Branding Yourself: Practical Career Advice for Marketers
Takeaway notes from Aquent webinar. By Aliza Bornstein, copywriter, Melissa Data

Building a successful career is not just about the companies you work for or the projects you work on. To succeed in the new world of work, you must create, promote, and manage your personal brand.

Tracy Sinclair, practice leader for Aquent’s Marketing Practices, says it’s a really tough candidate market right now—there are literally 250 candidates for every one job.

Right now, unfortunately, if you’re in the market for a new position, it’s not about what you want to do, but rather what you have done. One of the most important things about what you “have done” is how you position it. Because if you don’t position it successfully, it won’t matter what experience you have that’s relevant to the particular position that you’re seeking.

You need to understand how to position and brand yourself, because it could be the difference in whether or not you get the interview, let alone the job. The key is to stand out in a sea of candidates and a sea of sameness.

From a marketing standpoint, positioning is “the process by which marketers try to create an image or identity in the minds of their target market for its product, brand, or organization. It is the ‘relative competitive comparison’ their product occupies in a given market, as perceived by the target market.”

So it’s all about perception and how you compare to the competition out there. You want to articulate what you can do for a company in terms of what it means for them.

• It’s really important to have a concise, easily communicated personal mission statement and career/goal objective (verbal and written).
• Demonstrate dedication to your desired field through work experience, pro bono work, volunteering, and networking.
• Understand market dynamics and position yourself in a way that makes you a uniquely attractive candidate.
So once you’ve mastered the position, how do you go about the nuts and bolts of reaching out to people and networking? Julie Hiipakka, training manager for Aquent, tells you how to make your dreams a reality.

You want to be able to articulate what you can do for a company in terms of what it means for them. You want your story to resonate with who you’re interviewing with so they understand what your contributions would be. You should be able to convey your mission statement in the time it would take on a short elevator ride. Personalize your mission statement depending on who you’re talking to and what you would be accomplishing for that job.

You can use your mission statement for a number of opportunities: In an elevator ride with other people; in your cover letter (accompanied by your resume); when you meet people at networking events; and when you meet people at social events. It’s about being able to concisely use that positioning statement and using it everywhere.

When you’re dealing with a corporate recruiter, a head hunter, an agency recruiter, or a hiring manager, your email is reviewed and rejected/accepted in a matter of 15 seconds. If you’re lucky, you get 15 additional seconds. Now, with the benefit of social media, the person who is looking at your information may look you up on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. If they like what they see (in your email; resume; Google; or social networking site), you may make it to the next round (email reply; phone call; interview; etc.).

The reality of the situation when working with recruiters (inside or outside) is that HR and corporate recruiters sometimes screen people out more than they screen people in. They are paid to find people for the openings they currently have, and look at whether or not you match those specific openings. However, the good ones out there are looking at you with a more open mindset. They’re screening in.

This is why the positioning statement is so important and why you want to incorporate it into all of the things mentioned above—so that in those 15-30 seconds you have, the person reading your statement is going to see something that’s relevant to them. Your goal is to keep their eyes on your information. How do you do that? It requires research.

The truth is, all of this is a lot of work. Many people focus on customizing each resume to each individual job. This takes a lot of time. Aquent suggests focusing as much as you can on telling your story live, to as many people as you can. That’s what Aquent does on behalf of their talent, and that’s what they want you to do.

There are several easy steps to network. The first is to find 10 people who do what you want to do, and are in the specific industry or market vertical space you want to be in. They are the people who are in the jobs that you want. They can be past collegues, friends of friends, a recruiter or head hunter, etc. So find those 10 people and work your network if you don’t have those 10 people.

The second step is to reach out to them, and there are two options for that:

Option 1: If you’re a little bashful you can start by emailing them. First, use the name of the person that referred this person to you. Second, be specific about what experience they have that you would be interested in learning more about. Third, indicate that you’re going to call them on a specific date to follow up the email. What you’re not going to include is your resume, because you’re not asking them for a job—at least not yet. If you really want to take it a step further, tell them the exact day and time you will be calling, and ask for another day and time if the first one doesn’t work for them.

Option 2: For those a little braver or this is someone you already know, skip the email and just pick up the phone. Reveal who recommended this person to you and why. Then offer to take them out to breakfast; your treat! By doing this, it shows that you value their time.

If they don’t have time for breakfast or coffee, ask if they wouldn’t mind sparing a few minutes for you on the phone to ask a few questions about their experiences in their job.

If they proceed to further brush you off, accept it, but ask them if they know of anyone with similar experiences as themselves that you would be able to talk with.

If they are able to talk with you (either at a later time in person, or over the phone at the time of your call) you need to have some questions ready to ask them. The important thing about this conversation is the amount of time you spend listening (a lot!) compared to the time you spend talking (a little). You want to listen. Listening is how you learn, and you’re there to learn from them.

The questions you want to ask are pretty simple ones: What’s a typical day like for you? What are the key trends that you’re seeing in this industry? How does this industry compare to others that you’ve worked in? What are some of the things in the last year that have helped you to be successful? What do you do to stay on top of trends?

The closing questions that you want to wrap up with: Is anyone you know looking for someone like me? Who else should I learn from? May I use your name when contacting this person? Make it subtle. You shouldn’t be asking “Do you have a job for me?”

The beauty of this technique is that you’re not explicitly asking for a job, but the outcome of this is that you end up with a referral, lead, or sometimes the person actually does end up having an opportunity for you down the road.

The things that support your brand are also how you act and behave, and those things can make a tremendous difference.

These are a list of things that are key if you’re unemployed right now:

1. Make it easy for people to help you.
Ask if you need to resend your resume. Ask what you need to do to make it easier for them to refer you to someone else. Be creative! You could write an email introduction that they could forward on.

2. Listen more than you speak.
The way to make a great impression is to demonstrate outstanding listening skills. Good listeners learn a lot.

3. Be on time (5 to 10 minutes).
Arriving 5 to 10 minutes early gives you a chance to make a great first impression, check out the office, and read through product materials not available on the company Web site.

4. Continue networking even if you get your dream job.
As soon as you stop networking you’re not managing your personal brand.

---Source: Aquent webinar on Nov. 19, 2009 ( Tracy Sinclair is the marketing practice leader for Aquent. Julie Hiipakka is the training manager for Aquent.


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