Branding yourself in your best light

dirty laundry branding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transparency. Isn’t it lovely? Unless we’re talking about bra straps or Scotch tape, not necessarily. No one wants to see (or smell) your dirty laundry. I promise. While transparency certainly has its place in the world of business and marketing, it doesn’t translate well to personal and professional branding.

Why? We’re flawed. We all possess defective character traits. If we care about our colleagues, and we care about creating a positive impression on others, we spend all day long hiding those little flaws. We work to build better character traits. When we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired, sad, or overwhelmed, we try to suck it up and carry on. We may let it all hang out the minute we walk in the door after work. We heat up a frozen pizza, throw on the sweats, and lean into the sofa with a beer and our dog. We have ourselves a good cry. But do we show it at work? Absolutely not.

Is this healthy? Are we all imposters? What in the world is wrong with us? Why can’t we just be ourselves in the workplace?

First of all, let me be clear. If you’re struggling to get out of bed every morning due to depression or anxiety, seek professional help from a counselor. If you’re so overwhelmed by stress in the workplace, and this topic is causing you neck pain, you may need to consider yoga (or a new career path altogether).

But most of us aren’t struggling with emotions or concerns which are extremely out of balance. We’re just trying to make it through the day. Some days are tougher than others.

branding best light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you make it through those tough days without losing your cool and burning bridges with people at work–your professional network? How do you brand yourself in your best light on a regular basis? And is branding yourself in your best light really being honest with yourself and others?

Here are a few thoughts on branding yourself in your best light and the notion of transparency in the workplace.

  1. Don’t be transparent at work. Set appropriate boundaries. If you need to learn how to set appropriate boundaries, hire a professional counselor or therapist. Read the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Don’t expect yourself to understand how to have positive, healthy relationships with coworkers if you’ve never had positive, healthy relationships with anyone else in your life. You cannot snap your fingers and gain this ability.
  2. Remember that you choose the brand you portray. A brand is simply your reputation. A reputation is built by choices you make. Choices include words and actions. Our words and actions are preceded by decisions. We make decisions all day long every single day.

    Did you know that decision-making is one of the most sought-after soft skills by employers? It’s true. If you brand yourself as level-headed, positive, kind, and thoughtful, you simultaneously brand yourself as someone capable of making good decisions on a regular basis.

  3. When you choose to showcase yourself in your best light–to bring your good stuff to work and share your struggles with only your closest friends, family members, and paid professional counselors–you are not being dishonest. You are being wise. You are behaving in a way which builds your self-esteem. You’re building dignity and confidence in the workplace. You’re giving yourself space from whatever problems you’re facing outside of work, allowing yourself to focus on work while you’re working. You are growing professionally.

    Here is how to brand yourself in your best light… Be the best version of yourself. Continually grow. Make choices you’re proud of on a daily basis. Develop your strengths and character assets. When you focus on developing your soft skills, strengths, and assets, guess what happens to your weaknesses and defects? They die of neglect.

    Your brand will begin to evolve as you evolve. Your brand is simply a moon. If you are working toward career fulfillment and toward becoming the best version of yourself, you’re going to be reflecting nothing but light–and branding becomes much easier.

 

If you need help developing a written branding statement, a bio, an elevator pitch, or a solid LinkedIn profile, reach out to me for help.

For more thoughts on branding yourself in your best light, check out this 3-minute video.

 

 

 

 

Before writing your resume, do this:

I often work with clients who want to jump right into writing a resume. I understand that desire because a resume is one of the most important tools in your job search and career development toolbox. Many clients are also skittish about spending too much time or money working with a career coach, and they assume working on their resume may be their first and final step to career success. Before you start writing your resume, make sure you’re truly ready. Don’t bypass key steps which will ensure a stronger resume.


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Before you even consider revising or creating a resume, you have to do one thing: define your career goals.

Get clear about why you’re unhappy with your current job or feeling motivated to change careers, seek a promotion, or switch jobs. If you don’t know the why, the “how” won’t help you in the end. Creating a solid resume is a pertinent part of your job search. But if you try to create a resume with no clear career direction in sight, your resume will, at best, be a generic list of your experience, qualifications, and accomplishments. It won’t include a concise professional summary because you must consider your career goals when writing a professional summary. It won’t feature keywords matching jobs you’re applying for, because you won’t know which jobs you hope to land. Because it lacks keywords and phrases matching the positions you’re applying for, you may not receive any offers for interviews because your resume will never make it past the ATS (applicant tracking system). And you’ll have to include all your experience rather than hand-picking which experiences best match the position you’re applying for.

Obviously this is a poor approach for resume writing. Instead, work with a career coach (or if you’re a college student, a career services professional on-campus) to define your career goals.

  1. In order to define your career goals, you might need to take some career assessments. Assessment tools can help clarify your interests, skills, personality type, and workplace preferences. Review your results with a career coach. Spending a few hours on career assessment can save you years of wasted time in a job you hate.
  2. Take a look at your branding efforts. Your brand is basically your reputation, both personally and professionally. How do others see you? Why not ask them? Ask three colleagues, former supervisors, fellow grads, or friends to tell you what they identify as your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Ask them what careers or jobs they imagine you would love and succeed in. This feedback—paired with your assessment results and personal reflections—can help you write an effective branding statement, bio, and elevator pitch. If you’re not a great writer, that’s okay. I have professional writing experience, and we can work on developing these pieces together.
  3. Reach out to me for a free consultation. Explain your job search snafus and career obstacles, and answer questions as honestly as possible. This brief conversation helps many of my clients to gain clarity and direction. It can also help identify which areas you need to improve most.

If you feel unclear about where you’re going—but know you don’t like where you are—taking these three steps can help point you in the right direction for you. Reach out to me to schedule a free consultation.

Before an informational interview

You might need to learn more about a career field to determine your degree path in college. Maybe you want an “in” with a particular company. Or perhaps you’re considering changing careers or seeking a promotion into a career zone that’s unfamiliar. Whatever your reasons, requesting an informational interview can feel pretty intimidating. Here are some tips to ease your nerves and help you prepare.


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  1. Ask the right person for the right reasons. Do you know how many people randomly ask professionals to meet with them for 30 minutes for an informational interview yet don’t give adequate thought to why they’re asking? Many—and this is why some mentors and seasoned professionals are a bit aloof when you ask for an informational interview.If you’re going to ask someone for 10 minutes of talk time, be sure you’re asking the right person first. Do you want advice about starting a consulting business? Ask an entrepreneur who’s started her own consulting business. Are you considering leaving teaching as a career? Ask someone for advice who’s already been there, done it, and is happy with the outcome (and ask someone who wishes he’d never left, too, because balance in perspective is crucial when making career decisions).
  2. After you’ve identified a great person to interview, nail down your purpose for the interview. Notice “purpose” is singular—don’t ask more than 3-5 questions unless you’re sending questions via email. And even then, respect your interviewee’s time by sticking to a clear, concise plan. Don’t forget to clearly communicate your purpose when requesting the interview. Most people don’t want to agree to spend 30 minutes with a pseudo-stranger unless there’s a stated purpose/plan or perceived benefit.
  3. As much as you need to be clear and concise, you also need to be flexible. If your interviewee offers you a tour of her company’s manufacturing facilities, by all means, say yes! Does that mean you’ll spend an hour and a half there instead of the 30 minutes you expected? Yes, and that’s fabulous! Leave your schedule open for at least a 2-hour block of time when you schedule an informational interview; however, try to watch the clock and wrap up your line of questioning in 30 minutes unless your interviewee is obviously enjoying herself and rambling. Let her go on and on if she likes. She’s the expert/mentor, so sit back, listen, and absorb her experience and knowledge.
  4. While we’re on the subject of time management, remember to arrive on time. There’s simply no way to make a worst first impression than to arrive terribly late. If you get lost or stuck in traffic, call ahead to let your interviewee know what’s happening. If you’ll be more than a few minutes late, ask if he would rather reschedule or continue with the interview. Be prepared for him to request to reschedule.
  5. Prepare your list of questions (3-5, ideally) and bring a hard copy with you. It’s very distracting to talk to someone while she’s clicking or scrolling on an electronic device. Put your phone down, leave the laptop at home, and break out a pen and paper for informational interviews. This allows you to make better eye contact and display your soft skills, including active listening and mindfulness.
  6. Be prepared to tell your interviewee a bit about yourself, too. Create an elevator pitch and practice in advance to avoid stumbling over your words when he asks you to tell him about your own career background and goals.
  7. If you plan to share information learned during the interview in an essay, an article, or a post on social media, get permission from your interviewee first. And good grief, NEVER record someone without his permission either.
  8. Dress appropriately yet comfortably. If you’re meeting on-site at a company or office, dress professionally (business casual). If you’re meeting for coffee or lunch on the weekend or in the evening, tone it down slightly. But remember, just as when dressing for job interviews, you’re not trying to show off your assets during an informational interview. This meeting is not about you. Don’t try to make it about you by selecting flashy or provocative clothing.Dress comfortably, not just appropriately, because sometimes we can’t predict how far we’ll walk from the parking lot to the building or whether we will climb three flights of stairs. An informational interview isn’t the time to wear new shoes or a tight, straight skirt.
  9. Follow up and express gratitude. This should always be your last step. Don’t walk away from an informational interview, shake hands, and forget to send an email or thank you card (I prefer thank you cards). Connect on social media, too. This makes it easy for you to regularly touch base with your new contact, mentor, and friend.

An informational interview can be a great strategy in your career development or job search process. But knowing when to ask, who to ask, how to ask, and how to pull it off can be tricky. Contact me if you might benefit from networking coaching or an interview prep session.

3 steps to take before writing your personal branding statement

A personal branding statement is super short—just a few lines. It shouldn’t take you long to whip it out, right? We’ll see.

A personal branding statement might be one of the most important pieces of writing you create as a job seeker or professional. What is a personal branding statement? A personal branding statement is a brief written statement which explains who you are as a professional and touts your value as a job seeker or employee. In your statement, you toot your horn (without being obnoxious, of course).

Why should you write one? How can you use it? You should write one because you need a personal branding statement for almost every social media site. You can use it on your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter profile, and your Quora profile. You can add verbage to it and convert it into a brief bio. You can use it when writing your elevator pitch. You can include it when writing content for articles on your blog. You can even use it as the signature at the bottom of your email if you like. There are many ways you can use your personal branding statement to brand yourself and help others understand who you are and what you’re attempting to accomplish.

There are three crucial steps you need to take before you actually write your personal branding statement, whether you choose to write it on your own or with the help of a career coach like me.


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  1. Define your career goals.

Do some quiet brainstorming and reflecting about your short and long-term career goals. Don’t think about where you see yourself in five years. You might be a realist like me; that’s a terrible approach.

Instead, think about where you’d like to be in five years if boundaries, finances, health, and family constraints were not concerns for you. Where would you be working? Would you work for others or yourself? Would you live in the same geographic location or not? Create a vision board or at least a vision card or document, jotting down words which capture the ideal career you have in mind. If five years doesn’t give you enough time to plan this ideal career, think 10 years out.

Then bring yourself back to the here and now—where your hands are. Within the next 12-18 months, how can you get closer to that long-term goal? If you feel baffled when considering this question, you might need a career coach’s help in seeking a promotion, a job or career change, or simply some training or professional development to gently push you in the direction of your goal.

  1. Select your target audience.

Who do you want to work with on a daily basis? Are you already working with those people? If so, great. Document your target audience. Once you see your audience listed on paper (or electronically), it’s easier to understand how to write your personal branding statement so that your wording is not too abstract or too concrete. You want to hit the sweet spot and ensure that your audience understands exactly what you’re saying and relates to the way you’re saying it. All good writing does this well.

  1. Identify your greatest assets.

Poll your colleagues, former supervisors, and mentors. Ask them to help you identify your greatest professional assets, values, ethics, soft skills, hard skills, and unique abilities in the workplace. Which problems do people regularly bring to you, knowing you’ll solve them more quickly and easily than others? Work some of these keywords and talents into your personal branding statement.

It’s easy to get stuck when writing a personal branding statement. You may be cursed with verbal diarrhea and find it difficult to limit the number of words you write. If this happens to you, don’t freak out or give up. Just reach out to me for help and schedule a free consultation for branding coaching. I’m a professional writer and a career coach—I’ve got you covered.

Why you need to prepare an elevator pitch

It’s virtually impossible to separate networking and branding. We work our whole lives to build a reputation (our brand), and we spend our whole lives building and maintaining relationships with others (our network). We do these things simultaneously. We can’t build a reputation without an audience—our network—and we can’t build relationships without proving to those people who we are—our brand.

Somewhere along the way, as we connect with new people who will come to know who we are, we’ll need to introduce ourselves. Most of us, if we’re unprepared, will stumble over our words when introducing ourselves and fail to mention more than our names and where we live. If we’re lucky, we might remember to mention our career field, course of study, or current job role. If we meet someone we consider impressive or important, we’ll probably feel even more nervous than usual.

I once met Alanis Morissette while traveling with other college students in China. What are the odds? I felt incredibly lucky. Since the internet wasn’t a big deal then, and social media didn’t exist, none of the Chinese citizens in the area recognized her. I introduced myself, stumbling over my words. She was gracious and asked me several questions about our cultural exchange team and experiences traveling. Looking back on that encounter years later, I realize I simply didn’t have the communication skills to pull myself together to deliver anything remotely like an elevator pitch. I’m sure if I’d attended a workshop about personal branding, branding statements, or elevator pitches I might have felt slightly less tongue-tied and more confident.

Nothing really would have ever come of meeting a celebrity, I’m sure, but it was fun and exciting. But there are often serious outcomes when we meet new employers, recruiters, colleagues, supervisors, friends of friends, and others who can connect us to great job leads and want to hire qualified employees. This is why we all need a smooth elevator pitch ready and waiting to roll off our tongues. An elevator pitch is simply a brief persuasive speech (20-30 seconds long—it takes this long to ride an elevator from the top to bottom floor without lots of stops) to introduce ourselves. In the context of your job search, your elevator pitch will “pitch” you to potential employers, colleagues, and others who may consider connecting you to great job leads. Your elevator pitch should provide basic introductory information. It should briefly explain to your new contact who you are, where you’re been, and where you’re going. But it should also explain why.

I recently led a one-hour workshop about the first steps of branding, including elevator pitches, for seniors at Southside High School in Batesville, Arkansas. I was grateful for the opportunity to visit with students and learn about their “Future Stories.” A charter school, Southside High School teachers and administration work closely with students to provide various vocational, career coaching, and higher education opportunities to students to make their future stories a reality.

During the workshop, I helped students understand how to craft an elevator pitch.

  • Keep your target audience in mind (for job seekers, it’s employers and new connections who may help them find jobs).
  • Stick to 30 seconds in length. This may require lots of practice. I have taught hundreds of college students in Oral Communications, and trust me–it just takes time to practice and perfect something which seems as simple as a 30-second spiel. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes you a long time to shorten your elevator pitch.
  • Avoid overused words, clichés, and jargon. Use terms you’re totally familiar with to ensure smooth delivery. Include keywords important to your industry, but don’t use so many keywords that an average person has difficulty weeding through unfamiliar terminology.
  • Remember the “why.” It’s great to state that you just graduated with a bachelor’s degree and are seeking employment in Rhode Island. But why? Many students mention that they’re pursuing a degree in a certain field. Why? What do you plan to do with that degree later in life? The WHY grabs your listener’s interest.

Two graduating seniors from Southside High School agreed to record their elevator pitches and share them with my readers/viewers. Thank you, Brooke and Natalie, and congratulations on graduating. I look forward to keeping in touch with you as you continue to pursue your goals.

Brooke Talley’s elevator pitch:


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Natalie Humphrey’s elevator pitch:


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Need help creating and delivering your own elevator pitch? Contact me for help.

5 ways to connect with alumni at networking events

If you’re a college student or recent graduate, and you’re not connecting with alumni from your college or university (or alma mater) at networking events, you’re skipping over one of the most valuable networking resources available to you.

Alumni care about helping you. You already share something in common so you’ll find it easy to strike up conversation. And most of the time, your college or university hosts networking events on campus, in the community, or even virtual networking groups/chats online. There’s no reason to sit back and observe any longer. Here are five ways to start connecting with alumni.


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Don’t be intimidated by alumni.

Alumni often have earned impressive job titles, have years of experience under their belts, and have polished their soft skills. Don’t let those things intimidate you (or at least pretend you’re not intimidated when networking with alumni). Believe in your gut that alumni want the best for you. They do. Sure, they attend alumni events to network with other alumni. They also attend alumni networking events to network with college students and to give back, to share their experience, and to mentor others.

Spend more time talking to alumni than to your fellow students.

It’s easier to chat with other college students than to launch into your elevator pitch seven times while shaking hands with alumni. It’s also probably less lucrative in terms of ROI. You’ll invest the same amount of time at the networking event talking to other students as you will talking to alumni. Why not invest that time talking to professionals who may add long-term significant value to your current or future job search?

Connect with alumni online immediately following networking events.

During your job search, if you don’t apply for job openings within 72 hours after positions are posted, your chances of being considered drop considerably. The same goes for following up after networking events. Reach out to new connections within 24 hours after networking events if possible. Send an email or invitation to connect on social media. Personalize your greeting whenever possible because at networking events, alumni meet multiple people and may not remember every college student’s name or face.

Consider asking alumni for advice or to serve as mentors.

If you meet someone and make an immediate, genuine, strong connection, don’t be afraid to invite that person for coffee and visit about the possibility of mentorship. Finding a mentor is key in the early stages of your career, and workplace mentors are not the same as career mentors. How great would it be if you could identify a career mentor while still in college? Even if you’re not sure you want to ask someone to serve as your mentor, there’s no harm in asking someone for an informational interview or running a few questions by a person who has great bits of advice to share. Be sure to meet in neutral, public locations and to arrive on time, respecting the other person’s work schedule and/or personal time.

Follow up and say thank you.

No matter what, follow up and say thank you. There’s no act of kindness too small that you should ever brush it off. Always say thank you. The same goes for following up. If you’re timely, gracious, and grateful when networking, you will rarely fail to make and maintain genuine relationships.

If you need help building your networking skills, preparing an elevator pitch, or understanding the ins and outs of mentoring or informational interviews, reach out to me for a free consultation.

3 ways to do a branding check before a networking event

It’s the time of year when everyone’s searching for jobs, or at least it seems that way. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, and you have that unsettled, disgruntled feeling, or you’re a college student searching for your very first professional job or internship, you’re going to be attending career fairs, job fairs, or other networking events. You’ll be schmoozing with recruiters, hiring managers, colleagues, faculty members, and professionals in your chosen career field who may be able to hook you up with great job leads.

Don’t forget to properly prepare for these events. How can you do that? One important way is to perform a branding check.


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1. Check your online brand.
Don’t wait until after the event to Google yourself and start scrambling to remove undesirable links, photos, or documents. It may be too late at that point; your new professional friends may have beat you to the punch.

Don’t just remove undesirable content. Work to brand yourself in a positive light, too. You should do this regularly, and I won’t lie to you; it takes time and effort. It often takes days or weeks to tidy up your social media pages/profiles and to connect with great people online. Don’t wait until the day of a networking event to log in to your profiles and expect to drastically transform your online image.
2. Prepare a personal branding statement and elevator pitch.
Within 20-30 seconds, confidently and concisely describe who you are and where you’re heading in life. Don’t waste your new professional contacts’ time by rambling, hemming, and hawing during the networking event. You’re all there for the same reason–to build relationships and make connections. Be considerate of others’ times by preparing your spiel in advance. Prepare and practice your personal branding statement and elevator pitch by working with a career services expert if you’re a college student or with a career coach like me if you’ve already graduated from college.
3. Show your work; don’t just talk about it.
Do you have samples of your writing, artwork, graphic design projects, or research results? Don’t just blab about it at the networking event (although certainly brag about yourself and toot your own horn). Mention that you have links available to samples of your work on your LinkedIn profile, electronic portfolio, or blog site. Then follow up after the networking event and remember to send samples of your work to your new professional contacts.

It’s great to speak well of your accomplishments. It’s better to back up your claims with proof. This really brands you by creating a firm impression of who you are professionally in the minds of those who view your work.

blonde-1503202_1280Branding and networking are lifelong processes. If you need help getting started or improving your brand, reach out to me for help.