There is an old saying, “You are only as good as the company you keep.”  So what does that have to do with helping you develop your brand reputation? More than you might think.

Who you associate with at work could help or hurt your image. If you are always seen with individuals who underperform, complain, cause problems for management, etc. there is a good chance your colleagues’ negative associations are affecting how you are perceived at work. It is important that you associate with people who make positive contributions and add value to the organization.  This is not to suggest that you should choose your friends by who can advance your career – but you may need to distance yourself from someone who could drag you down.

A number of years ago,  a friend worked with an IT individual (let’s call him Tim) who was seen as a valuable cog in his organization’s work.  Tim was excellent at his job and was grabbing the attention of some senior-level managers. While Tim was not perfect (he could be gruff, sometimes late with projects), the pros far outweighed the cons. Then a shift happened in the leadership levels and the organization decided to go in a different direction concerning technology than the one Tim had hoped for. While Tim was still integral to the future plans of the organization, he was not satisfied with the new direction and began to voice his displeasure among staff.

My friend and Tim spoke about the new direction, how it was out of their control, and how one needed to accept it or move on.  Still, Tim continued to grow more negative and voiced how the new direction was a mistake. The negativity reached a point where my friend needed to begin to distance himself from Tim. Tim was beginning to damage his brand (despite my friend’s attempts to help) and my friend did not want to be associated with someone who was earning within the company the reputation of being a problem employee.  He was concerned, and rightfully so, that others within the company would assume my friend was of the same mindset as Tim and an emerging problem employee. My friend tried to help Tim, but since Tim could not accept management’s change nor move to another job, Tim became a person who you did not want to be associated with around the office.

Instead of the Tims of the world, associate yourself with those whom the boss (and the entire office) respects. The antithesis of Tim is Allison, a former co-worker of mine. Everyone in the office loved Allison – she had great ideas, was a top-rated employee, friendly to everyone, she could offer criticism and you thanked her for it, she did not gossip(!) – she was the person you would want to be associated with as she could help others be more positive and an overall better person at work. I would recommend grabbing  a cup of coffee and get to know the Allisons in your office – learn from them on how you can approach your work so that you are seen as a positive force within the office. When you are associated with the Allisons of the world, your brand will be positively affected.  This is Branding By Association.

If perception is reality and you are only as good as the company you keep – look around and be honest with yourself – are you in good company?


Kevin Monahan is the Associate Director of the Notre Dame Career Center.  In this role, he leads the center’s  employer relations efforts in addition to coaching young professionals in career management and career change capacities. He combines career consulting services with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituencies.  He is the author of the Career Seeker’s Guide blog.