Do you think of yourself as a brand? You should! It is time to recognize that we need to be strategic and thoughtful about how we present ourselves.
What is a “personal brand”? Similar to a corporate brand, your brand is what distinguishes you from the competition. It is your story. Your reputation.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, has said “your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” People are going to form opinions about you whether you put in the effort to guide them or not. Put in the effort. Your career is long and many things will not be in your control. How you are perceived is something you can influence. Each of us has three versions of ourselves that need attention- in person, on paper and online.
Before we discuss each version, let’s go over some preliminary things to think about you as you develop your brand.
If someone was describing you, what would you want them to say? Who are you and what is your value add? In addition to thinking about what you have to offer and what you hope people think about you, ask those who know you to share their perceptions. It is difficult to be objective about ourselves. You may learn that you have skills you undervalue or that you have a negative trait you were unaware of or you know about but try to ignore. Either way, it is important to get feedback and give thought to what you are told so you know your strengths and weaknesses and whether there is a difference between how you see yourself and how others see you.
Also think about why are you interested in a particular opportunity. There is a lot of talk about being passionate about what you do for work, but that can be challenging. Sometimes you just need a job or you are happy enough with work and you volunteer or do what you love as a hobby. There still needs to be something that motivates you to go to work every day and excel. Give thought to what is appealing to you. It is much easier to be believable and to speak with enthusiasm if you find that nugget that excites you about the work you are doing or are looking to do every day.
While you are thinking about all of these things, it is also important to remember to BE YOURSELF and BE TRUTHFUL. Branding is marketing and not disclosure, so you can choose what to highlight. However, if you are not true to who you are or if you are misleading as you create an image, you can jeopardize opportunities. I always compare resumes with LinkedIn profiles and with what candidates tell me. If there are inconsistencies, I ask about them and there should be good reasons for the differences, or there shouldn’t be differences.
When I say be yourself, be the best version of your professional self that you can be. Your very best shot at an opportunity is a great first impression. In person means you should: Dress neatly and appropriately. Stand or sit up straight. Have a strong handshake. Make eye contact. Be engaged during conversation. DON’T look at your phone. And finally, have your elevator pitch ready.
Your paper/digital image includes your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letters and other correspondence. Check your grammar, language and the appearance of how you are presenting. Don’t use the shorthand we use for texting or abbreviations in general. Keep it professional, positive and energetic. Use the active not passive tense. Stay away from using the same words over and over. (A thesaurus is on your computer. You have no excuse.)
Have someone review what you have written before you send it out when there is any question about the quality. Get feedback not only on grammar but also on perspective and message. Be proud of the paper version of you and make it representative of someone a person would want to meet and hire.
Next, let’s look at online presence. Most of us want to keep our personal persona separate from our professional, but you need to assume anything that is posted can be found and that employers are conducting searches to see what comes up: your pictures, your comments, your likes, organizations you support, your political views, the language that you use, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. It is all discoverable and creates an impression. You can make a conscious choice to support something controversial or even use profanity, but know that what is out there influences the perception people have of you before they meet you and that can affect your opportunities. This isn’t to say stop engaging. But, if you take extreme positions or are aggressive in your language or your participation, there may be consequences. The bottom line is to be smart and thoughtful whether you are engaging online personally or professionally.
Any discussion about online engagement must include LinkedIn. If you don’t have a profile, set one up today. Whether I am researching for a client or someone reaches out to me unrelated to a search, I always check LinkedIn to see how someone presents themselves. If there is no profile or a profile with no picture or an incomplete profile, I am drawing a conclusion about how engaged someone is professionally. Part of your brand should be an engaged presence online. Show an interest in participating in relationship building. If you want to succeed, networking is a must and LinkedIn is a foundational piece for relationship building.
Finally, have an elevator pitch ready to go. Think about what you would want someone to know about you. Keep in mind that your pitch can and should change as you fine tune your message, move through your career and speak with different audiences. Know it well enough that you are comfortable saying it. It will serve you well in networking events as well as in interviews because being well thought out and having a put together presentation will allow you to be more confident and confidence is a key element for your brand.
Excerpted from a presentation given at the NYC Bar Association Bootcamp: Basic Training for Lawyers
Questions about developing your brand? Call or email me for a consultation.
Amy Goldstein is the founder of Grayson Allen, Inc., a New York based attorney search and career consulting firm. She has been providing career advice and recruiting attorneys for in-house and law firm positions since 2000.