One of the biggest fads in the career development realm is personal branding. Run a quick Google search, and you’ll find articles, blogs and companies telling you what it is, why it’s important and even offering to do it for you (for a fee of course). But delve into it and things can get fuzzy pretty quickly. One article says you should “Start thinking of yourself as a brand”, while at the same time intoning that “authenticity is key in the digital age”. If your cognitive dissonance warnings are sounding, you aren’t the only one. People don’t authentically think of themselves as a brand after all.
But having a brand is important for one simple reason: Employers don’t trust resumes. They’ve been burned by too many hires who have had stellar resumes, only to find out that the skills were misrepresented or outright false. Back in high school when our senior English class began talking about resumes, we were encouraged to load them up with phrases like “Team Player” or “Outside-the-Box Thinker”. Because too many people followed that advice and failed to live up to the hype in the eyes of employers, employers have gone into prove it mode. It’s a numbers game now, with some going so far to say that if you can’t quantify it, you can’t claim it.
But presenting a professional reputation inside these parameters does present challenges, especially if you are working in a proprietary industry. For example, I can say that I create, maintain and curate hundreds of hours worth of e-learning content, which is absolutely true. But I cannot provide samples of any of it, even if requested, because it is based around a proprietary software program. I can say that I go above and beyond for our customers and talk about one example where I created a new Operational Audit/Education hybrid program for one of our customers. But I cannot tell you who it was for, or even include the praise from my boss in our company-wide newsletter afterwards because it would identify the customer. I can tell you that I participate in multiple projects related to the development of our software program, but I cannot go into detail about them because of its proprietary nature.
This is why having a personal brand is important…it’s a way for you to try and prove that you are who you claim to be. For those of us in a career transition, it’s even more important because it allows you to showcase the cross-applicable skills you need to emphasize when your experience is on the thinner side for the industry you are trying to get into. It is a way to convince an employer to take a chance on you, and help overcome hurdles like the ones I and others in proprietary industries face in this new prove it resume landscape.
The great thing about being in career transition when you are building a personal brand, even if you can’t really talk about your current experience much, is that you can use other methods to showcase your experience and skills. First, if you are considering building and developing a personal brand, you will need a website or blog. I have seen a lot of debates about whether you should have an outside blog or simply blog on a platform like LinkedIn. I prefer having a stand-alone blog because I firmly believe that you should make it as easy as possible for people to find you. You can always publish on your stand-alone blog and publish an abbreviated version to LinkedIn with a tie back to your blog, thus driving traffic back and forth between these two powerful sites.
Once you have the blog, it’s time to begin adding content. If your goal is to build a personal brand and establish a professional reputation, your content should let the aspects of your brand shine. Can’t use something from work? That’s fine…you have options!
- Try making a portfolio of things that you can put out there for public consumption. If you create e-leaning or graphics, create a few on your own specifically for public consumption.
- Try writing about the challenges and achievements of a project you worked on while scrubbing the post of all identifiable information if confidentiality is a concern.
- Remember your past experiences are open for use as well. Try writing about projects or issues from previous jobs.
- One of my favorites: finding an outside story and applying your expertise to produce insightful content. Insightful is the key here: you cannot just go out, find random stories and re-blog them. Then you are no better than a news website. If you are going to use the story, you need to add your own spin or expertise to it. It’s a great way to establish your reputation as a professional and prove some of the skills on your resume, particularly if you can’t directly talk about experiences in your current job.
Now there should be no excuses for not building your personal brand!