Twelve years ago I got laid off from a pretty good job. I was general manager of a small software company, and I'd spent the last few years heads-down, as they say, doing the job. I was immersed in management, financials, sales, support, product management, and preparation for monthly board meetings. It was a pretty good gig, and was challenging enough that I kept plenty busy.
But then, over the phone, I was laid off. I had moved my family for this job about 18 months earlier and, because I was heads-down for so long, I didn't really know anyone. I hadn't bonded with my co-workers, and I didn't have a network of colleagues from past companies. What's worse, it seemed that everyone else around me did! I felt like I was at a distinct disadvantage because I didn't know people, and people didn't know me.
I had made a common career mistake: I neglected my career management because I thought I was doing something more important: my job. What I've learned -- from personal experience and from talking with hundreds of jobseekers who found themselves in the same situation -- is that you can't neglect personal career management.
Over the years I've come to realize that career management is really two things: networking and relationships, and your career brand (or personal brand).
When you become a jobseeker, it's much easier to have a pull strategy, where your brand pulls (or attracts) people to you, rather than a push strategy, where you have to continually push your brand messaging on others.
Think about a scenario where you are somewhat famous in your industry. This could be because you are a regular contributor to a popular industry blog, or because you have spoken on a hot topic at an industry conference. Perhaps it's because you're closely connected to the influential people in your industry, or better yet, you are known by them for being a great thinker. Perhaps you are one the influential people in your industry. With a scenario like this, when you get laid off, you have a network that knows who you are and what you can do.
Contrast that to a scenario where you are highly capable and a great performer, but no one knows who you are. And then . . . you get laid off! You excel in your line of work, but now you have to go out and market yourself in a way that is very different from that first famous scenario.
Herein lies the power of career branding. It's not about being fake, and it's not about producing. It's not about blatant and inappropriate bragging. Rather, your career branding strategy is one that balances your communication and influence with proper social etiquette.
For many of us that means we have to do things we're not exactly comfortable with. But I can tell you, from what I've experienced for myself and seen from others, having a proactive career branding strategy can pay off big when you are looking at promotions or job changes, or if you suddenly find yourself out of work. Once you understand career branding and get the hang of it, I bet you'll even have fun with it. This applies to introverts and extroverts alike!
My favorite book on career branding/personal branding is by Peggy Klaus. She wrote Brag!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It, a book that helps you understand how to talk about yourself and get your brand out in a direct yet appropriate way. In her book she writes,
"In today's cutthroat business world, where job security is virtually nonexistent, bragging is a necessity -- not a choice! Remaining quiet about your successes only leads to being underappreciated and overlooked."
My recommendation? Get her book, now. Peggy walks you through a process that will help you figure out how to build your career brand/personal brand by creating the right messaging; she'll also help you get comfortable talking about yourself.
Back to my story. I went through a very painful job search when I got laid off because I didn't know what I was doing, and I wasn't ready to ask for help from the right people -- I didn't know anyone, and people didn't know me. To put it more plainly: I didn't have a career/personal brand.
Over the last 12 years I've spoken to jobseekers all over the U.S. about career branding, and I'm very passionate about the topic. Here are some of the important tactical things you can work on right now to establish your brand. Some of these might sound like overwhelmingly big projects, but you can pace yourself and work on them bit by bit over a period of time.
Career Branding Tip 1: Figure out your brand statement
You've heard of the thirty-second elevator pitch. Hopefully you have one. Most are not very good because they get cliche and boring. I also suggest you create a five-second elevator pitch, or what I call the bumper sticker. Put your bumper sticker in your LinkedIn headline, which shows up under your name, or put it in your LinkedIn summary. When someone sees your LinkedIn profile, they get an immediate idea of the value you could bring to a company. Also put your bumper sticker in your email signature, for reasons similar to what's stated in the previous sentence.
Tip 2: Write a guest post for an industry-specific site
Think about writing a guest post on an established, industry-specific blog. Even if you write just one, you can share that on LinkedIn, and hopefully it will show up if someone searches your name on Google. If I'm a hiring manager and I find a post you wrote on the first page of my Google search results, I'd be impressed.
Tip 3: Get your LinkedIn profile in order
Hiring managers and recruiters are going to look at your LinkedIn profile. The more impressive you can make it, the better you'll stand out when compared to others in the interview process. If you write a guest post, share it to industry Groups you are a member of on LinkedIn. This is an excellent way to get your name out to colleagues and peers. Also ask former colleagues for LinkedIn recommendations (ones that hone in on the skills and talents that tie most closely to your career brand), and don't forget about your Skills & Endorsements section.
Tip 4: Start your own blog
You can easily set up a blog at WordPress or Wix, and then commit to writing a post once per week. Focus your posts on topics that will bolster your career/personal brand. Provide interesting, original insight into the topics you cover. If a hiring manager can locate a prospective employee's blog posts, ones that display knowledge of/interest in said prospective employee's line of work, well . . . think of what that could do for the prospect's hiring chances. Blogging is an excellent way to show off your stuff and prove your worth and passion for your career field.
Tip 5: Write a book
Some of you will automatically brush this off as an impossible task. Others might say, "I've always wanted to write a book!" I credit my first book with keeping my business afloat. It was all about branding and marketing—writing it, in fact, helped me solidify my career/personal brand. When it was released, I started to get media interviews that I had only dreamed about. I got invitations to speak, for a fee, at places I wanted to be. All because I was an author. I had expertise before, but becoming an author gave me credibility as an expert.
Don't think you need to write a massive manuscript, or find an agent and a publisher. Instead, you can write an eBook. Imagine if in your job search, you can say, "Can I send you a copy of my book on this topic?" A statement along those lines will really set you apart from the other jobseekers you are competing against.
Final Thoughts on Career Branding
One of the most important things to realize about your career branding strategy is that it is not a "one and done." It is something that needs to become a part of who you are, and how you think. Talking about yourself and communicating your skills and accomplishments is something that you must do regularly, not just when you are in job search mode.
Had I nurtured a network and worked on my career/personal brand, right from the get-go, well . .. that layoff story I profiled at the beginning of the article would have been different. The new job search would have been much shorter, and more fun, and filled with a lot more confidence.
Start working on your career/personal brand right now, and once you land your next job, keep working on it.