In the “old days,” people started their careers and stayed with a company for 30-plus years. People had such a sense of loyalty to a company that it often defined who they were.
They expected the company to take care of them. But that wasn’t always the case. I saw my own father work for decades as a loyal, dedicated employee at one company. However, he was passed over by that company for promotions and raises. For me that has always been a constant reminder of the importance of building your personal brand.
Today, people rarely work for a single company for their entire career. In one sense, we are all self-employed. That’s how you should think, whether or not you are in the market for a new job.
This doesn’t mean you should not be a good team player and work well with others. This is more about how you present yourself.
You want to sell yourself in a way that makes you stand out so employers can clearly see your personal value proposition and remember your contributions. As Amazon.com founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos says: “Personal brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.”
Determine your “brand promise” by figuring out the answers to the following questions:
What sets you apart from your peers and competitors?
What’s your mission?
What are your values?
What are your greatest strengths and talents?
What are your passions?
Don’t fixate on your flaws. Instead, find and feed your talents. Make them central to your personal brand promise.
Live and breathe your personal brand every day in the way you present yourself. This includes the way you dress and your nonverbals — looking professional and confident make you stand out in a good way.
There are also many ways to communicate your brand and establish yourself as an expert in your field. Look for opportunities to speak at conferences and events, write articles and create online content for blogs, Twitter, podcasts or videos.
Build out your LinkedIn profile and contacts. Employers will look at your LinkedIn profile and other social networking pages to get a sense of your personal brand.
Remember the three Cs of branding: Clarity, consistency and constancy. You need a clear message delivered consistently across all channels, and with constancy or frequency. That’s how big brands do it, and that’s how individuals should do it.
Make sure your brand is strong with every audience. Your résumé, cover letter, elevator pitch, LinkedIn page, professional network, appearance, habits — all of these things should all communicate the same message about who you are.
All brands need champions who engage in word-of-mouth marketing. What somebody else says about you can go farther than what you say about yourself. Look for managers, mentors and peers who can be your champions and who can push for you when necessary.
I recommend that individuals come up with a set of personal brand statements to define who they are. These can be as simple as five words or phrases that truly define you and set you apart.
It can be difficult to pinpoint these by yourself. Find someone who can be your brand partner. Bounce your ideas off of this person to really hone how you communicate your personal brand.
If you’re not comfortable with the words you pick for yourself, it will be really difficult for you to communicate them to others. Be clear and concise. Practice saying the words. Stand in front of the mirror saying the words.
Here’s an exercise I recently required our new class of full-time MBA students to complete: Identify five characteristics or talents that differentiate you from others. What would others say are your greatest strengths and attributes? Try to describe each talent in two or three words.
Then I asked the students to gather in small groups to take turns “selling” themselves to their peers without using any of the five talents verbatim in the pitch. I asked them to think about how unique these statements were and how they differentiate them from everyone else.
After the pitch, students had to see if the others in the group could identify the five talents they were trying to convey and analyze what the other folks heard versus what was intended. You can easily do this same exercise with a group of colleagues or friends.
You may find it difficult to identify and communicate your five talents, especially because they will evolve over time. Regardless, you need to be able to walk into any job interview or new business setting and communicate them to the people in the room. As with any marketing activity, you need to understand what you are selling and why the customer needs the product.
Jeffrey Kudisch is managing director of the Office of Career Services at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and a faculty expert in leadership, negotiations and human capital management. He has a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology and he co-founded Personnel Assessment Systems., a human resource consulting firm specializing in executive assessment and leadership development.
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