Who do you think you are?
Cultivating your personal brand could be the trick you are missing in achieving your potential
In this competitive job market, helping candidates reach their career potential is a recruiter’s raison d’être – but I am also interested in exploring how we can help people help themselves.
Last month, I discussed how effective networking could hold the key to unlocking your career potential, and briefly touched on how building your personal brand and creating a three-dimensional personal and professional reputation was a key factor in establishing a professional network.
You would be forgiven for believing that ‘building personal brand’ is best left to A-listers and wealthy entrepreneurs – and that isn’t strictly necessary for finance and accounting professionals. You would, however, be wrong. These days, it isn’t so much a question of whether you want a personal brand – you already have one. In fact, you *are* a brand: The CEO of Me Ltd. The question is whether you want to actively define your brand, or have it defined on your behalf.
Personal branding is about managing your name and reputation. In a world of permanent Google records, anyone with a search engine can find out who you are, or who you might seem to be, whether it’s a potential love interest, or a potential employer. In respect of your career, your personal brand is what makes you stand out from the sea of equally qualified members of your cohort.
I was unfortunate enough to be born with the name, Trollope. Couple that with being 6ft4” in height; a strong Surrey accent and with, what I have been frequently told the loudest laugh in West London, I had no choice but to embrace the cards I had been dealt. Instead of shying away from the things that make me stand out, I have used them to my advantage and they are now the basis of my own personal brand persona – which I consider to be a bold and memorable personality. This is why I am (if I do say so myself) good at what I do. People have no choice but to remember me. In recruitment, your personality and reputation is your differentiator. In today’s competitive job market this fact is true of most industries, and the finance industry is absolutely no exception.
Even the IT industry has not escaped this change. My career stemmed from a stint in IT recruitment and at that time, as the popular noughties Channel 4 Sitcom the IT Crowd depicted, IT professionals tended to sit in the comms room and rarely integrated with the wider business. Personality and cultural fit weren’t always a priority for a new hire. As long as candidates were skilled in Python, JacaScript, C# and PHP then that’s all that really mattered and very often they were not even interviewed. Candidates with the relevant experience and qualifications were just drafted into roles.
There is a tendency to believe that accounting qualifications are similar – it is generally expected that if you are ACA, ACCA and CIMA qualified you can do the job, but now as finance is an integral business function and the department is expected to integrate with internal stakeholders and other departments – particularly the ‘people people’ like sales and marketing – soft skills and the right cultural fit are becoming more and more important as deal-clinchers.
Now that you’ve taken my word for it, that you are a brand, how do you find out what the hell it is and how you can take ownership of it?
First things first, you need to identify how you want to brand yourself, and how that correlates to your current reputation. Take a pen and paper (or your smartphone and stylus for you technophiles) and write down 10 key words that you would want people to associate with your name. Ask a few trusted colleagues or mentors to provide you with some honest examples of how they think you are perceived. If there is some cross-over, you know you are at least part of the way to being noticed for the qualities and attributes that you want to be noticed for, and how far off the mark you are, and you can then formulate a plan.
Oscar Wilde famously said, ‘Be yourself, everybody else is already taken.’ It is important to understand that building a personal brand isn’t about fabricating a version of yourself that you think is more appealing or impressive – it is about authenticity, and about identifying and embracing who you are – then using it to your advantage. This authenticity applies to the subjects and people you are engaging with, as well as the attributes and attitudes you are projecting – ensure you are informed and educated in the subjects you are discussing, commit yourself to personal and professional development, and be genuinely interested.
Celebrities, notable world leaders and personalities with the strongest personal brands have identified key areas and attributes that they want to be notable for, and have spent time ensuring that everything they do reinforces those messages and that image. Think Brand Beckham – sporting and musical achievement, coupled with wealth and glamour and the perfect family – their brand is relatable and aspirational. Brand Obama, cool sophistication, diplomacy and warmth, polished perfection. Always be on your game – everything you do, say, and Tweet contributes to building Brand You.
In this digital age, the most important area to build your personal brand is online. Half of all employers will Google a potential employee as soon as they receive an application. Search for your own name to see what you are dealing with and remove any questionable content wherever possible. Use LinkedIn to its full advantage – your personal summary should not read like your personal statement on your CV, it should be a snapshot of who you are, what your role is and why people should be interested in connecting with you. Use LinkedIn to share timely and purposeful content, and produce your own articles regularly. If you have had a good response previously, don’t be afraid to capitalise on new developments in the industry by reposting content from previous articles if they become relevant again. Use social media to market yourself, your personality and your ideas, and synchronise your activity across multiple platforms to ensure the widest reach.
Use your (newly increased) 280 characters on your professional Twitter account to maximum capacity by engaging your audience then directing them through to your LinkedIn profile or your own blog. Use professional forums, LinkedIn Groups and comments, relevant Facebook groups and online services from membership organisations to express your professional interests and engage in discussion and thought-leadership. An often-overlooked detail are the photographs used on your social media accounts. Make sure you are the only person in them, and you are dressed in business attire and look personable and, most importantly, like you.
Whilst paying attention to your online presence, do not neglect your ever-important CV or your real-life persona, and for tips on how to effectively network see last month’s blog.
If you want a personal brand that truly works for you, you need to commit to building and auditing your profile regularly. This means you need to invest time in frequently researching and questioning how you have been defining your personal brand and identifying what you want to achieve, and how you can measure those achievements. Set aside some time once a quarter to assess the habits and practises you have adopted, and how you can improve your profile and reputation, and set yourself targets to achieve in the coming quarter. Keep abreast of what your colleagues and superiors are doing, and since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, don’t be afraid to adopt their ideas for yourself.
Taking ownership of your brand and your personal profile can pay serious professional dividends.
For those most seriously invested in building their own personal brand, professional and personal life and career coaches can help provide guidance and help to establish a strategy for ensuring you are cultivating the right professional image. Otherwise, there is a wealth of information and pointers available online, and as always I am available for a confidential discussion about what your profile says about you and how you can define and build your personal brand, and ultimately make yourself more employable than the next candidate.