Creating a Stronger Career by Building Your Personal Brand

DSC_2568Managing a brand comes down to two main points:

  • How do others talk about you?
  • And even more importantly: How do you talk about yourself?

Executive coach and Make the Leap! Coaching founder, Curt Wang, brought powerful insight into how financial professionals can learn to brand themselves by finding their strengths and unlocking what they really want out of a career. As he made his way to the stage, Samantha Grant, CFA joked that “Curt is an overachiever and should fit in well with this crowd.”

Curt says “A lot of people hear the word ‘branding’ and say ‘Isn’t that something that corporations do?’” Corporations are certainly at the forefront of branding and messaging, but it’s essential for individuals to find their own brand identity too. Branding helps employers, clients and colleagues visualize who you are and what you do well.

“When you hear the word Volvo, what comes to mind?” Curt asked. “Safety,” everyone shouted out. What about your name? What do people think when they hear your name? There was a pause as the audience contemplated the question. Curt continued. “There are five tests of a great brand,” he said.

  • Value
  • Fit
  • Credible
  • Unique
  • Sustainable

DSC_2575If others don’t know what makes you unique as a person and as an employee, they may pass you by. Sears was one of the top retail outlets in the country for years. Now they aren’t. What changed? They tried to be all things to all people. Whereas most shoppers know that Home Depot is the best place for building supplies and Best Buy has all the latest and greatest electronics, Sears tried to do it all. This left a fuzzy impression in shoppers’ minds about Sears and what it represents. Sears represents an example of a bad brand strategy, the opposite of the clarity found in Volvo’s clear “safety first” messaging.

For those in transition, Curt advised them to not “use all of your best contacts right away, when you’re the least clear about yourself and what you want to do.” Instead, first you ought to figure out what your brand is and exactly what kinds of jobs you are targeting, thus avoiding the fuzziness that comes without having a clear brand identity. Every time you are networking, they really are interviewing you even if they say that they aren’t. If you do a good job and wow them in the conversation, then they may pass your name on to a hiring manager.

Curt showed a series of stock images of doctors and asked us which one we would choose. The audience was about an even split between the choices, with some selecting one because “he looked smart” and others choosing an older doctor because he “looked experienced”. The lesson was that if you don’t manage your brand, people will make assumptions about you. Your position or title alone is not your brand. It’s certainly part of it, but not all of it. Focus on your unique strengths and sell that to employers.

DSC_2572There is a sea of change currently taking place within the corporate world and how young people approach work. Specifically, within Big 4 accounting firms Curt noted that in the past you would see four out of five young hires looking to work their way up the ladder to make partner, working long days and nights in order to make that goal a reality. Nowadays, Curt says, four out of five young Big 4 hires do not want to make partner, with many desiring a different career path entirely. Some employees focused on work / life balance may only wish to work 40 to 50 hour weeks compared to the 80+ hour workweeks other associates might labor through in order to make partner. The shift in thinking has happened because there used to be one well-defined path to the top, and now there are many paths to success. Not all of these paths involve working long hours for many years at a single employer.

In building your brand, your number one goal should be articulating what you are great at. Companies actually want employees to take control of their career because it creates higher engagement and reasons to stay at the firm, not employee turnover as you might initially suspect. In order to articulate what you want from your career, it might be helpful to recall some of your favorite things that you have worked on and why. What do those favorite projects say about you and your ideal career? What strengths did you exhibit during these projects? When did you feel like you were ‘in the zone’ while working? What would it take to become a world-class version of yourself? What would others say you are the go-to person on and why?

After discussing these questions in small groups amongst ourselves, Curt left us with some homework. We were to determine what our top five strengths are, figure out what are our transferable skills for future opportunities would be, and answer the following:

What are the three main components of my personal brand positioning?

  • I am an expert in _____
  • The value of my expertise to people / organizations is _____
  • I am uniquely qualified because _____

For professionals of all career levels, developing branding skills is a great way to sharpen our focus for job opportunities, determine our passions, and further engage with our work. Curt gave us the tools to do just that.

For more information, please visit http://www.maketheleapcoaching.com/.

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