by Sheree Van Vreede (@rezlady)
I really do believe that sometimes we (meaning the collective human race in general and career pros in particular) just like to make things harder than they really are. And that is especially true when it comes to “personal branding.”
It’s no secret that I am not a big fan of the word, but then again, I am not a big fan of most buzz words. (And when it comes to the career industry, much like many other professions, we love our buzz words!) The reason for my frustration with the phrase is that for all the good we think we are doing by bombarding job seekers with these terms, it more often backfires than it does produce real good.
Here’s what I mean. You end up with two kinds of job seekers:
1. Ones who are obsessed with trying to unlock the personal branding puzzle. (They’ve been hearing all about this “new” concept, and they don’t want to miss out.)
2. Ones who are sick of hearing about it and reject it outright as just a ploy to sell them on more career services.
In both cases, it is a pity really because the idea behind personal branding is important and should not be rejected, but it isn’t all that new and it certainly isn’t a great mystery. What you have is a classic case of overselling, where you either set people up for disappoint or turn them off completely. Either way, it is not a good reflection on the career services industry, especially when I know that most career pros really do want to add value to a job seeker’s experience. They just fail to present it realistically.
It also doesn’t help that many job seekers are only interested in hearing what’s flashy, such as how social media is their savior and how personal branding will transform them into every prospective employer’s dream.
None of this should really come as a surprise as we find a similar issue with the terms “marketing” and “social media marketing,” in particular. As a small business owner, I am well aware of how obsessed you can become with these terms. We build these concepts up so much that we either chase after anyone who seems to grasp the mysteries behind them or run fleeing in the opposite direction just hoping our businesses will market themselves. And just like with “personal branding,” everybody loses (except the chosen few selling the online gimmicks).
Alas, however, like most things, once these buzz words enter the marketplace, they pull us all in. And they can’t be ignored because they do have some merit. The trick is in understanding just how much of the hype to believe and how much to throw out. That’s why I like to advise our clients to “keep it real.” We’re not looking for gimmicks but for real methods.
After all, we’re real people looking for real jobs with real companies run by other real people.
And although it might sound trite, that is really what personal branding is. It is understanding your place in that equation and articulating how you fit into it.
The best way to do that is good old-fashioned problem solving. Yes, problem solving.
The tools might be new (like LinkedIn or Twitter), the culture might be different (remote office, global teams), and the processes might be tedious (resume parsing systems), but the concept is still the same.
We hire people who can solve our problems.
That is exactly what an employer is looking for when he or she scans your resume. It’s not so much credentials (although they play a part); it’s whether you can solve the problem.
If you can anticipate and articulate that, then you understand your personal brand.
Likeability, background, cultural fit, age, and so on…for all our talk/worry about these issues…become less of an obstacle if you can convince an employer that you understand and know how to solve the problems he or she has.
Honestly, that’s all personal branding really is, and that is all that it will ever be. Polish or no polish. Introvert or extrovert.