Your Story Is Your Brand
Are you carefully developing your brand with your superiors, co-workers, and the electronic world? You should. Times have changed. You probably need no newspaper article to point this out. Our world is smaller; we are more mobile and our professional (and personal) relationships more fleeting. Today, as individuals on a career path, we are more akin to products within a market than we are to people with a reputations.
There was a time when mentors would commit a decade to develop protégés with enthusiastic pride. Masters trained apprentices to become journeyman who would eventually move on carrying the reputation of their old boss to the world. His reputation became part of their reputation. Co-workers and clients knew each other over time and these reputations would make or break careers.
The concept of a brand is ubiquitous today. We are continually surrounded by marketers displaying the brand of a product. Companies spend millions creating logos and maintaining their brand.
Wikipedia provides this definition:
“A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or other feature that distinguishes one seller's product from those of others. Brands are used in business, marketing, and advertising.”
While I am a little tired of the word, I must confess that it is a useful concept. As we develop our careers, today each of us have a brand. But unlike corporations and products, our brand is too often accidental. What is it that “distinguishes” us from others? In terms of our career development, it is the conversations that we engage in that define our brand. How the people around us remember our contributions creates our brand. However, in the more collaborative workforce of today, the actual projects completed are appropriately credited to a team of people. Even if you are the principal author or manager on the project, what those above remember about an individual is seldom which group you were a part of, but most often what you have said in their presence. If you are a great listener, or analyzer, or deep thinker we only know this because of the comments that you share. We can’t read your mind and don’t have time to do so. Your conversations over lunch, while working at the lab bench, or in a classroom are what the rest of us reduce to a simplistic label. We also see how you react physically and occasionally make judgments about you based on your body language, but still, I would argue that these, too, are part of your conversation. Then once we have this impression reduced to a brand, we then share it with others, both thru the ubiquitous share button and in our conversations.
Let’s assume then, that all of us have a brand. How positive is yours? Did you define it deliberately? Probably not as carefully as a marketer would. When it comes time for a promotion or a desirable assignment, it is this brand the decision makers will recall. An internal boss just might have a record or file that includes your accomplishments along with the other personnel forms, but even so the decision makers are aware of your brand. They will see everything else available to them in relation to this brand. In the day-to-day decisions that effect your career there is no more important factor than your brand.
There is no doubt that we will benefit by being more aware and better curators of this brand. But how can we do that while still being true to our nature? Thankfully very few of us are so Machiavellian that we would control every utterance. The answer, then, is simply a matter of preparation. Any conversation that you can anticipate is worthy of preparation. Certainly, the important ones are. And so are the conversations that are casual but with important people. The teenager who wants to get the car keys might rehearse the parental conversation knowing that it is important. The young lover prepares a proposal. But why do so many of us walk into performance reviews hoping to become brilliant in the moment?
When the boss’s boss is coming to the office to “look around” we should prepare the piece of our personal story that we want to communicate. We should think about what goal this important person is pursuing professionally or dealing with personally? To empathize in this manner beforehand, allows us to also consider how our work, unique perspective, or even caring comment could create a more positive brand. If during this senior person’s visit she turns to you and says, “So, hi, what’s your function here?” In this moment you will make an impact, either positive or negative. The portion of your personal story that you share in this moment is your brand. Remember you might even be a little star-struck or nervous in that moment. Should we rely on inspiration or preparation?
What we plan to say, and what actually get’s said are seldom the same unless you practice it. Try out a few concise versions of your personal story. Perhaps find a trusted coach, who can listen and help you adjust, so you don’t have to worry about offending your friends. Find the right balance and deliberately develop your brand as carefully as if marketing a product or a company, and your successes will propel your future. Your stories are your brand.
Mark Efinger, the Founder and President of The Interview Skill Coaching Academy has twenty-five years of experience training interview candidates to put their best foot forward when it counts, both for professional interviews and admissions interviews at selective schools. His clients have achieved offers from Google, Goldman Sachs, Mobil Oil, First National Bank of Chicago, Harvard, Stamford, Williams College, Mt Holyoke, Phillips Academy Andover, and many other institutions.