5 Ways to Look Credible Even if You Lack Experience
By Pete Leibman
A student asked me an interesting question recently after one of my stops on my college speaking tour: "Pete, how can I look credible if I'm just getting started in a new field?"
It was a great question, so I took some time to think about it and write up a more thorough answer to share with others. If you have been featured on national TV or have written a bestselling book, you don't need to worry about being seen as credible. However, what do you do if you are just starting out, either as a young professional or someone looking to establish credibility in a new field or industry? Here are five secrets to being seen as credible even if you are inexperienced.
1. Look the part.
To be seen as credible, you have to look credible first. For example, if you want to be seen as a credible "fitness expert," you better be in amazing physical shape, i.e., Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser. (Shockingly, half of the personal trainers at my gym are overweight, although what's even more disturbing is that some people at my gym are actually paying these people for fitness advice!) If you want to be seen as a credible "personal finance expert," you better have a healthy bank account and not be driving around a beat-up pick-up truck. If you want to be seen as a credible "happiness expert," you better look really happy and not be walking around whining about the economy.
While firsthand success is not the only path to credibility, people will and should be skeptical of you if you haven't gotten results in the area you claim to have expertise in. The good news is that you don't need anyone else's permission or 20 years of experience to get results on your own. To go back to our fitness example, if you want to be seen as a fitness expert, you don't need to work at health club for 20 years, you just need to get yourself in really good shape. If you want to be a business professional, dress and groom yourself accordingly.
2. Have confident body language.
While it sounds immensely obvious to say that you should maintain strong eye contact and give a firm handshake, it's amazing how often I meet professionals who are unable to look me in the eye or who give me a "dead fish" handshake. Within seconds, these people have destroyed their credibility, no matter how talented that may really be. This is an easy one to fix and incredibly obvious to give as a piece of advice, but amazingly common.
Another fast path to credibility is to piggyback on the success of a person or organization that already has credibility. For example, I broke into the highly competitive sports and entertainment industry and landed a front-office job with the NBA's Washington Wizards when I was only 21. That certainly didn't happen because of results I had achieved on my own, although I did have a strong résumé for a student. It happened because I had a referral to leadership for the Washington Wizards through one of their former employees. This person had loads of credibility with the organization, and I immediately looked credible when he was willing to vouch for me. This was someone I had been referred to by another executive I met at a networking event. This was not a family member or personal contact. To piggyback, you have to put yourself out there and meet new people; don't just rely on those you already know.
4. Communicate articulately and in public.
Another great way to be seen as credible is through writing and speaking. You don't need to write a book to be seen as credible, although it's one of the best ways to establish credibility in any field. You can simply contribute to a well-respected blog or publication. Speaking at conferences and events is another great way to establish credibility. All of these efforts increase your visibility. When you become well known in an industry, you are automatically seen as more credible. One caveat on this—your writing must be clear and effective. If you deliver a boring, convoluted speech or write an article riddled with grammatical errors, you'll simply have a lot of people who know you, but who think you are incompetent!
5. Be focused.
If you want to be seen as credible, you need to be focused. I recently reviewed a résumé from a senior HR executive who listed "human resources," "marketing," and "finance" among a lengthy list of very broad specialties. Contrast that list with another HR executive whose specialties are targeted and include "curriculum design," "e-learning," and "leadership development." Who looks more credible to you? If you try to position yourself as an expert at everything (i.e., totally unrelated topics like HR, Marketing, and Finance), you will be seen as an expert at nothing.
About the Author
Pete Leibman is the founder of Dream Job Academy and the author of I Got My Dream Job and So Can You: 7 Steps to Creating Your Ideal Career After College. His work has been featured on Fox, CBS, and CNN, and he's a popular keynote speaker at career events for students and at conferences for people who work with students.