“All of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”
– Tom Peters in Fast Company
People are continuously reinventing themselves. Taking control of your brand can mean the difference between an unfulfilling job and a rewarding career. Perhaps you’re interested in a new challenge, a new line of work, or a new image in the workplace. You may have built a great reputation in one area but what happens if you want to change directions and rebrand yourself? Dorie Clark, a marketing strategy consultant for clients including Google, Yale University and the National Park Service, and author of “Reinventing You," recommends a five-step approach.
Find your destination
Check out your industry’s trade journals, do informational interviews, and even try a volunteer position or an internship that could help you expand your knowledge and skill set in a new area. See if your company offers shadow programs or sabbaticals. Then build the skills necessary for your new path.
This all assumes you’ve chosen a new direction already. If you're unsure about the precise direction you want to take but you want to switch gears, I suggest you start by what I call “strategic brainstorming.” Identify a problem that matters to you and find a job that will allow you to become a part of the solution to it. Then develop a personal mission statement modeled after those that businesses use to help you organize your thoughts and gain focus.
Many organizations use this structure to describe their mission: verb, target, outcome. For example, save endangered species from extinction. “Save” is the verb, “endangered species” is the target, and “from extinction” is the outcome. Once you come up with one that resonates with your true objectives you could use it to break from your previous course and forge a new, more fulfilling path.
Leverage your points of difference
What’s unique about you and your past experiences and what do you want people to remember about you? Once you identify this you can use it to your advantage. In “Reinventing You,” Clark uses Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit, as an example of someone who leveraged her past to shape a new image. After losing popularity to newer, even more right-wing talking heads, Coulter had to reinvent herself. “She didn’t entirely abandon her old brand; she reconfigured it to compete in a new marketplace. Leveraging her unique blend of blonde vixen and conservative firebrand, Coulter is now courting gay Republicans who enjoy diva-style smack talk.”
Develop a narrative
Learn to communicate exactly how your past fits into the present and focus on the value your experience brings, rather than on your own interests, when explaining your transition. If it's difficult for you to identify your strengths and the character traits that will appeal to an employer, seek out someone who could give you constructive, objective feedback, such as a career coach.
Tailor your narrative so it addresses a particular employer’s concerns and challenges. Even if you don't know anyone who works in the firm it's relatively easy to ascertain what the primary challenges are for the company because you can explore their company page on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. You can also gain specific insights about the work their doing by following thought leaders within the company on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Once you’ve done your research on the prospective company and the hiring manager who’ll be interviewing you, narrow in on answering these questions:
• How do my experiences and previous accomplishments apply to his or her situation?
• How did you influence others to work together and accomplish a common goal?
• How did you help others bring out their strengths so they could accomplish their objective?
• When did you put your colleagues’ or employers’ needs ahead of your own?
• How did this effect positive change?
• Did you ever help an employer identify and solve a problem that saved him money and/or human lives or helped avoid a loss of other valuable resources?
• When you experienced a failure how did you react?
• Did you learn from your mistake and grow from the experience? If so explain how.
Strategically reeducate your friends and acquaintances, addressing negative perceptions if necessary. Don’t ever assume people understand what you’ve done in your past or how your previous work experience is relevant to that firm, especially if it’s in a new role. The most sophisticated candidate understands that it’s your job to understand the needs of a prospective employer and then teases out the most salient stories from your past work that will demonstrate you have the capabilities, skills and experience to resolve matters most pressing to that particular employer. Make sure your narrative is succinct, authentic andcompelling, and that it identifies qualities that clearly demonstrate why you’re an ideal candidate for a particular job.
Prove your worth and think like an employer
Associate with the leading organizations, industry expert/consultants and influencers in your field. You can do this by finding influencers on “the pulse” within LinkedIn. Or by going into companies that interest you, select people whose career paths you esteem, see what groups they’re in, and join those groups. Following group discussions will give you insights on hot topics being discussed so you could begin a meaningful conversation with influencers, first by participating in those discussions and following up with telephone interviews or advice appointments.
Measure your work outcomes and build case studies
Dan Schawbel, career and workplace expert and New York Times best-selling author of “Promote Yourself ,” says, “If you look at any student resume, they almost always look the same. They have the same fields (education, experience, school activities). Under their experience fields, they list a company and then general information such as ‘Managed XXX project.’ They dress up their experience bullets so they can turn menial tasks into something more marketable. The problem is that recruiters today, and especially in the future, are looking for outcomes. They want to know the numeric impact you’re having on a company through your work, which means increasing revenue or decreasing costs. Always think about measuring your projects and keeping track of the results because that’s what’s going to help you justify promotions.” Schawbel’s advice for millennials is true for all aspiring job candidates. To get ahead in your career you need to continually look for ways to add value to your employer and create value for consumers. Keep track of these results so you can qualify where you’ve had an impact.
Take control of your career and build a reputation that will open doors for you today so you can live the life you want tomorrow.
Beth Kuhel writes about career counseling for the Cleveland Jewish News. Beth Kuhel, M.B.A., C.E.I.P., is a career coach specializing in millennials. She writes about career strategies and improving the workplace for The Huffington Post, The Personal Branding blog, TinyPulse.com and Sharkpreneur magazine, and has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and BusinessInsider.com. Connect with Beth on Twitter @BethKuhel.