Matters to a Degree

It takes years to build a good professional reputation, but only seconds to destroy it.

Regardless of what type of psychology career you plan to have, what people hear and think about you--even before they have met you--matters. A good reputation is not something that is achieved overnight; it is the product of consistent behavior over time. It is earned.

Clearly, having a good reputation brings many opportunities. You are highly recommended for jobs. You are invited to participate on esteemed research teams. You are introduced to others who can help advance your career. You are liked. In short, people want to help and be associated with those who have good reputations.

However, one major mistake can significantly damage your reputation, lead to missed opportunities and make it difficult to restore others' confidence in you.

Why am I writing about something that seems so obvious? Because I have seen excellent students suffer after making some poor, often uncharacteristic decisions--usually when they are tired and feeling overburdened or unsupported (a common occurrence among graduate students). These mistakes are damaging: Students can spend considerable time working to repair their reputation or rebuild relationships when their efforts could be directed elsewhere.

Here are some areas to pay attention to in order to avoid common reputation-damaging pitfalls:


Overpromising, overextending, overestimating and overdoing does not allow you to be responsive to others, live a balanced life, take care of yourself or develop a positive and healthy professional identity. The opportunities for students to contribute professionally are tremendous, making it difficult to pass up chances that you think may only come around once. But selecting your activities and opportunities carefully is one of the most important skills to master as a graduate student. Saying "no" and respectfully declining enticing opportunities will serve you much better than taking on a project, then quitting and letting people down once you are involved.


Because psychology is a diverse field, opinions will differ and debate will occur. I have seen many discussions, particularly those over electronic mail and listservs, go south when people are passionate about their position on a topic and unwilling to consider or even acknowledge another perspective. You never know who is lurking on a listserv. Even though they may never post a message, important contacts could be forming impressions about you as a result of your tone, language, assertions or assaults.


Genuine people are credible. Credibility breeds trust. And trustworthy people are loyal. A credible person is an expert due to his or her experience, qualifications, intelligence and skill set. Someone who is trustworthy is honest, fair, unselfish and caring. Loyal people are valued because they are faithful to a cause, ideal, custom or institution. The possession of these characteristics will enhance your reputation, while omissions of the same are noticed and detrimental.


Highlighting the credibility of your sources of information, as well as other people, enhances your integrity. After all, nobody is successful without the assist-ance of others. It is important to acknowledge those who have had a part in your development and achievements. Reputable professionals understand that they never lose credit when they share the glory of their accomplishments with those who have helped them along the way.

In the end, a solid reputation cannot save you from your worst blunders, but it can buy you understanding and enough time to respond properly so that others know that your mistake was out of the ordinary.