Once upon a time, I nearly lost control of my personal brand – and my career.
While working at a large consultancy, I was assigned to a project and asked to develop and implement a test strategy for a new CRM system. At the end of the project, my supervisors were so pleased that they assigned me a similar role on another project … and then another. Three years passed before I recognized that my career was headed in an undesired direction. I realized that I had surrendered control of my personal brand and was being driven down a career path that I didn’t like.
Because I had acquired skills and experience designing testing strategies and managing testing teams, I was pigeonholed as a “testing guru.” But I didn’t want to be a testing subject matter expert. It wasn’t something I enjoyed. I had to find a way to change my career trajectory.
At one time or another, many professionals face a situation like this. Thanks to their skillsets and experience, they find themselves in roles or jobs or industries they don’t enjoy. Often, the root cause of the problem is:
• A failure to proactively create a well-defined personal brand.
• A failure to continually and intentionally curate the brand.
• Allowing others to create the brand. If you don’t take charge of your brand, others will do it for you, and you may not like this “default branding.”
Your personal brand is to your career what a rudder is to a ship. It’s the mechanism that gives you control over the direction of your professional life.
Unfortunately, many people either: (A) allow a “default brand” to carry them here, there or anywhere; or (B) they jump from company to company in an effort to escape the direction in which the default branding is steering them. Neither “solution” puts you in charge of your career because other people are still defining your brand.
Creating a Brand Requires Awareness
Many young professionals don’t think about their personal brands. Instead, the brands are created for them based on behaviors and attributes that their peers and supervisors notice. For example, if Mark is meticulous about submitting high quality deliverables, Susan delivers sloppy work and Peter is always late, those attributes may become core features of their personal brands.
To avoid “default branding,” become aware of how others perceive you. Start by asking for feedback from your subordinates, peers and managers. Also, pay close attention to performance reviews. If the same negative comments keep cropping up again and again, those critiques are probably true and need to be addressed.
Once you have feedback, it’s time to create a personal brand, which is basically a fact-based aspirational story designed to help you achieve your goals.
Every good resume, LinkedIn profile, job interview and “elevator pitch” is a carefully curated, fact-based narrative that presents the best version of you – a version that will attract prospective employers, customers and other valuable connections.
Good Curation Aligns Your Messages and Goals
Just as a museum director curates an exhibition by carefully selecting works and artists that align with a particular theme, you need to be selective about the information you display to support your brand. That means carefully editing your resume, social media profiles and posts, blogs, etc. Add (and emphasize) material that supports your goals. Remove anything that might sow confusion.
For example, let’s say you want to evolve your brand from that of IT Project Manager to Global IT Solutions Architect. The former role suggests that you manage small projects involving a single system. The latter suggests that you can manage very complex technology projects involving multiple systems and remote international teams.
In this case, curating a change in brand might involve acquiring and stressing new skills – e.g., additional certifications. It could also involve acquiring more experience working on global projects and taking a leadership class that deals with managing diverse constituents.
Be sure to delete (at least temporarily) any material that could dilute your brand – e.g., personal interests or side businesses unrelated to your career goals. You can always discuss these things during interviews, and reinstate them once you’ve landed a job. Until then, you want a clearly defined brand that aligns perfectly with your immediate objectives.
Don’t Surrender to Inertia
The longer you stay in a role, the more solidified your brand becomes relative to that role. Once a personal brand is established, it sets you on a particular career trajectory. And if you don’t curate your brand to change direction, inertia will kick in, and you’ll probably continue on that trajectory indefinitely.
So if you don’t like your current direction, reassert control over your brand.
To conquer my career crisis, I met with the company’s partners and negotiated a change of roles – away from that of “testing guru.” Thereafter, I became much more deliberate – and much more intentional – about managing my personal brand.