Professionalism is an art that challenges us to put forth our best public image and manifest our highest self-image. To be professional is to maintain a level of conduct that produces positive outcomes for all parties involved. This is how we build credibility.

When we think of professional development, often ideas of resumes, job applications and interviews come to mind, but the art is much deeper and more pervasive. From how we communicate through E-mail and text, phone calls to introducing ourselves to strangers at events, the general bearing we hold as we go about our daily activities speak of our level of professionalism.

On our quest to develop more of these skills, it is important for us to craft our personal message about the kind of value we offer.

Value in this setting means the way we amplify or enhance another person’s outcome. A client, customer or network connection experiences our value when we match our skills and abilities with a challenge they face and create solutions. One way to develop this type of value is to establish credibility.

Building Credibility

Credibility is a type of credit we accumulate regarding some area of competence. Like a credit card, we can acquire a particular credibility limit/rating and call upon it (spend it) when needed. We can also go into debt (lose credibility) by delivering under-performance (undervalue) that does not align with the reputation we’ve cultivated.

Example: As a project manager you become known for assembling powerful teams and completing projects two months ahead of schedule. Your last three projects finished double the budget and two months late. With each mishap of this sort, your credibility weakens as more people begin to associate you with a new reputation.

Even though it appears hip and in-style, today’s selfish-selfie culture is in opposition to building credibility of value enhancement.

Credibility develops from the reputation of consistently adding value to people’s lives. This philosophy warrants an outward-extended focus (Who else can genuinely benefit from my talents?) over a selfish focus (It’s all about how great I am, look at me.). We discover skills and capacities that we tend to enrich other’s lives with and apply them. The more we do this, the more influential we become by reputation and more people served.

Testimonials & Recommendations

This is critical especially if you’re just starting out as a professional. Testimonials are statements that describe a direct experience of working with you. It’s the quote or few lines that confirm the successful value you offered. They hold strength because they show you can take a client through the full value creation cycle: meeting, communication, problem assessment, problem solution and the long-term relationship.

Recommendations are more formal letters that tend to be longer than testimonials. People you work directly with or who know you usually give recommendations. They can enhance your portfolio and resume submissions. Save them as Word documents or PDF for future use.

How to Acquire Testimonials?

Follow this strategy especially if you’re just starting out: help people. Find 2 people to help this week and make a plan to help at least 2 people each week, each month. When you decide to help them (with your value), ask for a testimonial even if you’re being compensated. Capture that writing and save it to your computer or hard drive. You can then decide where to place them on your portfolio website. You can also add them to your resume, E-mail signature and cover letter or any document outgoing to other potential clients. By just helping 2 people per week, you accumulate 8 testimonials per month.

Let’s do the math.

8 helps per month = 8 testimonials per month x 12 months = 96 testimonials per year! If you remained disciplined and worked this strategy for 3 years you would have 288 testimonials.

How to Acquire Recommendations?

Provide top quality work. Remain aware that your work with another person is a reflection of your credibility. Focus on maximizing the value with each interaction, project and job and towards the end of the project cycle, you may ask for a letter of recommendation. This is part of the reason why it serves you to leave your job on positive terms, as all of the staff members you worked with can offer a recommendation on your behalf without your presence (the positive side of gossip).

When you ask for the letter, provide a direct timeline, “Can you write a letter of recommendation and support me for this next opportunity? If you can, I will need it by XZY date to meet the submission deadline.” The deadline will spark urgency and you can depart with your asset promptly.

The more people who can speak highly of your character and skills, the less you have to say about yourself, and the more credibility you can tap into for opportunities.

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