Personal Branding: Increase Your Status

man on bench increasing his status

I had a conversation with a friend the other day. He works for a Fortune 500 company directly under a C-level executive. He was asking my opinion on MBA programs because he thinks that could help his career. For my friend, he felt his boss doesn’t respect him enough and he thinks an MBA may change that. He lacks sufficient status.

In general, MBAs are not a great idea unless you’re going to a top 50 global university. The primary benefit you can get from an MBA is the network. Any learning you get can be found for free online, in books, or by working for someone smarter than you.

Maybe my friend’s boss wants to promote him but wants him to have respect and authority in the eyes of those he’ll lead. Maybe.

Nevertheless, the message is the same: what he currently has isn’t enough. The boss needs to see some outward signs of status.

Odds are, so do people in your world.

“That’s not fair! My work should speak for itself. I’m just as capable” yadda yadda.

Yes. And?

This is the real world. It’s hella unfair. Time to deal with it.

Experience is Best

You can’t fake experience. Sure, you can lie. But if you did something—even by accident—it’s your story forever.

Someone can have an MBA, come from a great family, and drive a nicer car. But if YOU were the one who did the thing then it’s game over.

You don’t need an MBA to build a business from scratch. You don’t need to have done it before (though it helps). This is most valuable because it’s impossible to counterfeit, only imitate.

RELATED: Learn. Own. Scale. Repeat.

Education Isn’t What it Used to Be

The meme used to be “go to college to get a good job.” Now, having a bachelor’s degree is so common that it’s candidly more surprising when someone doesn’t have one.

A bachelor’s degree is not enough if you’re relying on it to confer status.

What about a Master’s? Well…

I honestly don’t respect most Master’s degrees. There are so many dumb programs out there and many uncritical thinkers I’ve met with postgrad experience.

Exceptions include JDs, selective MBAs (as stated above), or math and the hard sciences. Math is king.

If you have a Master’s in something else—especially an art—that’s great. Just don’t expect anyone to be impressed. It will not carry you.

A doctorate is different, even if it’s from an unproductive field. No one with a doctorate is dumb, even if they’re not necessarily a genius.

Lacking Education Can (Selectively) Give an Advantage

If I see someone without a degree in a very technical field, I usually end up taking the individual more seriously.

It’s like Taleb’s Skin the Game chapter “Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons“. Essentially, If someone had to fight harder to get into a field, they can be trusted more to know what they’re talking about.

Status via Board Seats

Let me do a quick name drop: Nancy Killefer.

Impressed yet?


Well, she’s currently on the board of Facebook, former senior partner at McKinsey, former CFO and COO of the US Treasury, chaired the IRS oversight board, and sat on the boards of Cardinal Health, Avon, Inc., CSRA, and much more.

Impressed now? You should be.

The funny part is neither of us has any idea what the hell she even did at any of these places. I’m sure she did good work. However, the entire point is that you can take the name of someone you don’t know at all, ascribe other brands to them via loose proxy to instantly confer status—deserved or not.

This is why getting on board seats is such a popular tool for C-level types (and aspirational C-levelers).

Got a friend asking for your investment in their startup? Ask for a board seat on their company. Run a consultancy? Consider offering (occasional only) free services in exchange for a board seat and a tiny bit of equity (like 0.1%).

Non-profits are a great source for this. They always need help and people cycle out of their board seats all the time (because they too were probably there for status).

Don’t be afraid to start small. Unless it’s a big-name organization anyway, no one will care what they actually do. It’s more so the fact that you’re on one that then qualifies you to be considered for other board seats in the future.

The Car You Drive

This one sucks. But it’s honestly true for some industries.

(It’s also weird so that makes it fun to write about.)

There’s a reason a salesman will buy a car outside of his range if he’s using it for work. That shit is an investment.

Think about it: if you’re pitching to a CEO and she sees you rock up in a (respectable) high-end vehicle, it says you’re not a scrub and managed to convince someone else before her to buy whatever you’re selling. You’ve bought yourself five minutes of her time.

Notice I said the car you drive not the car you own. If you’re flying to another city to meet with some potential clients and take them out to lunch—no, even if you’re in the same city but you’re trying to make a big sale—spring for the high-end rental car.

Pick your leads up from the office in something that communicates you ought to be taken seriously and you can make their life easier.

If you make them cram into the backseat of your Miata, props to you for your frugality, but shame on you for your salesmanship.

Reverse This for a Different Kind of Status

If you’re legitimately rich already and don’t need anything from anyone else, do the reverse flex and drive your 20-year-old car. You’ll be able to see what people are made of much more easily.

Friends & Connections

This works on two levels: being actual friends with someone important helps you, and so does simply knowing lots of people.

When I was in university, I knew a guy who was an avid social climber. We’ll call him Charleston. His real name was equally as blue-blooded.

Charleston was the kind of guy who acted like your best friend until he sussed out whether or not you would be socially useful. After he determined I probably wasn’t going to be running in the circles he wanted to be in, he would literally ignore me if I said “hi” on the steet.

Later, I was invited by a friend to join her at a fancy dinner. The dinner was hosted by her club, and her club was exclusive. Club alumnae include a member of the Royal Family (for real).

Who did I run into there but Charleston. He seemed surprised to see me. And he started saying “hi” to me in the street again.

Other Traits Affecting Your Status

If there is something incredibly idiosyncratic about it, that can either help or hurt you—depending on how you carry it.

Are you 6’8″? One would think that’s a good thing—unless you’re only 150lbs. You can have a much more commanding presence if you bulked up.

Are you ugly? Be the best-dressed person in the room. This tells others you respect yourself, and they’ll start to respect you. That doesn’t mean they’d date you, but they’ll respect you (at least a bit more).

Random other things that can affect how you’re perceived:

  • Accent. This one sucks but it’s real. If you’re trying to get a job in “the city” in London and you talk like a hick, your chances don’t look great. Neutralize, or figure out how to leverage your hillbilly identity.
  • Clothes. Took me forever to learn this. How you dress = how you see yourself. Simple or extra? Cheap or quality? Somber or energizing?
  • Language. Do you cuss a ton? This can make you look uneducated, even if you’re the smart one. I’m guilty af of this. I’m leveraging it by writing financial blog posts that aren’t boring as hell to read.
  • Flying first class. You’re instnatly in the “good club” with a captive audience for a few hours. Built-in networking.

RELATED: Networking, What Rich People Know

Does this Post Seem Distasteful?

That’s because we’re all trained not to talk about status even though it is subconsciously ingrained in every interaction we do.

  • If you’re speaking to an elderly person, do you address them as “sir” or “ma’am”?
  • Do you speak clearly, slowly, and act interested when a child is showing you something silly?
  • If your boss starts rambling, do you let him go on 10% longer than you would a colleague?
  • Do you give better treatment to someone dressed nicer, or conversely take pride in not giving special treatment to people dressed nicer?

All these are because you’re aware of status, hierarchy, and every other derivative of the same thing.

If the president was walking down the street, even if they were someone whose policies you disliked, you would stop and look.

Status matters.

The point of any of these tips is not to help you fake status, but to remove this as a barrier preventing other people from seeing what you’re really made of. Sales is the process of removing every barrier to allow someone to say yes.

Be a good salesman. You’re worth being seen.

RELATED: You’re Either Building or Selling.

I want you to win. Therefore I’m willing to bring up the things other people are too bashful to talk about.

If you don’t understand the dynamics at play, how can you ever overcome them? See past your social programming and spot the opportunities right in front of you.

1 Comment

  1. Good reminder, especially in certain circumstances/job. Talib has a good heuristic of where image is overvalued: “when there is hierarchy and standardized “job evaluation”. Try to figure out when your output matters most (i.e. building a business) and when your perceived output AKA image matters most (95% of all other jobs).

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