5 Keys to Create an Unmistakable Personal Brand

Dear, Anita,

I have heard of people creating personal websites and writing blogs to further their career. This sounds like a lot of extra work. Is it worth it? How would I start?

Dear, Brand New to Branding,

These smart cookies are creating a “personal brand.” We all know about product branding – Coca-Cola, Apple, Toyota, GE. When someone mentions McDonalds, don’t you immediately think of the red and yellow colors, French fries, and the golden arches? But what is meant by developing a personal brand?

The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” When we apply the concepts of the marketing world to you and your career, this translates to what makes you special, unique, and different from other employees and professionals. Wikipedia explains personal branding as the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. I love Cornelia Shipley’s definition on Careerealism.com: “Your Personal Brand is simply the facts in discussion about you. The facts get introduced one of three ways:

  • What you say.
  • What you do.
  • What others say about what you said or did.”

Here are 5 keys to create a noteworthy personal brand.

  1. Determine your Brand Attributes. How would you define yourself? What’s your function? What words would you and others use to describe you? What image do you want to portray? What are your core values? Entrepreneurs and sales people often come up with an “elevator speech” – a brief commercial that communicates who you are in about 30 seconds (the time it takes people to ride to the top of a building in an elevator).  Succinct brand statements can be powerful; Reebok’s brand statement is “Fit for life. Having fun and staying in shape.”
  2. Social Media. In our electronic age, your online footprints can influence your career. Check out my blog about Online Reputation Monitoring. While LinkedIn may be the most important site for your work life, look at all of your social media accounts. Does every page, photo, post, and tweet reflect your brand attributes you generated in #1?


    Source: yourpersonalbrandname.com

  3. Personal Website. To increase search engine visibility beyond social media, personal websites are becoming more popular. I’m not going to lie; building and maintaining a website will take time and effort. While your résumé may be in a standard format to meet with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), a personal website can show more of your personality, from the design templates you choose to the bio paragraph you craft. Check out some great sample websites at Tutorial Chip for inspiration. You can go hog-wild and introduce videos, a blog (see #4), and loads of links to professional organizations, articles relevant to your industry, and testimonials. Be sure to keep your site updated, especially if you are in job search mode, so that it won’t detract from your image.
  4. Personal Blog. If you enjoy writing, and can commit to posting regularly, consider starting a blog. Writing about your industry will not only develop a deeper knowledge to help you in your career, but it can position you as an expert in your field. Make sure you proofread your post before publishing!
  5. Networking in Person. Building relationships in your current company, with others in your industry, and with your personal contacts can lead to promotions, career opportunities, and an outstanding professional reputation. Don’t neglect off-line relationships!

Unknown_iStock_000033005546_LargeSo is personal branding worth the toil? You’re already selling ideas every day, from convincing your spouse which restaurant to choose for dinner to proposing better ways of doing a task at work. Taking the extra steps with your career can set you apart. With so many people applying for jobs electronically, how much more will you stand out if you have invested the time and can provide links to a personal website and blog? (It’s working for me; after all, you’re reading my blog!)

Readers: Share your personal brand websites in the comments below.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Late from Lunch

Dear, Anita,

I have several professionals working under me who are acting less and less professional! They often all go to lunch together but lately, they’ve been returning later and later. I think team camaraderie is a great thing, but a 1-1/2 to 2-hour lunch is getting ridiculous. Since they are salaried employees, I can’t dock their pay, now can I? How can I handle the situation?

Dear, Miffed at Midday,

I’m sure your first question was rhetorical, but let me make it clear for others who may be “out to lunch” on HR subjects. While an employer may take deductions to a salaried (exempt) employee’s pay when they are absent a full day, they cannot be docked hourly. The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division notes that salary “cannot be reduced because of variations in the quality or quantity of the employee’s work.”

But, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers can require exempt employees to work a set schedule and/or record their work hours. So while you can’t dock their pay, you can certainly employ disciplinary measures for failing to work the required hours.

Work_Lunch_iStock_000042192800_LargeIf your department does not already have a set schedule of work hours in place, you may wish to institute one. But before you do, take notice. Are your employees working late? Coming in early? Working from home after hours? You don’t want to seem unappreciative and nit-picky if all of the team’s tasks are getting finished – on time and with excellence. Consider the effect on morale if you impose strict hours. If your professionals are properly classified as exempt, they should be decision-makers and self-managers – and treated like the grown-ups they are.  A simple e-mail memo (“Hey, team, let’s avoid those extra-long lunches”) may be just as effective without fomenting a mutinous reaction to a new hours policy.

To diffuse the tension, add a little levity. Give everyone on your team a watch and suggest that the restaurant of choice be Chili’s. The southwestern food chain recently introduced “Pay & Go” tableside tablet kiosks so you’re not waiting on your waiter to bring the check. Maybe lunch breaks will get a whole lot faster.  Even if you send one person out to order for the group at a fast food restaurant, there’s no guarantee that it will save time, as this MADtv skit illustrates:

Readers: How would you address this long lunch situation?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Applying to Internal Position

Dear, Anita,

I heard through the grapevine that a coworker in another department is leaving. I’d like to apply for his position that will open up soon because it would be a step up for me in my company. The interview would be in the same building, but on a different floor. Should I tell my current manager or not?

Dear, Covert App,

Many companies like to promote from within. But the process of applying internally can come with its own set of quandaries.

Before applying, think through what will happen if you don’t get the position. You may create an awkward situation by telling your manager, or even co-workers, about your plans to desert them. Then if it doesn’t come to pass, you may be the subject of others’ emotions, ranging from hurt or anger to pity. Unless your current supervisor is well aware of your long-term career goals, it may be best to keep any job search – internal or external – under wraps.

Another advantage – or detriment – can be the built-in reference. In the best case scenario, you’re doing a bang-up job and your current boss may have even chatted about your stellar performance with your would-be supervisor in meetings or day-to-day interactions. Unsolicited praise can often be more informational than the standard reference checks. But if your current manager-employee relationship is rocky… well, your boss is easy for the hiring colleague to find for questioning.

First things first, though. Are you certain that your colleague has tendered his resignation? You don’t want to accidentally give his notice for him by sending your résumé to his manager with a “So, I heard Joe was leaving” cover letter.

Climbing_Ladder_iStock_000009112146_LargeOnce you are certain that the job opening does in fact exist, don’t take shortcuts. Go through the channels requested in the ad or job board listing. Yes, even if that means filling out an online application. However, an email to the coworker’s manager would not be out of place, letting him know that as a current employee of the company, you are excited to apply for this move up the ladder. If you have opted not to share your plans with your current boss, give a big hint that his discretion would be appreciated.
Because you already have a (hopefully) thorough knowledge of the company and understand its culture, you may not have to do as much research. Nevertheless, carry out as much due diligence on the position itself. You may even want to take the departing coworker to coffee on the QT to get his perspective.

You’ll probably want to schedule your interview during your (and your boss’s) lunch hour. While this would be hard to do when applying to an external company considering travel time, traffic, and interview time, the good news is that it’s probably doable at your current company. Remember: Dress for the position you want, not the position you have. You may want to throw on a blazer before heading to “lunch.”

Follow up after the interview, just as you would with an unfamiliar business. Send the thank you note. Without being a pest (please don’t accost the hiring manager in the hallways), send a follow-up email later to reiterate your strengths and indicate your continued interest. See my post Thank You for the Interview for a template.

If you do get the new job, your learning curve may be reduced – along with the stress of starting someplace brand new. It’s definitely worth a shot!

Readers: Have you applied for a job at the same company? What was the outcome?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Explaining Away “You’re Fired”

Dear, Anita,

I was recently terminated from a probationary position (probation was for a period of 6 months and I was only employed for 4 months). Should I even add this employment in my résumé? What if I plan to apply for the same company just in a different department? When terminated, I asked for an explanation and the only reason I was given was that I was not a good fit for the position. I honestly feel the reason was more personal rather than my performance. I know I did my job very well but I always felt tension coming from my supervisor and another co-worker that made me feel very uncomfortable. How do I get past this horrible experience without it affecting my future employment? How can I explain the reason for termination in a job interview?

Fired For No Reason

Dear, “Fired Up,”

Let go? Let it go, as Elsa recommends via song in Frozen. At least the anger. Here are some tips on how to Be Fired Gracefully.

Donald Trump may have thought he owned the phrase “You’re fired” when he attempted — and failed — to trademark it. But  according to Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information, those words may actually date back to the 19th century. He said, “It is a pun on ‘discharged’: you fired a gun, you discharged a gun. ‘I got discharged, I got fired.’ ” Whatever the origin, try to avoid the term “fired” whenever possible. Use one of the many politically correct euphemisms currently in vogue – outplaced, released, assignment expired, involuntary separation (that’s reminiscent of Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling!”), pursuing other opportunities, or simply that you came to the end of the trial period.  That is, after all, what job probation (as legalistic as that sounds) is for. I love how the purpose is put oh so succinctly by the University of North Texas in their manual: “To provide a period of time for job adjustment and an opportunity for both the new staff member and the supervisor to determine whether to continue the employment relationship.”

Should you include an employer from whom you were fired (ahem, “relieved of your duties”) on applications and résumés? There’s no black and white answer. If a new hire is given the old heave-ho during the first 30 to 60 days, it may not leave a noticeable gap in employment history. However, being shown the door after four to six months will be harder to conceal. In your situation, since you wish to reapply to the same company, you definitely need to include the job on your application. While lying on a résumé or job application can be legal grounds for dismissal if discovered, Steve Burdan, a certified résumé writer who works with The Ladders, advises that if a job lasted less than six months, you can safely omit it.

Woman with "Hired" SignLook on the bright side. Being terminated during the first few months of employment is preferable to being fired years into a job – and easier to explain during an interview. Answer questions about your situation briefly. Don’t get defensive. And avoid badmouthing or playing the blame game. Turn the conversation to a positive dialogue about your qualifications for the open position. Your employer’s explanation that you were not a good fit is less troublesome to cite than gross ineptitude! Say something like, “My competencies were not the right match for my previous employer’s needs, but it looks like they’d be a good fit in your organization. In addition to marketing and advertising, would skills in promotion be valued here?” For more ideas, check out career author Joyce Lain Kennedy’s 12 best job interview answers to the question “Why were you fired?”

Being fired can be a wake-up call. Perhaps you’re in the wrong line of work, or simply at the wrong company – as long as you aren’t guilty of George Carlin’s observation: “Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.”

Readers: Have you ever been fired, and omitted the job from your employment history? Leave a reply below.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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