What’s Your Story?
The market is ripe for your talent. But a career takes tending, and your story needs to evolve into a brand that suits the market where it’s at. How do you build that smart personal brand? And why, if you’re skilled, does it matter? Read on.
It seems like just about everyone uses the verb form of the word ‘brand’ right now. Back when companies alone were the big branders, Tom Peters, a man who’d branded himself a ‘Marketing Guru’, wrote a piece that is considered a seminal edictus about the need for all of us to act as ‘free agents’, as branders of ourselves, not just for our own career trajectory, but for our companies as well. The thinking being, if you’re always coming up with ideas, getting stronger at your skills, creating new conversations and opportunities, not only do you represent the company well, but you’re the kind of person they want to have on their team, full stop.
Everyone, he noted, needed to step up their game and create the persona that lives on in their industry. “The good news”, Peters says, “— and it is largely good news — is that everyone has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.”
Living Your Label
Personal branding sometimes seems like a played concept, with every reality star and college Senior is hooking onto the word and trying to run with it. Maybe they’re getting various elements of branding right, but not really getting the full picture on the subject. There’s a litmus test; if it sounds like an exercise in narcissism, it’s not a brand, it’s a platform for self-congratulations (i.e.: the afore mentioned reality star contingent).
Branding is critical. But they may be missing the point. Branding is doing no more than telling a story. A simple but strategically smart story. One that creates an image that puts a positive idea of you and all who meet you; an image that lingers, gets passed on through our colleagues. That story? That is our brand. Done well, it can lift you higher than any one element of your resume. When strategized and executed well, it can take you out of any one vertical, or one company, or one bad manager alone. You are the biggest player in the brand of You, and you have the power to shape it in a way that makes your best assets sing.
Specific skills are simply the price of entry. What makes you attractive, what makes you distinct, has equally as much to do with the web you spin around those skills. A recruiter, an interviewer, will generally gather the strongest impression of you in the first three minutes. So, what will you say in those three minutes? And, more importantly, what will make you right for that company or role you know you’re going to want to take on? That story needs to be tight, really tight. What will your colleagues remember about you? What defines you in the industry?
A good idea is to pull out some of the key elements of corporate branding as a guide.
Branding the You in You
Resume. Presentation matters much more than most managers ever let on — or perhaps even realize. But recruiters know all too well, having seen thousands of applicants in their time, that something as simple as the presentation of your resume will either enable you to move forward one step or get immediately dismissed.
When you’re at the beginning of your career, this is especially important. According to Steve Rock, Technical Recruiter at Hollister Staffing, there are basic elements that a resume should deliver to get a quick, positive look through. “In moments, they’ve got to call attention to enough information to get a reader excited — or even interested. Better still, it should have a rhythm, a melody, that aligns with the perception of the outside world, certainly the people you’ve worked with or worked for.”
Choose Your Target Audience. Just as companies define their audiences before they can position their specific products and services, you too have to define who you’re talking to and how your story will project to each target audience you have. Remember, the HR team, hiring managers, and recruiters are all humans who respond to transparency, ease, and a depth of conversation that, if called upon, can turn a call from a five-minute touch base into a complete picture.
Whoever, whatever kind of company you’re interested in pursuing a position with, they want to know you can do what you say you’re going to do — don’t just talk the talk but walk it. Live it and you’re keeping the promise of your brand and automatically on the path to credibility. Your actions, which align with your brand, validate that you can be trusted and show that you are credible.
Audit Yourself Online. Check yourself out online and get a good perception of what’s out there about you and read through it. Create Google Alerts for your name and monitor it on a regular basis. Make sure whatever brand you put out there, it’s being matched by your actions and your press.
Add Meaningful Value. Produce new stuff all the time, but not just stuff; the right stuff. Blogs, talks, even Quora conversations can put you out there in a way that showcases your skills, your thinking, your experience. Then expand that brand of yours, so go off-resume. What’s interesting to you? What programming are you getting into right now? What are you spending your free time digging in to? Get it out there. Share it on LinkedIn, SnapChat, Instagram — start a Meetup around it, build a page on your site — create a long tail that suggests you’re more than the sum of your skills. Connect to what’s really interesting ideas/solutions in the zeitgeist. People will notice. Employers will notice.
Curate Your Connections. Who, what, you associate with will help fill out your picture instantly? According to Shama Hyder, Founder & CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, the ability to find and leverage strong brands starts with what she calls the three C’s: company, college, colleagues. “Which school did you attend? Are there groups you can join? An alumni newsletter you can contribute to? What hidden opportunities are available within your company which you have yet to tap? Consider submitting a guest post to the company blog or look at other digital assets you can connect to your brand.”
Don’t Invent, Reimagine
In a piece titled What is Personal Branding? Michael Margolis, Dean of Story University relates that in order to create this story, it helps to think of ourselves as superheroes. “Remember, you are not born a superhero,” he says, “Superheroes are created based on circumstances and choices.” The author goes on to relate success guru Ben Burchard’s tips on crafting your own superhero story:
- Woe to Win — when you were down and out, you came back.
- David versus Goliath — when were you the underdog?
- The tough choice — the other choice would’ve been easier, but this choice made you a better person.
- The turnaround — when you finally decided to pursue something super meaningful.
Craft your story uniquely, as only you can put it together and you’ll stand out in any crowd.
Become an Expert
Not everyone can be an expert at any one thing. But you can be known for specializations. Sort out your best characteristics for yourself; elements of you, specialties and knowledge that are most relevant to the target audience who will be most interested in what you have to say. Not everyone is in that target audience — knowing who you’re talking to will help you have the courage to be your strongest self.
As someone who has placed hundreds of specialized technologists at some of the biggest brands out there, Steve Rock wastes no time getting to the point with newcomers to the industry who haven’t created the stories they need to sell their talents.
“Know who you are. In three minutes, what makes you different than the other talent coming in the door? Because no matter how many recruiter calls you’re getting, there’s always someone else who can take the role. Great opportunities come when you can define who you are and live it.”