de-risking yourself as a reputational risk

Over the last year or two, I’ve become aware of the fact that I generally don’t have much difficulty getting in touch with someone I want to talk to.

I’ve written about access being easier than you think and how I got onto one of my favorite podcasts just by asking. But I’m realizing it’s not as easy as just asking, and it’s not even just as easy as doing your homework and being unique in how you get in contact.

When you’re reaching out to someone (especially reaching out cold) you’re basically asking for a slice of their attention. Attention is a finite resource, and it’s becoming the most scarce and valuable resource on the planet (look at the value rewarded to effective advertising companies like Facebook).

And when you’re asking for someone’s attention, they run a short litmus test:

  1. Is this going to benefit me?
  2. Am I going to enjoy this?
  3. Does someone like me talk to someone like this?

The first two have always been fairly obvious — but there’s some nuance to the third point I didn’t realize until recently. Status roles play a huge part in whether or not someone gives you their attention — and it’s pretty much all bullshit.

What I mean by that is, we have our own perception of status for ourselves. We like to retain that status, prove or enforce that status, and reach for a higher status. Part of enforcing or improving our status comes from what we perceive the status of others to be when we interact with them.

And so, when you hit someone cold for the first time, they are running some checks to see if your status, along with the value they may receive from providing their attention, makes sense for someone like them.

If they think you’re lower status, and that someone like them doesn’t pay attention to someone like you, it’s because they are worried that you are a reputational risk. What would people think if they knew this is who I was spending my time with? 

But they do this by checking the title in your email signature, your linkedin profile, your website, your social media profiles…

Things that are all pretty much bullshit.

Regardless, they are also all things you can control and use to put your best foot forward. No one ever got a job because they wore a suit to an interview — but they might’ve lost the job because they didn’t.

If you’re finding yourself having trouble connecting with people, make sure you’re doing yourself justice and giving a good look. This isn’t license to start catfishing people, but you can de-risk your perceived reputational work with a little care and intention.

PS: The best way to get through all of this? Don’t go in cold — get a warm introduction from someone they know. Let their status and social capital pave your way.


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