There is a shift under way in hiring that will have significant impacts on individuals wishing to progress their careers. As more and more recruiters look beyond SEEK to LinkedIn, at least for senior roles, professional profiles are becoming public.
What distinguishes the likes of SEEK and LinkedIn is transparency and personal branding. Your profile on LinkedIn is public and therefore open to scrutiny. There is also transparency about what you look like, who you know, who endorsed you and the recommendations you have received. These constitute highly valuable information to recruiters and prospective employers which is absent from SEEK.
Beyond transparency LinkedIn offers a way to create a personal brand, something that is becoming a ‘must have’ for aspiring executives. A consumer product brand like Vegemite communicates a certain brand promise – the experience you will have when you eat a vegemite sandwich. In this sense it is a promise of how you will feel and marketers spend a lot of money to create this association between brand and emotion in peoples’ minds. For the most successful brands, the brand becomes a proxy for the product itself – nobody would refer to Vegemite as a yeast extract spread, which is what it technically is.
We see a trend to personal branding in recruitment and career advancement happening and we feel it is connected to the rise of LinkedIn and the increasing competition for senior leadership roles as a result of the vast increase in highly qualified people in the workplace. After a slow start this shift towards branding has accelerated recently with the decline in open positions and the return of many expats, further increasing the competition for executive roles in the job market.
Recruiters and hiring managers are overwhelmed (nobody can read 200 resumes in a reasonable time frame) and are looking for a shortcut to make selection easier without sacrificing the quality of shortlisted candidates. The emerging shortcut is the same as happened in the consumer space – with too many products to choose from, branding is the only way to quickly and reliably connect with your target audience.
So what exactly is your personal brand and how do you promote it? Your brand consists of a tagline (or brand statement), supporting expertise and achievements and distinguishing personal characteristics.
You can immediately see the similarity to LinkedIn. In essence, your professional headline on LinkedIn is your brand statement. This is the first bit of text after your name. It can just be informative (your job title) or highly imaginative (’Professional Futurist and Provocateur’). No matter what, it determines how you will be perceived and (hopefully) remembered.
Your aim in creating your headline brand statement is to steer your audience towards the capabilities you want to highlight. The trick here is that less is more, it is much easier for a person to remember a simple tagline they can relate to than trying to cram in everything and the kitchen sink. For example ‘Wholesale Credit Risk Manager with global experience’ is much better than ‘Manager Credit Risk Agribusiness, Manufacturing and Mining Asia Pacific’. The latter may technically be your job title, but it doesn’t make a good brand tagline.
If your current job title isn’t positioning you in the way you want, you should create a brand tagline that is based on the capabilities you want to highlight, such as ’Organisational Change Manager with resilience and outstanding track record’. This is the best way of steering your target audience in the right direction, before they look at your actual employment history.
Once you have settled on the tagline, you will need to get it ’out there’. Branding sticks solely through repetition. Because you can’t run a national TV advertising campaign like for consumer goods, you need to become your own spokesperson and you need to enlist a number of ’champions’, who believe in you, in your brand and in your capability to deliver on the brand promise.
If this sounds like blowing your own trumpet, you are right. Not everybody is comfortable with this idea, but it is necessary for your brand to gain traction. Finding the best opportunities to slip in your brand almost unnoticed is the best way to overcome any discomfort you may feel around self promotion.
Don’t picture standing up in front of 100 people to announce how wonderful you are. Picture something like saying ‘I could do this, I am a really good change manager and have delivered a project just like this in a previous organisation’ when an opportunity arises. Most likely that opportunity will come up in a ‘corridor conversation’ with a senior manager you don’t normally deal with a lot and who you have targeted because he works in the area where you really want to be.
There is a lesson for all hard workers in this little story – if you spend all the time at your desk, you will not ’accidentally’ bump into the people who need to hear your brand message. If you believe that one day they will turn up at your desk because they heard about the great work you have being doing, think again. When was the last time that happened to anyone you know?
Promoting your brand is your responsibility. It’s great to enlist others, your ’fan club’, but if your fan club only has people in it who report to you, then that’s not much help in moving up. Your ideal champion sits 2 levels above you in the hierarchy (if there aren’t 2 levels, think about the size of the area they look after instead).
To cultivate a champion, you need to offer value beyond your current role. What that ‘value’ is depends on what your (prospective) champion is after. Value to them may be assistance with a project, information, insights into other people, creating a business case, contributing ideas etc. Once you deliver value to a champion you have the right and responsibility to ask for something in return.
A lot of career minded individuals we meet don’t seem to understand the concept of reciprocity. As humans we are ’wired’ to reciprocate favours, we are conditioned to pay others back in kind. If you don’t ask for anything in return you make it exceedingly difficult for your champion to stay in the relationship. Most people, with the exception of narcissists, will start to feel guilty if they can’t pay you back and slowly withdraw from such an unbalanced relationship.
Of course there is a lot more to creating and promoting your unique personal brand. To gain credibility, your brand needs to match your skills and achievements, you need to be able to deliver on your brand promise. It also needs to be linked to 2-3 distinguishing personal characteristics that best describe you, such as ’driven’ or ’methodical’.