Monday, February 25, 2008

How am I perceived?

I read an article recently about whether you really are a strategist, and one line really jumped out at me:
If you are a strategist, then quit talking about it and do it.

This brought me back to a conversation I had with a senior woman in my profession that I wanted to share here. I've been having a lot of these discussions in the past couple months, trying to get a better handle on my career goals.

This one woman, who I've known for many years but with whom I haven't worked in more than five years, was illuminating about how others in my profession in town view me. She asked about my recent work, and seemed a bit surprised to learn about the senior level of work I've done in the last half decade. Of course, my career has advanced a great deal since last I worked with her, and my projects and clients bear that out. But in her mind, I was not necessarily at that senior level.

She suggested I conduct a "perception audit" -- find out what people think of me. It's a common tactic for public relations, to gain a benchmark of understanding of how the client is perceived by their target audiences, stakeholders etc. But I had never thought of applying it to myself. But when the lightbulb went on, I realized that perhaps I wasn't trying hard enough to project the career image of myself to others that I held in my own head. I've always looked young, and because I've been a freelancer for so many years, I haven't had job titles to build public perception of how my career has grown.

Then there's my physical image. I tend to be a casual person, and I am not a big one for dressing up if I don't have to. But my colleague made the point that it's not about suits and heels, but about how I carry myself and the confidence I project. And I think it's true that when I look more professional and senior (not in age, but in career responsibility), I act that way just a bit more. And that may improve how others view me.

If I want to find either a job or better freelance security, to make the money I think I deserve it will have to be 'senior' work. So it's important that people like her view me at that level. I'm going to do a bit more asking around on this topic when I do more of my 'career goals conversations' from here on out, and I've already begun to dress up for ordinary meetings, if only to boost my own self-confidence.

How would you go about doing a perception audit for yourself, or your own "brand"?

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