Allow me to take you on a spin through a topic that many people I know find personally repugnant: marketing yourself. Call it personal branding, selling yourself or whatever you like; it is an unfortunate reality today that if you want to get ahead, you have to gain attention to yourself. It’s not just something for politicians, PR specialists or Crisis Management experts anymore. It’s something that today’s workers must be comfortable with if they want to continually improve their career prospects.
Now wait a minute, you might be thinking. You, dear author, are a Millennial. A member of the generation that invented selfies, Facebook and every other social media platform on the planet to allow you to show the world everything you eat and everything you do. You have a LinkedIn account, and maintain a blog. Surely you can’t have an issue with personal promotion?
First, it is true that I can fit into the Millennial category. Depending on which chart you use and which date they use to end Generation X and start the Millennials, I can be either one. I am personally not a fan of using labels like Baby Boomers, Generation X and so on to try to fit everyone into a defined box; people are unique and their inclusion in a certain group does not necessarily mean that they will all act or think the same way. If I must put myself in a category, I think of myself as more of a bridge, someone with one foot in Gen X and the other in Millennial and thus able to communicate and navigate effectively in both groups.
Secondly, the idea of needing to self-promote in order to succeed in business or anywhere else seems a bit hypocritical to me. Most of us were raised with the idea that we exist in a meritocracy, where if you do your best and try your hardest success will follow. Our modern idols of industry like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and newer inductees such as Mark Zuckerberg seem to promote this meritocracy theory. The idea that you would have to trumpet your successes to get them noticed to gain the reward which, in the theory, should be achieved simply by the act of working hard or doing the right thing seems to be in direct opposition to this idea. It’s a classic case of something in theory not working the same way when it is put into practice. You don’t have to be in the working world for too long to realize that there is a certain amount of naivety behind the theory, and that operating by that theory is a good way to hold yourself back professionally.
The reality is that there are a lot of employees out there, and more of them are coming into the workplace with each passing day. This means there is more competition for each new job or each new promotion. At the same time, there is so much information out there about everyone on the internet that it can hurt you to NOT be visible.
This is even more important if you are changing careers, which is more likely to occur in this rapidly changing job market. Trying to break into a new field is difficult for anyone, but especially if your education or background is not directly related to the field you are trying to get into. Many employers see these types of applicants as an untested risk…one that they are unwilling to take unless they have a shortage of potential employees already in the field. But as the presenter in a recent webinar pointed out, “…there are always industries that are less open to outsiders. And that decision is always wrong.”
Dorie Clark, a marketing strategy consultant and professional speaker, has produced an enormous amount of work on the importance and methods for building your personal brand, including the recently released book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. She also participated in a webinar titled Stand Out: How to Become a Recognized Expert in Your Company and Beyond for the Association for Talent Development last month. I would highly recommend this webinar for several reasons, chief among them being that Dorie Clark is, hands down, the best public speaker I have attended. After attending numerous graduation ceremonies and conferences ranging from non-profit centered to corporate centered, along with many webinars, I can tell you that I have sat through many a public speaker. Many of them are dull, filling their talks with corporate jargon, platitudes or other garbage that not only manages to turn an interesting topic into a snoozefest, but turns the hour long talk into a physical exercise to keep you from rolling your eyes so often they might get stuck! Dorie, on the other hand, is warm and truly engaging, while at the same time knowing her stuff. She doesn’t talk in jargon or quotes that were pulled off of some motivational poster, but by the end you are truly motivated to take action.
This particular webinar had several pieces of advice which I found very helpful, given that I have made one career transition in my working life and look forward to more. In order to become a stand out, we need to have an idea. But how can you come up with ideas? Dorie had a couple of excellent suggestions for anyone struggling with this including –
Mix Perspectives – Take ideas from different fields and incorporate them into the field you are working in. This makes you an innovator, which is one of the best things you can do to help yourself stand out. This is also particularly well-suited to anyone looking to transition into a different career field. How does the skill set you have from outside lend itself to your new career? How can your skills benefit the new field?
Tackle a Worthy Challenge – This is a bit of a scary one but it remains a valid point. Find a tangible problem and find the unsafe path to solve it, rather than just trying to mitigate it. This is risky, but involves huge rewards because it forces others to pay attention to what you are doing. If you succeed, you have instant recognition.
Niche Down – When you are first coming into a field, there is no reason for anyone to pay attention to you. Give them a reason by becoming an expert in a niche that not many people are exploring. This not only will establish you as an expert and give you connections that can help you broaden out your experience later, but it also produces what Dorie referred to as The Halo Effect. The Halo Effect is simply that being recognized as an expert in one thing tends to lead to that “expert” status being applied to you in other areas as well.
Volunteer – Whether it’s for work-related activities or a hobby, it’s a safe environment to not only try out new ideas and methodologies, but also to gain contacts with more people in your community and your industry. This can be a huge benefit later on. You might even discover your passion when you volunteer for causes you support or hobbies you have. Passion is a strong magnet for attention, which can help you advance your career.
I know I’m working to incorporate these and Dorie’s other tips from the webinar into my personal branding. I strongly recommend you take the webinar for the rest of Dorie’s strategies for building your personal brand and helping you become a stand-out talent.