’s thinking or atleast win them to your way of thinking, etc.  How can you prove to clients that you are the expert they should be doing business with? Similar is the question- How can you prove to the potential employer that you are best suited person to be hired? Good job performance is expected. Good performance is an attribute that can be viewed as “context,” where everyone qualified for the job may exhibit that same context. So what is the core competency you exhibit which is different from the others? If you ask yourself what is important to the clients you have, and the clients you wish to attract? Your answer would be expertise, trust & credibility. The employer also does not seek anything different- while expertise is not hard to find, credibility is.  

In India, it has not been hard to find professionals with immense credibility in any particular discipline, but is increasingly getting so; the demand for senior professionals in India will continue to be high, employers are going to actively look for candidates with greater frequency than candidates looking for employers. Most companies are fairly sophisticated in their selection and have become cynical of hiring individuals who are highly competent but lack credibility, despite all the exaggerated and unsubstantiated hype being thrown by them. You could be the greatest performer your company would have seen, possess the quickest thinking amongst your colleagues, employ the cleverest strategies & may have mastered all the art in your business, but if you are not seen as someone who is credible, there is no way you will be the first choice for any employer.

Hence, it is important to proactively and continuously build professional credibility, visibility, personality, and an independent professional style to cultivate & nurture one’s personal brand. This strategy is one of the most important components of an effective career management strategy.
Another important factor distinguishing one executive from the other is the ability to think creatively & be authentic. An individual can always ‘play’ with ‘collective wisdom’ but this certainly does not aid credibility. If you are creative & your creativity yields results, this surely adds up to your credibility. Creativity is something which cannot be taught or acquired. It is instinctive. However, a large part of it can be developed. Once developed, ‘breakthrough’ ideas could emerge from the individual for any situation. All this aids his reputation, builds credibility & hence success.

On ‘collective wisdom’, nothing kills a candidate\'s chances for a job faster than a perceived lack of authenticity which leads to a lack of credibility. If one were to prepare any candidate for an interview, the first thing to be recommend is to concentrate on highlighting success stories out of the career background one would narrate. It should come out in the form of problems faced on the job, the actions taken to fix the problems, and the quantifiable results of one’s actions. By looking for trends within those stories, by grouping experiences into categories based on story theme, one not only appears to be authentic, this aspect effectively demonstrates your competencies as a leader, decision maker, creative problem solver, collaborative business partner, or anything else that is an integral part of your personal brand. All of this ultimately adding up to instantly highlighted credibility & hence trust.

There are other important tools which help- Publishing articles, being quoted or being subject of articles in magazines and newspapers, interviewed on television etc. The media recognizing a professional confers instant expert status and creates credibility which is way beyond imagination. Repeatedly being positioned in the media surely results in more people knowing you than you know them. Membership in professional associations is another important means of establishing credibility, as it shows that you are committed to your profession. 

Credibility combined with experience and credential is transferable & transportable; Together, they can be combined to release significant complementarities & create synergies in business & career.