A client recently told me about a job she left because of an abusive boss. I asked her if she had any documents to back up her side of the story. She reached in a folder and produced a series of emails in which her supervisor used demeaning language and made claims that my client could prove to be lies. Just as importantly, she had several performance reviews from previous managers that contradicted her current manager's claims. The same principle holds true for documenting positive incidents you can use to back up your success stories. Keep whatever impacts your professional reputation.
I need to add a warning to this advice. Some companies clearly state that you cannot copy/print such documents. If you try to use such documents in any kind of case against the company, there is a good chance that they could work against you. Worse still, the company could take action against you. What's an alternative if the company has such restrictions? Recruit co-workers and clients who will be a reference for new employers. Know your strengths and have a way to back them up.
What word best describes you as a professional? If you find that word, you can use it as a tool to carve out your personal brand. Start by making a list of 5- 10 words that best describe you. Test each word. Play with it. How does that word help you tell others who you are as a professional and what value you can bring them?
The word in itself is not your brand. It’s a seed. You have to cultivate it and grow it over time. For many people, the word will change, which usually signals some kind of promotion or career change. Don’t cling too tightly to any word or brand. There is always a time to adapt and change.
In making a list of words for myself, the first word was reliable. Nice, but not good enough. I couldn’t run a business for 8 years without being reliable. That word is a good start of a brand statement for someone early in their career. Later on my list, I found the word strategy. Everything I do – whether writing or coaching – depends on strategy, finding a message and a way to deliver it. My brand is about helping other people market themselves and deliver messages. To do that, I have be a good strategist, which is the simplest way of presenting my brand.
Find your word and work with it. Practice telling other people who you are as a professional. Think about how you will present yourself when looking for a job, seeking a promotion, or introducing yourself to a co-worker or client. Branding sounds like a mysterious concept. It’s not. We do it all the time. The trick is to brand yourself so people want to work with you. Start by find your word.
Who are you? It depends on who’s asking. Employers don’t care about our roles as parents, friends, weekend athletes, or church-goers. They want to know how we can help their business. They also need to know that we will be good workers, reliable employees who won’t cause problems.
We have all read stories about employers not hiring – and even firing – employees who have posted unprofessional photos on Facebook and other social networking websites. That’s the fear side of the equation. Let’s turn this conventional wisdom around: how can we present ourselves online in a way that makes us attractive to potential employers?
Should you be online? Yes. It is a great way to let employers and your professional network know who you are and what you have to offer. Moreover, it’s usually free.
Think about how people will see you online as your brand. Just as McDonald’s has the arches and Nike has the swoosh, you want to craft an identity that sells your strengths in the most unique way. If you sound like every other person who does what you do, you will be invisible to potential employers. What do you bring to the table that is different? That is your brand.
How should you be online?
1. Start with LinkedIn. Build a public profile that demonstrates your professional experience, skills, and achievement. Don’t skimp on the details. Unlike a resume that needs to be concise (1-2 pages), a profile gives you more room to breathe. Ask your references to post recommendations for you.
2. Blogging and tweeting – and responding: Social media gives us platforms to show our expertise. Consider starting a blog that explores your professional expertise. Some people can do this on Twitter (I can’t). Again, it is easy to have a free blog. If you want more bells and whistles, the cost is very reasonable.
3. If you are unemployed, post your resume online. Many of my clients are probably saying, “Wait a minute. You told me not to do that.” In the past, I did find posting a waste of time. And I still think it should be a lower priority behind networking and pursuing companies that post openings. That said, I now recommend posting for two reasons: A. There are industry specific sites like Dice.com [for programmers] that will be targeted by HR departments. B. Large job boards like Monster and Careerbuilder have improved your ability to search, control, and track what happens with the resumes you post.
Some words of caution. Posting is likely to lead to spam and calls from companies offering junk jobs. Set up and use a separate email account for your job search. A second and more serious point to consider: if you are currently employed, be careful how you post. In many states (ironically called “Right to Work”), an employer can fire you simply because you are looking for another job. Look for options to block your current employer or post the current job as “anonymous” or “confidential.”
A well-crafted online professional brand will let a stranger quickly know who you are and what you have to offer. It is equally important to represent your brand when you meet people or communicate with them via phone or email. What makes you special? Let others know – don’t hide your gift.