Work on your personal brand and next time, you might not be underestimated
Updated March 2021
In a workshop for early career professionals, we discussed the topic of perception and how people treat you, based on how they see you. The concern from the group of mostly young women was that sometimes they may be overlooked, not heard, or seen as the ‘Girl Friday’ (I cringe at the term, and the antiquated concept behind it!)… instead of being seen as the knowledgeable professionals they are already becoming.
This particular group reported that it was not so much a matter of being underestimated by their managers, but by outside stakeholders such as clients they are dealing with. The feeling in the group was that this was often based on youth, gender identification, ethnicity and even hair colour.
In my varied career path over the last 20 years I have certainly felt overlooked or underestimated many times. I remember feeling this acutely on the very first day of my career as a classroom teacher. My class filed in after that first bell, and along with them, a parent who promptly asked me, ‘How old are you?’
And fair enough. At 21, I really did look like a baby. But although I was just starting out as a teacher, I’d already had more experience than most people realised and more confidence than they expected! I’d done a 4 year, full-time, heavily practical degree, for which I received High Distinctions all the way through. I had worked in various children-related jobs to get me through my student days, including a babysitting service, various childcare centres, and a children’s party centre, where I was frequently left alone with high-level responsibilities in education and care. I did volunteer work in schools because I wanted extra experience. And I was the eldest of four children, and had grown up helping my mum with the little ones.
By the time I was unleashed onto the teaching profession, I was more than ready. I knew deep down that I could do an amazing job and bring new creative solutions to my work, and a tonne of energy. Pretty soon, my confidence and abilities became clear to those around me, and I gained all the parents’ and staff members’ respect and trust. That was despite breaking the industrial-sized photocopier in my first week on the job, failing to turn up to car park duty after school because I didn’t know there was a roster, and telling the principal to ‘cut it short’ in a staff meeting because I thought that was my job as the minute-taker!
In the business world, however, you don’t always have the daily opportunity to prove yourself, as I did each day in the classroom. Sometimes you have only a short timeframe to make a great first impression, or you only have a small part to play in a meeting. Yet your boss wants you to demonstrate why you were chosen – your abilities to contribute information and insight to help solve the client’s problem.
How will you ensure the client turns to you for advice, not just for a cup of coffee?
Read on below for tips to stop being underestimated…