Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from The Finch Effect: The Five Strategies to Adapt and Thrive in Your Working Life, by Nacie Carson. Copyright © 2012 [Editor's Note: See our review of The Finch Effect.]
I've had people ask me if defining a professional brand is the best use of their time in this tough economy: "Shouldn't I be spending my time sending out resumes or something?" But here's the thing: you already have a professional brand. Everything about you is constantly coming together and being communicated to the outside world. Everyone already sees a "You, Inc.," especially in the workplace. As Susan Walaszek [founder of HR Compliance Consulting] points out, "The resume and interview presentation, the clothing one wears, the events one attends, and the body language of the individual all are a type of branding in terms of the level of professionalism, approachability, and personality."
But if you don't consciously refine and project a particular brand, then what "You, Inc." is communicating to the world on your behalf is up to the gods. In the best-case scenario, you aren't actively leveraging your assets and are missing opportunities; in the worst-case scenario, you are projecting a message that is inaccurate, unhelpful, or damaging.
We often fail to realize that while every single person is a complex and multifaceted individual, we are perceived by most of the world through a small set of relatively simple and one-dimensional terms. John is driven and funny. Suzy is quiet and thorough. Brad is clownish and irresponsible. Don't believe me? Think about someone you work with whom you don't know very well. Do you have a robust conception of his or her life experience, skill sets, passions, goals, and preferences, or do you have a couple of adjectives on mental file? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Of course, the longer and more intimately you know someone, the more your perception of him or her expands outside of basic descriptors. Yet in a business world where many career-altering decisions can be made quickly and on the basis of just a few interactions, it behooves us to actively communicate an easily digestible professional brand that projects the right descriptors to our target market.
Other major benefits can be gained from taking the time to outline your adaptive professional brand. One of these is an increase in your professional worth. The clearer and more confident you can be about your value and differentiation from the competition, the more you are worth to employers or clients. Professional worth translates as tangible worth (compensation and benefits) and intangible worth (value to an organization, reputation), and in this economy both are essential. When you know what you bring to the table and can firmly assert it, you can command more for your talent.
Communicating an adaptive professional brand (APB) can also improve your networking success. The ability to communicate your brand concisely to others improves your capacity to network. Not only will it help you project a consistent message about who you are as a professional and support your reputation; it will also help you engage better with others. Instead of fumbling around for an answer to "So, tell me, what you do?" you have a succinct response on hand so that you can spend the conversation learning about the other person and making valuable connections.
One of the most under-recognized but important benefits of building and maintaining an APB is that it gives you a guide for skill development. Should you get that MBA? Is executive coaching a good use of your resources? An awareness of your differentiated value can help you pursue investments of your time and capital that continue to strengthen your value proposition and help you weed out random focuses that don't tie into your larger brand. We will talk more about skill development in the context of your APB in the next chapter.
Finally, your adaptive professional brand can be your vocational North Star. Brands are not just projections of what other people can expect from you; they also serve as reminders of what you can expect from yourself and where you want to go. In a world full of distractions, flash-in-the-pan pundits, and shiny objects, a clear sense of what you bring to the table as a unique professional can help you maintain your sense of career ownership and identity through good economic times and bad. It can also provide you a foundation for coherent adaptation, growth, and expansion of your skill set over the course of your career. I can tell you from my own career journey that I identified writing as part of my APB long before I had a column or book contract. Building that into my brand helped me achieve that goal by keeping me focused on seeking out opportunities for development that supported it.
Final Thoughts on Adaptive Professional Brands
These are the most common and powerful ways adaptive professional brands can provide value for you on your vocational journey, yet they aren't the only ones. Beyond career benefits, the process of building and maintaining an APB can be a real quest for self-discovery, self-understanding, and self-acceptance. I encourage you to embrace it and engage with it fully and go where it takes you, whether to a different perspective on your job or to a totally new career.
This article is part of Job Action Day 2012.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.