6 Ways to Overcome Your Awful Work Persona

One thing I know for sure is that I am absolutely NOT the same employee as I was when I started my career. In fact, I am vastly different today as a person, employee and manager, then I was just two years ago. It’s hard to believe that a person can change so much in such a short amount of time, but I have.

I knew that I was a handful as an employee – I was a workhorse, driven, with a little (ok, a lot) of a know-it-all, mixed in with a very low tolerance for people not “getting it.” And it served me well for the most part career-wise, but it didn’t necessarily earn me any friends at work. As a manager, thinking back to when I first had people under me at 25 (yikes!), I was awful – I am a self-reformed micromanager, with incredibly high standards.

Looking back at the employee and manager that I have been at various stages in my career, I can’t help but think what type of impression I left with my coworkers and former bosses. And I don’t think it’s as positive as I would want it to be. And it is definitely not representative to who I am as an employee/manager today.

Today, I’m not that employee and I’m definitely not that manager. (I promise – my entire approach to work has shifted significantly in the past two years). Has your working persona changed significantly as well, and you are struggling to present the “Today You” to potential employers?

6 Ways to Overcome Your Old Working Persona

1. The only way to overcome the past and figure out how to move forward, is to inventory the differences of your old self, to your current self, for your own knowledge.

I went back and read several old email exchanges and performance reviews to get a sense of where my areas of opportunities were, and then built the picture starting there. I also happen to be friends (gasp!) with some previous coworkers, so I asked them what their thoughts were on how I was an employee. Clearly they didn’t think I was a horrible person, but they were able to provide some insight into perceptions – mostly, “way too driven,” “smarter than the boss,” and “no patience.” So I had a starting point to evaluate if those things are still true for me.

2. Consider who you want your work persona to be.

At the core, you wake up every day and choose the type of employee and person you want to be. Sometimes you just let it fly and don’t reign-in any behaviors, but other times you present the face you want the world to see. So consider what type of employee you want to be. For me, it was easy being just who I was without a filter, early on in my career. I was in the “climbing” mode, so making friends and lasting relationships was not as important. Today, I’m more about learning and growing – so my patience has increased significantly and I truly want to partner with others to learn from them. (See? Vastly different).

3. Leverage the people from previous positions that actually liked you.

I can’t think of a person I know who was absolutely abhorred by every single person at a company. So now is the time to gather up your previous allies and ask them to support you through endorsements and/or recommendations on LinkedIn. Missing this on your profile can send out red flags to potential employers, so have your people help you out.

4. Seek out training courses and books that can help you complete your transition.

While classroom training represents a very small part of how adults actually learn, hiring managers and recruiters LOVE a good training certification. So if you have heard feedback that you are terrible at delivering difficult messages, look into taking a Crucial Conversations class. If you need to learn better communication skills, seek out a business communications study. There are helpful courses out there for just about anything. Start with your HR department if you’re employed, or a continuing education program at your local college.

5. Be upfront about it in interviews.

Here’s the thing – if it is going to be clear that you were a jerk in a previous role, the best way to combat that is to address it head on during the interview process. It’s not the first thing that you should say, but if you get far enough in the process, it is important to share it in a way that shows why and also helps the hiring manager understand how you have overcome it. Here’s a sample conversation:

  1. Recruiter: “What have you learned from previous positions?”
  2. You: “Honestly, looking back I have learned that I was not always the most professional person, particularly early on in my career. I didn’t learn the importance of using a “filter” and ended up rocking the boat too much. After working closely with my manager and HR along the way, I learned X, Y and Z which has significantly positively impacted how I approach new positions now.”

6. Clean out your references!

I cannot tell you how many times people include poor references. I have a significant chapter about this exact thing in my new book, but essentially, as ridiculous as “references” are these days, only include sure things. You want your references to reinforce who you are today as an employee, not the perceptions that hung around your name in a previous role. Look back to the people who you were friendly with and use them as your provided references. Do not default to just anyone, or your old work persona will follow you to your new job.