Building, demonstrating and proving credibility is one of the most important things we can do as people who seek to accomplish interesting goals and live successful lives. But it’s also highly misunderstood, and many people don’t have a clue how to make credibility work for themselves.

Credibility is a certain intangible quality that proves our value, sincerity and competence to others; and demonstrates that we are the exceptional people we claim to be.

Credibility is important because:

-Makes it easier to convince other people that you are worth dealing with.

-Sell your ideas or products to others.

-Makes it easier for other people to decide to work with you rather than someone else.

-Helps you get what you want.

I think we all understand credibility on its basic level: don’t be dishonest, do what we say we will, do a good job with our work, have a nice resume…But the kind of credibility we are talking about here is the credibility that will allow you to accomplish your unique and exceptional goals, such as starting a business, working abroad, and getting funding from a venture capitalist.

I usually see people approach presenting credibility in one of two ways:

1. Showy credibility (“form” credibility)

This is people who have fancy websites, fancy business cards with nice professional pictures on them; people that use a lot of big words, have a pristine smile, and who could give a better speech than all of our Presidents combined. These people are great at self-promotion. Think of the stereotype of a salesman, for example. These people are most interested in acting like they are credible, rather than actually doing things to prove credibility.

2. Evidenced credibility (“substance” credibility)

These are people that work hard, get lots of credentials, have years of work experience, and are knowledgeable in many areas. Think of a typical accountant. They take great pride in their career accomplishments. Their main method of conveying credibility to others is a long resume or CV detailing their work experience and other accomplishments.

One is how you look. The other is what you do. Clearly salesmen and accountants can both have successful careers, so sometimes either one can work. So which one should you do?

I think both of them are wrong. Those that focus on showing credibility in only one way are likely to, in the long run, show no credibility at all. Why?

Showy (form-based) credibility is bad because:

-Smart people will notice that there is “nothing there” except empty words.

-So you will only appeal to a lot of dumb people, or people that don’t know what’s going on.

-Stereotype of being deceiving and sly, which is counterproductive.

-Your face hurts from smiling too much.

Evidenced (substance-based) credibility is bad because:

You make-believe that everyone’s just going to pick up your resume, realize how great you are, and bow at your feet, when the exact opposite is true. How are people going to know how wonderful you are if you don’t go tell them or promote yourself?

Having work experience or credentials doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s about the value you can provide, rather than the places you worked.

You work hard, but feel like you’re not accomplishing anything.

I used to lean strongly to the “evidenced-based” credibility side, so I can attest to that not working. And I’ve seen lots of people get burned on the “showy-credibility” side (such as people who can use their charm to get new clients, but can’t keep them around because they do a bad job), so I know that doesn’t work either.

The real answer is to master the substance and master the form of credibility. Don’t be a salesman, and don’t be an accountant. Be an accountant that is good at sales.

Think of my blog, where I actively try to use substance and form. My substance:

-Well written, original articles that discuss common issues in a unique way

-Articles that are longer than most blogs’, as to truly have an in-depth conversation about an issue

-True desire to help others improve and live a successful, fun and interesting life

-Extensive professional and life experiences that are unique, and have given me a unique perspective.

My form:

-I actively promote my website

-I understand (at least try to understand) SEO, programming and code to get website traffic and give it an attractive design.

-I write well, as to interest you, my beloved readers, and make you want to read more.

Think about it: you’re probably visiting my website because of my showy credibility: you either found a link online, or your friend told you to visit it. If it wasn’t for me putting this website out there and advertising it, you’d never know it existed.

But if the content sucked, you wouldn’t keep on reading. If I couldn’t write interesting and unique articles, why would you bother to read what I write?

So substance and form are complementary forces that are absolutely essential if you want to be successful and accomplish your goals.

So how do you successfully mix form-based and substance-based credibility? Let’s do a points-system.

Substance. Form.

1. Actually be credible. +1 Substance

What can you actually do that demonstrates credibility? I don’t mean the platitudes that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, and I certainly don’t mean “go and fluff up your resume”. No, I actually want to know: what have you done that shows I can trust you? It’s not a trick question.

Practice answering these questions (relate them to a specific scenario relevant to you) in two sentences, one sentence with a reason and another with a specific example:

-There’s 300 other people applying. Why should I hire you?

-Why should I invest my money in your company?

-How do you know what you are talking about?

-What experience do you have starting businesses?

If you’re like most, you probably feel daunted. “I’m still in college, I’ve never started a business”, or “how could I be better than 300 people?” You probably have done a lot to provide credibility (see next point); but if you honestly can’t think of any reason you are credible, then you need to realistically assess your goals, and see what experience you need to gain first.

2. Know and provide your value. +1 Substance

No one else is going to sit around thinking, “gee, is this guy credible or not?” It’s a gut decision. Make their gut decision the right one.

I wrote extensively about valuing yourself. They key point is that you must be the one that 1.) knows why they are valuable to another person, and 2.) actively conveys that value to others. I won’t spend much time on this here (read the valuing yourself article), but I want to bring up an important point to those who might think they aren’t credible (like I mentioned in the above point). Either A.) you really aren’t credible yet, and need to get more experience, or B.) you can prove credibility by making unique associations between your skills and the needs of the other person.

For example, think of someone who taught English in China. The obvious association is “I learned Chinese, I have teaching experience”. The unique association is “living in China taught me tenacity and how to deal with others. That means, as an entrepreneur, I will be exceptional at dealing with others, and can make this work:”

3. Be the first to offer to help and provide value to others. +1 Substance, +1 Form

As a society, we generally wait for other people’s cues or permission to do something, and act only when we want something from others. That’s the exact wrong approach when proving credibility to others. And that’s why this point is part substance and part form. The substance is the action, the form is that you were proactive. This is valuable because it shows we want to give value rather than taking value, and giving value is the essence of showing credibility.

-So if you want to prove to entrepreneurs that you are credible, offer to do some work for them for free first, and then talk later about hiring you as a full-time person.

-If you want someone to give you a referral, give them a referral first.

-“Do onto others…”

4. Understand personal branding, and be able to demonstrate your brand to others. +1 Form

A high-five to my sales-minded friends. Like I said, it is very important. Read my articles on branding: Branding Pt. 1 and Branding Pt. 2. The important thing here is making the connection that your value is actually credible, and useful to the other person.

5. Credibility is most easily discerned through the endorsements of others. +1 Form

When you want to find out about something, who do you believe more? An internet ad, or what your friends or coworkers say? I will write specifically on winning the endorsements of others. Especially in tight-knit communities (venture capital community, CPA community, etc.), people are tight-knit, and reputation can spread easily.

3 Substance. 3 Form.

Author's Bio: 

R.C. Thornton writes about intelligent personal development, with the idea that having understanding personal development from an intellectual perspective will lead to the right mindset for success. He writes at