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How to brand you and your career ‘fabulous’ | The Career Toolkit
How to brand you and your career ‘fabulous’ How to brand you and your career ‘fabulous’ How to brand you and your career ‘fabulous’

How to brand you and your career ‘fabulous’


Personal brand. Everyone has one. Many don’t know what their personal brand says about them; and few do something positive to build it, enhance it, and leverage it to support their career success. I am still surprised by how many people think they don’t even have one. Seriously. If you are alive and kicking, then you have a personal brand – even if you’re in fifth grade.

So what does your brand say about you? What do you want it to say? Building a successful personal brand starts with knowing yourself.

While writing this, I noted down the first things that came to mind for me when I thought of ‘Brand You’ – and what some of the key contributing factors are. I think the list is worth sharing (only slightly edited), to warm you up and get you out of the traditional ‘But I work so hard, isn’t that enough?’ mindset. Building a successful personal brand (and career) is about a whole lot more than how many hours you put in at the office.

Now I warn you, some of these factors may be unpopular. But hold your judgment for a minute, and let’s take a look:

– how you look
– what you wear
– how you act
– how you sound
– your body language
– your handshake
– how you treat others
– whether you are nice
– whether you gossip
– whether you are reliable
– what you stand for
– the roles you take
– the roles you won’t take
– how hard you work
– how hard people think you work
– how often you speak up in meetings
– how well you listen to others
– who you know
– your network
– who knows you and talks about you
– what they say
– what you know
– your reputation
– who knows that you know what you know

It’s a long list right, but it’s just the start. When it comes to your career, you are the product. Now that may sound deceptively simple, but how often do you think about yourself in that context? Be honest. So many people, women particularly, go to work, thinking that if they just work harder than anyone else (particularly their male colleagues) they will get ahead and get noticed. Sorry, but in so many cases it’s just not true.

I cover many of the things in the above list in other chapters of my book Getting Real About Having it All, so here I just want to cover a few key areas that are really important to think about, as you are building or refining your personal brand. An

How you show up, and how others perceive you

I know you are going to completely shoot me down in flames for being so superficial, and talking about how you look at work. But I don’t care. Well, I do care (of course) but I am going to tell you anyway, because it’s really important. In fact, it’s critical. How you look matters. How others perceive how you show up, matters.
I am not talking about how thin you are, what designer clothes you wear, what colour your hair is, or whether you tote the latest and greatest handbag. I am also not talking about being corporate clones with chin-length bobs and the right suit. And I don’t think we have to lose our authenticity and personal style, when we step into work. God forbid. It’s not about any of that.

What it is about is how you pull yourself together, the image that you give off to others, and the appropriateness of how you look for your workplace.

Now I hear some of you screaming at me through the pages, saying it should be all about the quality of the work, and not about how I look; that men don’t get judged by what they wear; and that I should just be able to be myself at the office. Well, here are my answers to that – it isn’t, they do, and you can. You need to look professional. Whether you have on a $50 skirt, a $500 dollar skirt or anything in between, you have to look relevantly dressed for your workplace. If that is in an advertising agency or for a fashion magazine, then you may have some creative licence, more so than if you worked in a law firm (obviously). And if you are the boss you may have more licence again. But we also know that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have, so keep that in mind too.

I once had a graduate rock up to a meeting with me, in what I could only describe as a see-through white blouse. For a corporate environment (or anywhere really, other than a pole dancing club), that was completely inappropriate. What that said to me was that she was not aware of the environment she was working in, or she didn’t take the time or care to dress in a way that was respectful of herself, or her colleagues. She was incredibly smart and capable, but she let herself down with her look and, like it or not, her intelligence was not what was being focused on.
I also had a senior manager in one of my teams, responsible for an important function, who came to work every day looking so dishevelled, that I wondered if she had slept in a barn. She really needed to put a brush through her hair, apply a little make-up and pull her outfit together. But she never did, even after much coaching, and she has not progressed upward in the organisation to this day.

Like it or no appearance matters. It shows that you understand the rules, you respect the environment, you are a good representative of the company, and that you are worth investing in. So think about how you want to be perceived at work, and manage your image accordingly. Get a good haircut, look polished, clean your glasses, check your teeth after lunch, watch the jingle jangle jewellery factor, change your shoes when the heels are too scuffed to wear (just had to throw out a beloved pair after two years, as they were dead – devastated), and dress up for important meetings, even if it means you only have one really special suit or outfit. If you have a signature look, like always wearing bright coloured suits, or killer shoes, or a funky brooch on your jacket, go for it. It can become a key part of your brand and what you are known for. But keep the other points here in mind as you do. They may seem small and you may hate the fact that it matters, but it does. Look at the successful senior women around you, and you will see what I mean. And yes, it goes just the same for men, believe me (well, hopefully except for the bright coloured suits, but hey, if it works, work it!).

And on a final note, if you feel confined, constrained and you like you just don’t fit with how you are expected to show up in your workplace, then here is a hint – you may be in the wrong job. So go back and think about your passion, purpose and all the other cool stuff we have already covered, and see where it leads you.

What are you known for?

Hopefully by now, you are getting an idea of who you are, or are crystallising your vision for who you want to be when you grow up (I want to be Donna Karan by the way, minus the fashion designing). To do that, of course you need to harness and build your skills and knowledge. The key is to not only build them, but to become known for them, in a way that differentiates you from everyone else.

The days of being employed in one company and in one career went out the window in the eighties. Today, in the knowledge economy, it is all about talent. It is all about building eminence, thought leadership, unique skills that are in demand, and being known for what it is you can do that no one else can – or that you can do differently or better than anyone else. And critically, it is not just enough that you know what you know – others have to know that you know it. That is all about personal branding.

Remember – be specific. If you think you can be known for everything, you run the risk of being known for nothing at all. I know lots of stuff – business strategy, marketing, branding, change management, culture, leadership, positive psychology, coaching, wellness, yoga teaching, how to demolish a cupcake in three seconds – you get the drift. But what I want to be known for is what I am most passionate about – helping individuals and organisations to create positive change. So get clarity, build your deep expertise, and then you can make a big song and dance of it to others.

It’s not just about looks and skills – it’s also about behaviour

Many of things in my brainstorm list at the start of the chapter were not about knowledge, they weren’t about how you looked, and they weren’t about how firm your handshake is (but please ladies, this is not a time to be dainty) – they were about behaviours. I cannot stress this strongly enough, when you are thinking about branding yourself fabulous. What you are known for is as much about how you do what you do, as it is about what you actually do.

Next time, I’ll share some tips for building and owning your brand online.

This is an edited extract from my book Getting Real About Having It All, as published on Women’s Agenda.

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