What Veterans Can Do When Their Reputation Is in Trouble

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(U.S. Army/Maj. Robert Fellingham)

As you exit the military to begin your civilian career, you'll likely take inventory of the exportable skills, transferrable talents and relevant experiences that might make you a viable candidate. Then you'll consider what kind of job you want and the compensation package you desire.

But have you considered your reputation? What if you learned that the way others perceive you could be more valuable than certifications or track record? Would it surprise you to hear that people perceiving you negatively could hurt your chances of landing your dream job?

What Is Reputation?

Reputation is how you're known and the beliefs others have of you. The people you interact with, those who've heard of you or people who find you online form beliefs about who you are, what you value and what you can offer. Then, based on those beliefs and what they perceive, they decide whether they want to get to know you and possibly hire or engage with you.

As you exit the military, your reputation may be primarily with fellow service members, leaders and civilians you interacted with as part of your job in uniform. Perhaps you joined platforms, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, where your reputation became accessible to people you've not directly been in contact with. As you move out of the military and into the private sector, managing the way others perceive you will -- and should -- become important.

Remember: Others decide whether to hire you, refer you, endorse and/or support you based on how they perceive you.

Reputation Challenges

There are many things that can impact your reputation negatively, including:

  • Mistakes or behavior that isn't deemed appropriate and causes others to feel uncomfortable
  • Posting something online that you later regret (because it was offensive, misunderstood or inappropriate)
  • Associating with people who have tarnished reputations (guilt by association)

And the list goes on. It's also troubling to hear, but you may find your reputation tarnished through no fault of your own: You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, were misunderstood (that can be a real problem for veterans who become characterized by myths and misperceptions about "all veterans") or were the subject of workplace mobbing, bullying and scapegoating.

When Your Reputation Needs Fixing:

In my new book, "Control the Narrative: The Executive's Guide to Building, Pivoting and Repairing Your Reputation," I offer several steps to repair reputation damage.

Step 1: Assess the Damage

"... Ask yourself if there's truth to what's unfolding. Is someone spreading rumors about you and your abilities? … Did you lose your cool with a peer in front of the company and someone filmed it? ... As best you can, evaluate what has happened, what potentially can come from it, and what impact (positive or negative) it can have on your career and reputation."

Step 2: Don't Ignore the Situation

"... Ignoring the situation can give others the time to create and build a narrative that works against you. While your strategy may include holding back for a bit, always be prepared to respond."

Step 3: Resist Taking Down All of Your Social Media

"...Your strategy for working through the situation will dictate how, when and where to remove yourself online, but remember that by doing this, you're removing any possibility someone learns a contrary view to what they've seen that's unflattering or hurtful."

Step 4: Separate Emotion from Fact

"... When you get emotional about the situation, you might react spontaneously, erratically and defensively, which means you are not acting with intention and clarity. Instead, surround yourself with a team ... who will help you maintain perspective, keep you calm and advise you on the options presenting themselves."

Step 5: Set Goals and Create Action Steps

"Fashion a plan to articulate where you are now, where you want to be and how you'll get there. ... Set a clear goal and then chart the steps you'll need to implement to achieve that goal."

You might need to apologize to someone, refrain from mentioning what happened or take accountability for your actions publicly. Each of these steps should be considered carefully.

A poor or tarnished reputation can be devastating to your personal and professional life. Instead of hoping things will resolve themselves, take control, recognize the issue and then resolve it.

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