A brand is something that most people associate with well-known products or companies. Brands are the reason we pay more for Tylenol over generic acetaminophen, why we travel further to shop at Nordstrom over stores with less generous return policies, and why Starbuck’s are on every corner, even though many people can get less expensive coffee elsewhere.
Consistency, over-and-above service, and reliable quality create an experience that builds trust we can count on as consumers. And it’s that experience that keeps us loyal, returning to support these brands, telling others about them, and even paying more for them year after year.
For this same reason, a strong personal brand has become core to individual career success, particularly in a job search. Just like coffee, there are plenty of people who do similar work and are willing to do it for less, so you’ve got to demonstrate how you can stand out and be the Starbuck’s among them.
To define your career brand, there are three key areas you must assess:
- your value
- your differentiators
- your audience
Where do I begin?
Your career brand begins at the intersection of how you see yourself and how others see you. To find this point, send an email to 10-12 people you know and ask them what you are “known for” professionally. Request 2-3 strengths and one area where you can improve, but otherwise provide little direction. Take stock of what commonalities and differences you receive in the responses and how similar they are to your own perceptions. This is a great way to begin to understand how people experience you and the value you bring.
Other strategies to help you gain a fuller understanding of your professional value include: scanning old performance reviews, doing a detailed skills inventory, or reviewing key accomplishments and rewards.
What about differentiators?
This step can be more challenging because we don’t often think about ourselves in this context. However, everyone has “unique selling points” or USPs that give them an edge over others who do similar work. In fact, most people have more than one.
Here’s how to figure out yours. Think about your professional career in its entirety. What particular abilities, combinations of skills, achievements or unusual skill sets can you come up with? For example:
- Speak multiple languages.
- Have a unique combination of skills (e.g., MBA and Lawyer).
- Earned a special certification or clearance.
- Are particularly savvy with technology or a creative talent.
- Lived and worked in another country.
- Managed a transformation or turnaround.
- Possess special skills from a past career or volunteer experience.
- Particularly well-connected in a certain professional group or industry.
- Excelled in a sport, musical instrument, debate team, or other distinct ability.
- Held a local office, have board experience, or created a non-profit.
The key to figuring out your differentiators is not to discount anything at first. It’s easy to convince yourself that something isn’t valuable when in fact, it may be. Also, even if you can’t think of how these USPs relate to your career brand initially, chances are when you dig deeply, at least one USP contributes to your success in a distinct way.
Where does audience come in?
Your audience is determined by your career goal. If your goal is to get a job at a certain company or to work in a different function, you need to learn everything you can about that market so you can show how your career brand helps to solve the key problems. Here’s how:
- Determine the top 2 – 3 problems a hiring manager or company is facing.
- Review your value and select those skills and experiences that best address these challenges.
- Demonstrate how your differentiator (USP) makes you the candidate of choice.
For example I might say, “I help career switchers get in front of hiring managers by coaching them on how to build an accomplishment-based resume, strong online brand, and well-connected network. Incorporating my background as a psychologist and former recruiter, I help candidates understand the bias and assumptions on the other side of the desk, then give them strategies to gain an advantage in the interview.”
- Value: Experience writing resumes, building networks and coaching
- Audience: Job switchers (pain point = need a different job)
- USP: Background as a psychologist and former recruiter
This “career brand statement” then becomes your guidepost for how you introduce yourself to others, what you post online, and how you present yourself in an interview. This statement works the same way that Apple’s “Think different” brand slogan guides their actions as a company in terms of their design, products and functionality.
Do I need a brand if I’m not in a job search?
Building your career brand enables you to stay ahead of the game. If you are “known” in your network for a distinct ability to solve a particular challenge, new opportunities will make their way to you before you need them.
What if I’m a career switcher?
If a significant career change is in your future, creating a new brand will be a critical part of your job search strategy. Even if you’ve not spent much time cultivating a brand previously, chances are people have come to experience you in a certain specialty and may be confused by a sudden switch. Your best bet is to find the commonalities between your old professional brand and your new one, and build from there. A career coach can be a helpful ally in this process so that your new audience can see your value in a way that solves their toughest problems.
For earlier articles in the Ready, Set, Switch! series, click here.
Reposted from: Forbes.com