Professional Brand Equity

A few days ago I spoke with an unemployed CFO who was struggling to decide whether he wanted to go back into consulting or the corporate world. He offered a perspective that I think many executives, not just senior finance executives, share …

I have to make a career decision go back into corporate life that may or may not have loyalty –or- go build my own equity and control my destiny.

The two are not mutually exclusive, but it probably feels that way because most people in the corporate world only think about their career when they are facing or enduring unemployment. When you own your business or consulting practice, you are forced to think … every single day … about packaging, positioning, target audience, and reputation. In reality, “every” executive should be thinking about their career in the same way, every day.

This CFO is right in his statement that a company “may or may not have loyalty,” but why give the company (employer) that power? You, as an accomplished professional, could have take back control by ensuring that you have a strong brand, that it is visible to your target audience, that you are networking consistently to build relationships (including recruiter relationships) long before you need them.

Whether you are self-employed or a corporate player, “you” are the only one who is vested in your career. Build your brand equity as a high-value player and then take total control of your destiny. Cliff Hakim wrote a book entitled “We Are All Self-Employed,” … and he’s right. Many corporate executives just haven’t realized that point.

K.I.S. for CFO Branding

When most of us think about Albert Einstein, we think about a man who was so incredibly intelligent that the average person could not hold a conversation with him, right? Well, apparently that’s not the case. He actually embraced the “KIS” philosophy – Keep It Simple. "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it.”

Nick Tubach blogged about this philosophy as it relates to recruiting, but I think it is particularly important for a Chief Financial Officer’s personal / professional marketing message. "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it.”

It’s easy to get lost in the details, particularly the “experience” details. After all, we own, with some amount of pride, everything that we’ve done. But there are a few important things to remember when crafting your executive resume and communication message.

— 3 is the new 30. The Internet has taken a 30-second TV ad and slashed that message to 3 seconds. Can you deliver your marketable value proposition (MVP) in 20 words or less?

— The Blackberry, iPhone, and Twitter have forever changed how we deliver and receive messages. The most high-value piece of resume real estate is the top half of the first page. Can yours stand alone? Is it powerful enough to motivate your target audience or a recruiter to take action?

— Clarity and brevity are king. If you don’t know your MVP, you can’t communicate it. And if you can’t articulate it briefly and powerfully, you can’t sell it. And if you don’t know who needs what you bring to the table, no transaction will take place. 

K.I.S. … it’s a powerful weapon in the world of finance executive branding and marketing. 

Reputation Management

CFO magazine ran an excellent piece back in May entitled “What’s Your Reputation Worth?”. If you don’t get the magazine or you didn’t read it, it is online and I recommend taking a few minutes to read it. 

Here is what the CFO of E-Trade Financial said …

“What’s scary about reputation is that it doesn’t have to be something that’s true.”

Even if you don’t understand or buy into the concept of executive branding, it is critical that all executives and rising stars embrace and proactively manage their reputations.  

Here are two truths that will continue on for some time …

You are who Google says you are. Even if it says something different than who you are, Google will win the reputation war. With so many similar names, might Google have you confused with someone who has a less than principled reputation? Managing your reputation will ensure that the right information, rather than misinformation, is the foundation of your digital footprint.

Your company is who Google says it is. If your company doesn’t have  a social media strategy that includes monitoring what is being said, it could find itself mirred in negative publicity. Whether it is customer service, a faulty product, hiring practices, or a work culture … once you get behind the 8-ball it might just roll right over you.

If you haven’t ever Googled your name to see what others are finding about you, I encourage you to do so today. Put your name in quotes (i.e., “Cindy Kraft”) in Google’s search engine and see what comes up on the high-value first three pages. Do you own most of the real estate? Is it a true and consistent picture of who you are? 

No information is just as damaging as misinformation because … you are who Google says you are. If Google isn’t talking, then perhaps you don’t really exist!

Executive Recruiting for Leaders

David Perry generously offered me the opportunity to read his latest book, “Executive Recruiting for Leaders.” You may recall that he is the much–talked–about and well–known author of “Guerilla Marketing for Job Hunters.”

What I love about David’s latest book is that while it provides great strategies for hiring top–talent, and I think most companies could use this information, it is also powerful insight for my executive clients. With David’s permission, here are a few gems from his book, follwed by my commentary.

–– The leaders who have the talent you crave are likely already employed.

If this sounds familiar, then you’re right. I’ve been beating this drum for quite awhile. They are employed because they are top talent and they understand and can clearly articulate a compelling marketable value proposition.

The best time to position yourself for your next opportunity is while you are still gainfully employed. Once you walk out the door on Friday afternoon with a nice big severance package in hand, the fact is that the ugly black mark of unemployment follows you everywhere you go.

–– Is this an individual (candidate) who stands out from the others you have met? What is it about them that makes them stand out?

This is all about your unique promise of value … also called branding. Employers are not hiring commodities that all look, sound, and act like everyone else. They are hiring those executives who are top talent and understand and can clearly articulate their compelling marketable value proposition. Oh wait, did I already say that. Yes. And it bears repeating over and over again. The war for talent is around these individuals.

–– The most important information you need to glean from an initial interview has to do with their character …. Character can be distilled from the patterns that reappear throughout their life. Themes will appear over and over again – how they addressed controversy, took on new challenges, and how their contribution impacted the organization, or not.

Patterns are related to a unique and compelling brand. It is the “how” you do the things in your life and your career that have been successful. Branding also quickly, clearly, and consistently (patterns) conveys how you are a fit with a company’s culture, giving you a big leg up on the competition. While your skills and marketable value proposition generally win the interview, culture fit wins the job.

–– Pretty Boys – the high energy, totally empty-headed people who like to keep discussions at the 60,000 foot level and can rarely if ever provide anything more than the sketchiest of details.

David was discussing five candidate–types not to hire, and his comment relates directly to not understanding your value to a prospective company.

Candidates are not hired because there is a corner office with a nice bronze CFO plaque on the door. They, along with everyone else, are being hired because the company has a pain, problem, challenge, or situation they need solved. In order to position yourself as “the” person who can solve their problems, the documented evidence of your past performance must be at the face–to–face level.

If you want the rest of David’s inside information, I highly recommend you buy and read the book yourself!