When Is Your Brand Not a Brand?

If everything you publish about yourself as a professional–and that includes your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and more–makes you sound pretty much like hundreds or thousands of other people…your brand is not a brand. It will not make you stand out to prospective employers as a promising candidate for the job you want. Without finding a clear way to distinguish yourself and convey your desirable value to those employers, you will blend in with your competition the way trees blend into a forest–at least, they do if they are basically all the same kind of tree.

Brand Differentiation, Not Cliches

In a recent article called “Passionate, Creative Thinker Seeks Job: How to Fix a Personal Brand That’s A Total Cliche,” author Nacie Carson points out just some of the terms people use to describe themselves that have become meaningless cliches. “Everyone is a passionate, hard worker and creative thinker.” Carson then offers a bad news-good news take on the problem. “It’s hard to truly establish competitive differentiation when you share the same brand descriptors as a thousand of your closest competitors. But there’s hope for your generic professional brand. Those very same overused terms can be as a starting point for developing a deeper, more accurate, and more memorable brand differentiation.”

Carson’s solution for cliched brand descriptors that make your brand a cliche is to use a “why chain.” The solution is to “start with a statement about yourself as a professional using one of your current descriptors, like ‘I am an excellent communicator,’ and then ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why are you an excellent communicator?” Whatever your answer to that is, you need to drill deeper and ask why and keep asking why until you reach the essence of your competitive differentiation. Of course, as Carson makes clear, just defining your descriptors more clearly is only part of the battle. You need to make sure your actions match the brand and communicate it compellingly.

What Your Resume & Other Job Search Tools Can & Can’t Do

If you have a strong, well-defined brand in your head, you want to make sure it’s reflected appropriately in your job search tools (aka career marketing documents and the like). You can’t fall back on the lazy man’s (or woman’s) answer, which is to load up your resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile with phrases that don’t present your brand in a way that will catch the attention of employers. Even an otherwise good resume can’t overcome a poorly defined brand or one that’s not well communicated–in other words, if you’ve done great things for employers that could reinforce your unique brand, those contributions need to be presented clearly and consistently in line with your brand.

I “preach” this to clients all the time–or so it seems. I don’t want them to have me manufacture good points about them in their materials. I do want them to think hard about what it is that makes them special…and especially valuable to employers. I believe everyone has at least some of this. Sometimes they just have to dig a little deeper to find it and bring it out.

If you have been shying away from the whole concept of branding, now might be a good time to accept that if you don’t consciously brand yourself, you will do it unconsciously or–worse yet–let others do it for you. The result is not likely to be a happy one. Acknowledge that you are special in a way that can benefit potential employers, and then work to communicate that to them. There aren’t any shortcuts to success in this or in just about anything else that’s worth having and doing.

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Need to Reinvent Your Career?

If not now, you might still at some point in your working life either need or want to reinvent your career. When/if that happens to you, do you have a plan for accomplishing it? Much like fire or flood insurance you hope you will never need, a career management plan that takes the need for reinventing your career into account makes excellent sense.

I did that myself a number of years ago and was lucky (?) enough to start working on it while I still had a good job–no worrying about how I would pay the bills tomorrow if I failed to find a new direction or opportunity soon. From clients and other people I’ve talked with over the years, the alternative (no preparation) is a mess–you don’t want to “go there”!

Tips to Reinvent Your Career

An excellent article on Fast Company’s website offers a few practical tips you probably will want to consider for your own situation. “Four Steps to Reinventing Your Career”, by Kaihan Krippendorff, is worth reading all the way through. However, here in a nutshell are the four tips Krippendorff offers:

  1. Clarify the situation. What has changed that requires a reinvention?
  2. Assess your assets….What assets do you want to protect and leverage?
  3. Listen for needs….What needs are calling you?
  4. Define your strategy. To move into action, we need a clear set of priorities….What are your priorities…?

Pitfalls and Mistakes to Avoid in Career Reinvention

I have no idea how many possible pitfalls and/or mistakes you could actually make while trying to reinvent your career, but I’ll bet it’s more than a few! While I can’t tell you how to avoid them all, I do have a few ideas to suggest. For starters:

  • Don’t wait until your “house is burning” before you try to grab some fire insurance. The word “proactive” has become seriously overused, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment that hits the nail on the head. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen in my career? Am I prepared to deal with it if it comes?” Then start scoping-out possible actions to either prevent or minimize potential career disaster.
  • Build a network of trusted resources–advisors, colleagues, family, whoever else seems good for this–that you can consult regarding things you should be aware of and consider carefully in your career management plan, specifically with regard to career reinvention.
  • Assume nothing! Just because everything is proceeding smoothly at the moment and your career looks solid, it’s not wise to assume nothing will change down the road. For example, you might find yourself in “burnout” because of the demands of your current career or you could develop a strong desire to find a career that lets you enrich people’s lives more than you can where you are now.

Change and Career Reinvention Discomfort

Change often causes us to feel uncomfortable, and a need to reinvent your career is no different in that regard. This is especially true if you are currently comfortable with the status of your career and don’t want to change, but it’s even true if you’re not very comfortable now. “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t” pretty much covers it. You might need more than a little courage to take the necessary first steps, but that’s okay. You’ll probably find it a bit easier if you start when you’re not under the gun to make a change; just don’t let that sense of comfort and lack of urgency lull you into complacence!


LinkedIn Doesn’t Mean You’re Job Searching

Because I have frequently advocated using LinkedIn as part of your job search planning, you might be surprised at the heading of this post. After all, a robust online presence is essential to being found by potential employers, and LinkedIn is recognized as a key element of building and maintaining that robust presence. Right? Certainly, but that is not the whole story. LinkedIn does–or should–help you build and communicate your brand to employers; however, it also can–and often should–reflect the corporate brand of the companies you have worked for. So what possibilities does that open up?

Personal vs Corporate Brand on LinkedIn

One of my esteemed colleagues, Deb Dib, recently wrote an item in the Reach Branding newsletter (published by branding guru William Arruda) that brought out strongly what the relationship can be between your personal brand and your employer’s brand. In the short article, titled “Ditch. Dare. Do! for YOU,” she firmly maintains that “when you build your brand you are building your company. Your brand reinforces and enhances corporate brand attributes; it helps you make a mark on your organization, augment your company’s image and reputation, and increase your visibility and presence with all stakeholders (inside and outside the walls of your organization). In fact, if you’re not building your brand, you’re not doing your job!”

What does this mean to you and how you represent yourself on LinkedIn? If you’re conducting a highly confidential job search, you might focus on maintaining a more or less neutral tone in communicating your value to prospective employers, to avoid sending an overt message that says, “Hey, I’m job searching here, Mr. Current Employer.”

At the same time, you do want to get that message across somehow and don’t want to be so subtle about it that your target market doesn’t catch the message. One way to help do that is to match your personal value with what you have enabled your current employer to achieve through your contributions, in terms of presenting the company’s value and successes strongly to its target markets.

Here’s a quick example–something you might put under the brief introduction to your current position in the Experience section of your LinkedIn profile: “Planned and executed launch of new energy-saving product that enabled ABC Company to break into a competitive market and quickly increase its market share from 0% to 25%.”

You’ve given a nod to your company’s market success while also giving yourself credit for an outstanding accomplishment. Of course, you could do more than that. You could include some wording in the Summary section of your profile that references the company you currently work for and puts it in a nicely positive light. That might be of interest to people who are searching for companies that do what your employer does and does well.

The only important point to remember in that case is that you will need to change that section when you change employers, so it reflects your new employer and not the former one.

LinkedIn As an Ongoing Job Search Tool

Having said the above, I want to emphasize that LinkedIn’s value as an ongoing job search tool remains strong today, despite the many changes that have been initiated in recent months. It’s important that nearly every job seeker (active at the moment or not) makes sure he or she is well represented on LinkedIn. Your perceived value to employers must form a key element of that representation.

If you don’t already have a compelling, well-organized LinkedIn profile, you really should be giving serious attention to it. Whether you take care of it yourself, have a friend or colleague do it, or hire someone else to do it for you, you owe it to yourself to make it happen.


Your “Right” to Your Personnel File Records

I have the word right in quotes because it so happens that you have at best limited right to see and/or have copies of the information in your personnel file while you are still employed–and even less right after that. (The state where you live and work has some effect on this.) I just read a post in the blog run by Nick Corcodillos of Ask The Headhunter that highlights this situation and puts it pretty bluntly. It reinforces a piece of advice I have given to clients for years, which I will get to in a moment. In short, though, it’s up to you to find out what your “rights” are and to take as much advantage of them as the law allows.

So Who Does Own Your Personnel File?

In his blog post, Surprise: Guess who owns your personnel file, Corcodillos mentions that he consulted an attorney he knows, Lawrence Barty. Barty offered some general information that I believe all employees should be aware of. Among other things, he commented that employees often believe they own their personnel file, when in fact, it’s the company’s file on them as an employee. Companies are seldom required to give employees direct access to the file, although some of them apparently do permit that in certain circumstances.

As Barty put it in this quote from the blog post, “without a State law giving the employee a right to see the file, the employee is at the mercy of the employer. Only about a third of the States have any laws concerning the right to view or copy employment files….In those States that do have laws permitting employees to see their files, the conditions vary widely.”

What is Your Access to Personnel File Records?

Without direct access to the personnel file itself (which, as noted, can be highly problematic), you have one option that relates to what I said at the beginning about advice I always offer. I strongly recommend keeping a log of what you’ve accomplished in your job during the time you’ve been there, ideally with backup documentation that verifies your contributions and helps offset negative information, if any. If your employer conducts periodic performance reviews, you are typically given a copy of the review. Keep that copy! Equally important, keep it in a safe place off-site, not at work.

If you receive any email messages or other communications that pertain to your work–good or bad–keep copies of them off-site as well. You will need to be careful about those, however; if they contain information about company business that would be considered confidential/proprietary, you might need to block out those portions before you let anyone outside the company see the material.

Along these same lines, I recommend having two copies of the materials and storing the copies in separate locations. For example, one copy might be in your records at home while another might be in a safe deposit box (if it has room) or other secure location that you could easily gain access to if needed. In the hopefully unlikely event of a catastrophe at home (such as a fire or major earthquake), you might need that backup copy.

Bottom line: Don’t depend on anyone else to provide you with information you should have and really want access to. Check with a lawyer on anything you’re not sure about, but don’t just let this slide. Trying to get the information after-the-fact can be a royal pain!


Update Your Job Search Strategy

Sometimes we find that we have achieved a comfortable groove with our job search and career management. If that describes you, you might want to consider that a synonym for “groove” is “rut”! Achieving a comfortable groove sounds better than being stuck in a rut, but the concept is still the same. You are basically going nowhere, fast.

This quote that I found while reading items on SmartBrief on Your Career suggests a concept that I believe is worth considering: “After you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over.”
Alfred E. Perlman, American businessman

Start All Over with Your Job Search Strategy? Really?

Remember, Mr. Perlman said this should happen after ten years. So we’re not talking here about throwing the whole thing out after a few weeks or months. A lot can and does change in the employment situation over time–and often not very much time, at that. If you are still using a job search strategy that you put together a few years ago, you might be cheating yourself out of good job opportunities. In today’s uncertain economic climate and competitive job market, that’s less desirable than ever.

Look at your career situation from the perspective that everything needs to be reevaluated periodically. If a job search strategy or job search tactic has worked well for you recently, you might not need to change it–at least, not significantly–for quite some time. However, you can and probably should take an objective look at it each time you start a new job search campaign or begin considering one. For example, a tactic that initially supported your overall strategy well might now be of questionable value and potentially even detrimental to your job search. If so, you definitely want to look at viable alternatives. Maybe there’s a new development you haven’t tried yet that seems promising for your needs.

Update Your Job Search Strategy, Strategically

One definition of “strategy” is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” You need to do more than just define your job search strategy, important as that is. Doing something strategically relates to “creating direction and priorities that will advance both your short-term and long-term direction and efforts” (from a blog post on Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, titled “We Are Less Strategic Than Ever“).

That strongly suggests the importance of not changing your strategy–or your tactics, for that matter–without giving thought to the likely downstream effects. Consider carefully before you update your job search strategy, especially if you’re looking at the possibility of taking steps that involve a major commitment of your time, money or other resources. However, don’t let this stop you completely from moving forward. No action is not the best alternative to rash action!


Job Search and Headhunters (aka Recruiters)

The subject of using headhunters (aka recruiters) in a job search comes up from time to time. I guess some jobseekers view it as a possible magic bullet in the job search. I have written at least one post in the past about this subject. However, recently a couple of clients have asked me questions about using headhunters in a job search, so I decided it was time to revisit this topic.

Recruiters Don’t Find You a Job

I sometimes mistakenly assume that everyone these days knows recruiters don’t go out and find jobs for you. Evidently, there are still people who don’t know that, just as there are people who think Twitter is what birds do. So let’s explode that myth from the start. You can’t march up to a recruiter (figuratively speaking) and say, “I need you to find me a great job…and soon.” Well, you could, but it’s probably a quick way to get yourself shown the door (again, figuratively speaking, unless you actually had the nerve to try that approach in person!).

Think about it. If you were a recruiter, would you appreciate having people come at you from all directions, each one thinking he or she is the answer to your prayer or expecting you to pull a rabbit (job) out of a hat for him or her? Recruiters need to find hot candidates for specific search assignments (retained search) or open positions they know about (contingency recruiters). They don’t keep a steady pipeline of possible jobs in all functional areas or for all possible employers just so they can say, “Hey, Joe needs a new job as a Director of Marketing, and here’s one that’s right up his alley!”

Watch Out for Possibly Unscrupulous Recruiters

Yes, there are some. Regardless of that, you need to keep at least one thing in mind if you’re considering working with a recruiter. If a recruiter contacts you about an opening and you agree to have him/her contact the employer to present you, what happens if you then receive a call from that employer who says they found your resume online? In a recent column by Ask the Headhunter’s Nick Corcodillos, someone wrote in with that exact problem. Was that recruiter unscrupulous? Not necessarily. However, as Corcodillos points out, something like that puts you in a no-win situation.

Following are a few points made in Corcodillos’ response to the inquirer (summarized to save space). See #4 on the list.

  1. Recruiters and companies can both find your resume online. It’s next to impossible to tell who found you first or where.
  2. Companies don’t want to risk a “fee fight” or a lawsuit if they hire you without paying a recruiter who claims to represent you.
  3. Recruiters can submit your resume to possible employers even without your knowledge and specific permission.
  4. The best way to avoid these problems is to stop posting your resume online…anywhere.

As I’ve said before, I read Ask the Headhunter frequently and always find it interesting. He knows a lot about the subject of employment, particularly recruiting and recruiters. That doesn’t mean I (or anyone else) will agree with everything he says. However, what he says in this case is worth considering.


Job and Career Insurance

You might not think of your career–or your current job–in terms of insurance, except for the insurance you hopefully have from your employer for things like medical and dental expenses. However, as I have mentioned before, life (including work) is uncertain; no one can really predict the future. The wise professional considers what he or she can and should do to prepare for unexpected changes, as well as to plan and manage change assertively when the opportunity exists to do that. What brought this to my thought today was an article on a site called Lifehacker.com, called “How To Futureproof Your Job with a Career Insurance Policy” by Alan Henry.

Career Insurance Policies

As with many things online these days, the article by Henry refers back to an earlier article on CareerSherpa by Hannah Morgan, titled “Create a Career Insurance Policy.” In the interests of simplicity, I’m not going to discuss both articles in this post, but I’ve provided links so you can check them out thoroughly yourself, if you’re interested in more details.

Among other things, Henry mentions that “whether you’ve been laid off, thinking about a new job, or you’re comfortable in the job you have, a career insurance policy can help take some of the weight from your shoulders.” Henry lists 5 actions you can take that will put you in the strongest-possible position to weather a work-related storm or just prepare to move forward more effectively.

  1. Protect Yourself Financially with an Emergency Fund
  2. Make Yourself More Valuable by Diversifying Your Skills and Experience
  3. Protect Yourself Professionally by Beefing Up Your Network
  4. Keep Your Résumé and Social Networks Updated, and Learn How to Promote Yourself
  5. Turn Your Hobbies, Passions, or Extra Skills Into a Second Income Stream

None of the above ideas is revolutionary or earth-shaking in its novelty. The point is, if you haven’t thought seriously about them in the past, it would be a good idea to start doing that.

Essential Foundation for Job and Career Insurance Policies

Whether you’re thinking short-term (how can I keep the job I have now?) or long-term (how can I progress to the next level in my career over the coming year or two?), your evaluation and planning need to take into account what the situation is now. What’s good about it and bad about it from your perspective, the viewpoint of your family, and so on? What do you want to preserve and what do you need to change? What’s realistic as part of your career insurance planning, what’s a stretch but do-able, and what’s totally “pie in the sky”? I can use my own situation as a quick example.

I’m a professional resume writer and career/job search coach. I’ve been providing these services for about 20 years and thoroughly enjoy my work. I don’t want or need to change that. However, realistically, I can’t expect to keep doing that until I’m 90! I should have a good plan based on two conditions: (1) what will I do if for some reason it becomes impossible for me to continue in my present career path? (2) what resources–financial and otherwise–do I need to have in place for a worst-case scenario? I might prefer not to think about these subjects, but pulling something over my head so I don’t have to look at them will not make my situation any stronger! In fact, it could make matters much worse if a change were to be forced on me.

Treat job and career insurance policies as at least a necessary evil, like having car and home insurance that you hope you’ll never need. View them as peace-of-mind plans. They’re worth the effort it takes to create and maintain them.