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Build your Personal Brand to Drive your Career

Updated: May 11, 2021

Is your behaviour building or damaging your reputation and career?

Many people focus on job applications, writing a compelling CV or pursuing a specific promotion, when talking about building their careers. They see their careers as a product of the qualifications they hold, the job opportunities pursued, whether they were successful to get that job (or not); or whether they grew within that company (or not); or found better opportunities elsewhere… or not. Very few people design their careers and so, many simply ‘end up’ where they are with no strategy.

This most likely explains why many professionals tend to feel like they are not in control of their careers. For some reason, some people leave this important aspect of their lives to the vagaries of the job market, company culture, supervisor or leadership perceptions and luck. This inadvertent disregard to personal branding seems to be so pervasive that people consistently exhibit behaviours that directly undermine their own brand. For example, trust in one colleague has been eroded in the department due to his tendency to tell half-truths about the status of projects. He frequently labels initiatives ‘launched’ that are only in the final stages of approval. So, while the initiatives are eventually launched, there is now a shadow over his honesty and how far they can trust his status reports.

In contrast, another colleague who is known for her meticulous work will not release or sign off anything that she has not confirmed as accurate and fit-for-purpose. She has built a reputation as a hardworking, trustworthy, and reliable professional. These two colleagues entered the institution around the same time – one’s reputation is sour while the other’s is soaring and opening new opportunities for her. She is steadily building strong social capital, good will, and admiration for her and frequently sought after to join project teams.

So, what has this got to do with personal branding and why is it so important? Linda Citroën, an international branding specialist, explains personal branding as “your reputation or how you’re seen by others; what people can expect of you”. She notes that personal branding helps people understand what they would feel if they were to work with you or serve alongside you. Your personal brand can therefore determine if people want to work with you, supervise or promote you.

It is therefore critical that if we want to build a strong career, we should give attention to our reputation. Personal branding ensures that people see you the way you want to be seen. A good reputation, therefore, promotes your credibility and positively positions you in the workplace. Linda Citroën posits that credibility is a function of your values and actions – the more your behaviours consistently align with what believe in, the more you are perceived as reliable and trustworthy. So, you need to pay attention to how you are showing up at work and how you make others feel. This is how you build influence – as Linda says: ‘your power in your career directly corresponds to how you make and maintain influence’.

We can build this influence by making a few tweaks to our view of our career growth:

· Know who you are. Remember, your influence and passion are driven by your values; and you build credibility by consistently exhibiting positive behaviours aligned to your values. Make the time to articulate your values and think about how you can show up more authentically at work.

· Take charge of your career – own it as your personal responsibility. You may recall John Atkinson Grimshaw’s quote: “If you don't control your life, someone else will.” While opportunities frequently arise that we do not necessarily shape, if you are in control of your actions, you are more likely to be ready when such opportunities arise.

· Be intentional and create a strategy based on your current situation. There are some queries you can use to create a plan: How did I get here? Who inspires me? What is my reputation now? How do would I like to be known? What do people think makes my unique? What do they think my strengths (or gaps) are? What reputation do I want to build? What do I want it to be going forward? What jobs do you want to do? What do I want over time? What knowledge and skills do I currently have? What knowledge and skills do I need to get to where I want to be? What other steps do I need to take to you get there?

This introspection and tangible steps will help you design a path to make smart decisions, so you can take greater control of your career. You will steadily shift from a reactive approach to a more intentional and proactive approach where you can positively influence others. You want the behaviours you consistently exhibit to position you in a way that helps you influence the decision makers for a job, promotion, or resources you need.

Remember that unless you already had a personal branding strategy, you are likely to have a gap between where you are and where you want to get. You may not have a “liar” reputation, but you could have subtle ways that your behaviours may have influenced the perceptions of the people you work with. You could be a procrastinator, pushy, slow decision-maker, a “bulldozer”. You may have skill gaps. Whatever it may be, know that this is a journey. It starts with a step or many steps before you eventually reach where you want to get.

As ‘objective’ as we try to make workplaces, the truth is that we deal with subjective judgments about whether people are ‘promotable’ or ‘leadership material’. There are may be institutional frameworks for career growth but you want to take control of your career and work to move that needle into the direction that favourably positions you and positively influences your target audience. Proactively identify and respond to needs around you – seeking especially those areas that speak to your values, strengths and passion, as far as possible. Workplaces are not always easy to navigate but you can at least start with what or who you have control over… you.

Rooting For You x

This article was partly inspired and informed by Linda Citroën LinkedIn short course on Creating Your Personal Brand

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