Improving Your Professional Image!

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson

As a career and life coach my job often involves coaching clients on many issues that signal their degree of professionalism. Although that is not why my clients initially come to me, I coach them on the difference it makes in how they come across in professional encounters with others, which can often give them an edge. This list is compiled from the behaviors I see in few of my own clients, which I show them how to correct and why. By no means this list is exhaustive, but is typical of the most commonly encountered telltale signs of behavior that can come across as less than professional—or even rude. The end result is how you’ll suffer from your own lack of professional finesse:

1. Leaving Voicemails: The most important part of your voicemail is the callback phone number and your message. So, first announce who you are (Full name, not just, This is Jim) and your phone number. This should be followed by a brief message, which will result in that recipient calling you back, ending the call again with your phone number. The reason for the “callback number sandwich” is that the recipient is writing down your number, while listening to your message, and often cannot write down that fast enough. Also, with the ubiquitous mobile phones your message can be garbled. So, leaving your number in the beginning and again at the end will show your professionalism.
2. Follow-up email: There is nothing more professional than sending an email immediately after leaving that person a voicemail. Most people do emails throughout the day—even on the move, but check their voicemails less frequently in comparison. So, sending an email (when possible) right after a voicemail can assure a faster response to you, in addition.
3. Voicemail Greetings: Nothing telegraphs your laziness or indifference more than when the canned voicemail greeting on your phone line is a robotic telephone number that comes after a few rings (job seekers beware!). So, here are two tips to watch out for: First, Make sure that no more than THREE rings will trigger you greetings, so you are not imposing on the caller’s time and patience; Second, have a short pleasant greeting in YOUR own voice. With the ubiquity of mobile devices most people call when they are on the move—driving, walking to their next meeting, rushing to catch their train—and when they hear a greeting with a robotic number they have no idea if that is number they dialed. If you fear being stalked, leave out your name, but assure the caller with your own voice. Nothing is more assuring than hearing the person by name when they reach their phone, but their voice can also work better than a canned message with just the numbers.
4. Introduction Requests: Most people do not appreciate that an introduction to a person who can help you in your mission is a favor you are asking someone close to that person. So, when making an introduction request make sure that you phrase that request appropriately without sounding peremptory. Remember, too, that the recipient is going to see your original request since most such requests are just forwarded to the person you want with their own few words to preface them. In making such requests make sure that your request makes its worthwhile for the person you are seeking to respond back to you with alacrity.
5. Connection Requests: This happens on LinkedIn more than anywhere else, but is equally applicable in similar situations. I get many connection requests daily. Those that merely say, I want to connect with you to increase my own network without stating why I should connect with them, I routinely ignore. But those who clearly state the reason and refer to something I have done (my recent talk, blog by title, YouTube video, etc.) and how it helped them in their life, get prompt acceptance.
6. Keeping your word: Nothing displays your commitment to professionalism when you honor your word. This means doing what you say and saying what you are going to do. People often casually say things like, I’ll call you next week or let’s meet for coffee sometime next week, etc. The tone in which it is said gives them the license to duck out of it and not be bothered by ducking out. Professional people do not make casual statements that they do not intend to keep and when they make them they honor them. So, next time you make a commitment to do something—especially to your own family or kids—make sure you remember what you said and honor them.
7. Being on time: To me this is the SAME as keeping your word. People often excuse their tardiness by blaming traffic, an accident, or weather, among other things. With all the resources available (GPS, digital routing, ETA) there is just no excuse for tardiness. First, if you are delayed on the road call the person and warn them of your delay. Second, apologize after arriving late, even after first calling for late arrival.
8. Thank-you messages: With the etiquette of proper thank yous getting more and more rare those who practice this stand out. If you ask someone for a favor (an introduction, a meeting to benefit you, or anything that requires them to act on your behalf) you must show your gratitude. There are various ways of doing this and any one of these or the right combination of them will work magic. In the order of increasing impact they are: An email of thanks; a well-crafted note with specifics of how that person’s help benefited you in an email; a Mailed Thank-you note, hand-written; a phone call of gratitude; and, finally, something that is more public if appropriate (Facebook posting, or LinkedIn Recommendation).
9. Recognition: Everywhere around us there are people working hard to make our lives better. At our place of work if you see someone—anyone—doing an exceptional job it takes very little on your part to acknowledge their great work. A simple email to their boss with a copy to that person changes that person’s view of the world, making them feel worthy of the work they put in. Letting their boss know of what you think of their work will not only make their day, it will also give you visibility in the right circles, which may also benefit you.
10. Grammar and Diction: In today’s harried world of tweets and soundbites most people write without caring for the words they choose or how they are spelled or put together. It is especially egregious in business emails when the writer does not use proper language or take the trouble to ensure that the message sent is clear and actionable. Learn how to write clearly, concisely, and compellingly. The art of writing well is getting increasingly more rare. So, if you write well, especially in emails and tweets you will stand out.

Building a professional brand to stand out does not take ONE big thing done once, but it is collection of many small things, some of which are listed in this blog, done repeatedly—as a habit—to differentiate yourself. Try embracing one of these at a time and see the cumulative difference it makes in not only how people see you, but also how they respond to you!

Good luck!

Begin the journey to your new career today.