Job Search, Advertising, & Personal Branding

Do you record live TV so you can fast-forward through commercials? Or, if you are watching live TV, do you hit the mute button or head to the refrigerator during commercials? 

Conversely, do you seek out blog posts, articles, magazines, web sites, and even products that appeal to your personal / professional interests? 

The former is advertising and it can be intrusive, interruptive, and even annoying. The latter is inbound marketing and it gives the consumer the freedom to choose.

This analogy applies to managing your career. As an active job seeker, you may be intruding, interrupting, and perhaps even annoying prospects. You are, in effect, advertising your wares to potential buyers, who may or may not be buying.

On the other hand, personal branding is about inbound marketing. Pulling the right people to you in their time and on their terms and when they are ready to buy.

“While advertising may be the flashy cog that looks good in media forms, what does it all mean? Your company [or you as a candidate] is much more than a singing fish, talking baby or another gimmick. Sure you can name what companies are associated with the previously mentioned gimmicks. The question is, do you know what these brands really stand for? Advertising can’t answer that question—only good brand building can ….” (Source: PRBreakfastClub)

I spoke with a wannabe CFO recently. There is no question that he is extremely talented. However, he isn’t a sitting Chief Financial Officer nor does he have the coveted CFO title in his background. He can definitely get in the game, but it has proved difficult for him to compete when it comes down to securing one of the top 3 slots and winning the position. 

This is where personal branding can actually give him the edge … even against candidates who are or have been CFOs. Why? Because hiring for culture fit is the most challenging thing for companies. Finance skill sets and perhaps credentials get candidates to the interview. All those being equal, likability and culture fit then become the defining points. A strong personal brand, “what you are known for,” already precedes you to the interview and can make the difference between blending in or getting lost in the competition … or standing far in front of the competition.

The Rise of Personal Branding

Personal branding is not a fad. It’s trending north. You can get in the game, or not. You certainly have that choice. However, you would be wise to choose carefully!

A couple of Fast Company expert bloggers summed it up quite nicely in the article “Brand or Die: The Downfall of the Institution and the Rise of the Personal Brand.” The entire article is worth the read, but here are some key points along with my commentary.

–You can become an “internal evangelist” and a thought leader for your industry – all while working for someone else. This buzz about you in turn raises your profile and credibility, which then gives rise to the notion that no longer will you be an employee with limited options.

If no one knows your brilliant, does it matter? CFOs, finance executives, and other finance rising stars tend to put nose to the grindstone and do their work rather than creating buzz about their contributions and the short and long-term impacts to the company. If you don’t talk about it, it’s likely no one else will either. And if no one is talking about how brilliant you are, you aren’t in the driver’s seat of your career.

–This label [Independent Executive] applies to someone who takes their knowledge from previous employment and sets out to create their own destiny, lifestyle, and income on their own terms. This philosophy takes personal branding to the next level, because it is not just important for the professional or the entrepreneur, but it is now very important for employees who are happy to work in someone else’s environment but who want to be recognized, both financially and emotionally, for their very real contributions.

Research shows that executives who are socially well-connected typically make more money, are less likely to lose their jobs for poor performance, and transition quicker if they do lose their jobs. (Source: “33 Million People in the Room”). 

With a strong personal brand, CFOs can take control of their careers and foster powerful positioning with the choice of where to move and when, along with getting desired compensation.

–In the past, an unhappy employee had limited choices …. Now, in the new “Branded Economy”, you are all allowed to play the role you want in building your brand and building your value. If you don’t take control, you will risk becoming irrelevant and relegated to the position of a cog in someone else’s wheel.

“You risk becoming irrelevant and relegated to the position of a cog in someone else’s wheel” … that’s a pretty powerful statement! 

Are you a strategic Chief Financial Officer who has earned a seat at the table in your own right with a team that is following you because they share your vision and they want to? Or, are you the CEO’s right-hand man with a dysfunctional and unproductive finance team who work for a paycheck? Are you in the driver’s seat of your career or the passenger’s seat of an freewheeling taxi driver (no offense intended)?

–You have the choice to BRAND OR DIE. 

Die might be a little dramatic … however, extinction is an absolute possibility! 

There is a Difference!

Most Connected vs. Well Connected

Have you noticed these types of monikers attached to members on Linked In, Facebook, and Twitter? The “most connected” statement always makes me think Rolodex. Is it really possible to have a relationship with 16,000+ people on Linked In? Perhaps I’m a little old-fashioned but it seems to me that building relationships is about quality not quantity. Unless you are building a cold call contact list (like a recruiter), being well-connected to, and engaged with, a few will serve you better than merely collecting a lot of names.

Networking vs. Showing Up

These are very different. Many of my finance executives struggle with the networking concept. And I understand. For many CFOs, their jobs are demanding. Who needs one more thing to take time away from family and other priorities. 

However, networking today is defined as raising your visibility among those who need to know about you. That means engaging people. Just having a place holder on the various social networking sites with no picture, no interesting bio, and no conversation is merely showing up. Being a wallflower doesn’t raise visibility, it merely takes up oxygen.

Job Searching vs. Searching Posted Positions

A well-balanced job search strategy includes a variety of activities with searching posted positions as one of the “least” effective. And, the posted position game becomes even more ineffective the more senior your position. 

The best of all worlds is to do the things you need to do before you need to do them (managing your career) rather than being forced to give up power and do them because you have to do them (searching for a job). But, if you do fall into the latter category, move away from the job boards and diversify your search strategy.

And while we are speaking of job boards, the CFO recruiter who joined me on the Proformative Insight and Strategies for Seasoned Executives in Transition webinar told me he rarely, if ever, posts positions on public job boards. He’s not alone.

Branding vs. Marketing

This came up on the Proformative discussion boards following the Insights and Strategies webinar. There is an important distinction between authentic branding and marketing. Marketing is the pitch, persona, and perhaps even spin used in selling yourself. Branding, on the other hand, is leveraging the combination of your unique strengths, passions, and values that others … regardless of how they know you … all see in you and which attract “likeness”. This naturally pulls the kinds of opportunities that are a good fit with who you are. 

Branding occurs at the intersection of how others see you as it aligns with how you see yourself.  It requires honest feedback from people who know you and is why a person just can’t say I’m going to have this brand and then put it out for the world. If it isn’t who you really are, the world won’t buy it, at least not for long. 

Think of it this way. If you believe yourself to be a strategic finance leader but when asked, your team and the CEO and Board members all say they view you as a micro-managing bean counter … who are you really?

Color Outside the Lines

Listen here … 

I swear it was my elementary school teachers who unleashed the rebel in me. They were always telling me what I “couldn’t” do rather than fostering my inner passions. And coloring outside the lines is a great metaphor for authentic personal branding … because our personal and professional lives intertwine, whether we want them to or not.

Two opposite examples come immediately to mind, and probably should never be used in the same sentence, but … Tiger Woods and Tim Tebow.

Tiger Woods tried to color inside the lines. He kept his personal and professional lives separate and apart, thinking (or possibly hoping) that no one would ever be the wiser. His brand (which was really nothing more than a facade) was clean cut, family-oriented, and wildly successful … good guys CAN finish first. It was also a complete farce. When you act one way to an adoring public and completely opposite behind closed doors, it is only a matter of time until the truth bleeds over the lines. Our personal and professional lives do overlap, and no amount of effort to keep the colors from crossing the lines will work forever. Particularly not in the Internet era.

Tim Tebow is the epitome of an authentic personal brand. Much has been written about him, both his athletic prowess and faith on the field and his leadership and faith off the field. He is who he is, like him or hate him, he is the real deal. Because he is the same person on the field as he is off the field, his lines are so blurred you can’t tell where personal ends and professional begins.

We’ve seen more than our share of brand damage to finance executives in the past few years. Those headlines seem to be almost daily, but certainly weekly. The colors seeped through closely guarded lines and for some, caused irreparable damage not only to the individual but to many companies.

Where do you fall? Do you color inside the lines … working diligently to keep your personal life from detracting from a professional facade? Or, do you blur the lines and embrace the power of authentic branding … recognizing that how you are hardwired has contributed to your successes both in and outside of your career?

Out with the Old, In with the New … Maybe

December 31, 2009. The end of a decade. The last two years alone may have seemed like a decade to many who find themselves among the unemployed.

Tomorrow heralds a new decade and the opportunity to do something new and different. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s this … 

–corporate loyalty is gone;

–you are only as valuable as your latest contribution;

–networking is no longer about who you know but about who knows you; and

–if the Board isn’t happy, the CFO’s neck is on the chopping block.

The beginning of the decade arrived as a seller’s market. If you were walking, talking, and breathing, you were a candidate for almost any position. Companies were that desperate. Seems like just a distant, vague memory doesn’t it?

The end of the decade paints a much different story. Today, companies take their time hiring … willing to wait for the right and best hire, not just any hire. The market is flooded and competition is stiff. Responsibilities are out, value rules. Culture fit is key. Personal branding facilitates a company’s ability to hire the finance leader with the greatest chance of fitting within its corporate environment.

Many finance executives have either been caught completely by surprise or knowingly took a severance package along with some time off to rejuvenate … only to jump back in and hit a big wall of reality. Finding that next position just wasn’t going to be so easy. And despite the wealth of unemployed talent, recruiters and companies still covet the “passive candidate.” 

Gone, probably forever, are the days of yore. Reality says you can either drive your career or you can be driven. Respond or react. Be hunted or be forced to hunt. Seth Godin’s blog post today posed this question …  “Seven years from now, what will you have to show for what you are doing right now?” I’d like to pose my own question from a career management perspective … 

Where do want to be 3-5 years and what do you need to be doing in your career today in order to ensure you get there?

Failing to plan is, by omission, planning to fail.  

Happy New Year … may 2010 be filled with much joy, hope, happiness, and health! 

Brand vs. Non-Brand … Let the CFO Games Begin

In the article “10 Branding Trends for ’10,” marketing communications professional Francis Anderson discusses the power of consumer branding in 2010. I’ve taken a couple of his points and added personal branding commentary. 

Value is the new black: Consumer spending, even on sale items, will continue to be replaced by a reason-to-buy at all. This may spell  trouble for brands with no authentic meaning, whether high-end or low.

With competition fierce among job seekers, passive candidates still hold the most power and position. Authentically-branded passive candidates hold the trump card.

I stumbled across this on the Internet recently and thought it aptly captured the dilemma of branding inauthenticity. “The inauthentic man faces a difficult balancing act, for he is not only avoiding the truth, he has forgotten where he put the truth.”

Brand differentiation is brand value: The unique meaning of a brand will increase in importance as generic features continue to propagate in the brand landscape. Awareness as a meaningful market force has long been obsolete, and differentiation will be critical for sales and profitability.

Do you know what you have that a company is willing to pay to get? If not, the perception of you may be “commodity” rather than “value.”

“Because I said so” is over: Brand values can be established as a brand identity, but they must believably exist in the mind of the consumer. A brand can’t just say it stands for something and make it so. The consumer will decide, making it more important than ever for a brand to have measures of authenticity that will aid in brand differentiation and consumer engagement.

Branding is NOT who you think you are. Branding IS the perception of you held by others. If, for example, you are a CFO and believe yourself to be a visionary leader but your staff, peers, and bosses view you as a micro-managing bean counter … what are you really?

Consumer expectations are growing: Brands are barely keeping up with consumer expectations now. Every day consumers adopt and devour the latest technologies and innovations, and hunger for more. Smarter marketers will identify and capitalize on unmet expectations. Those brands that understand where the strongest expectations exist will be the brands that survive and prosper.

Being a generalist or jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none  … trying to be all things to all people … might just get you added to the list of endangered species. 

How might CFOs leverage branding to gain competitive market positioning? As William Arruda says, “what makes you unique, makes you successful.”

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!

Recruiters on Resumes

At the Kennedy Conference last week, our recruiter panel offered up the following thoughts on what they wanted to see in a resume:

––Results–driven contributions, not a listing of job descriptions
––Enthusiasm & passion (this is where branding becomes so important)
––Polished presentation
––Vision (strategic initiatives – start to finish)
––The ability to clearly communicate
––Reverse chronological format
––Tailored cover letter

One panelist said he loves the concept of personal branding as it "provides evidence that the candidate can get the job and do the job.”

One other speaker at the conference said this, and it speaks to the first item in the list … “candidates confuse performance with experience … without performance experience doesn’t mean much.”

Personal Branding Telesummit

If you are interested in hearing the very latest in the development of personal branding from some of the leading experts, you will want to join The Global Telesummit on November 8, 2007. The Personal Branding Summit is expected to draw more than 100,000 professionals from throughout the world.

I will be interviewing Martin Yate, executive career strategist and NY Times bestseller with over thirty years in the career management field. You may be most familiar with his Knock ‘em Dead series.

Please be sure to register for the event so you will get access to all the recordings of the calls. There is no charge for this event which comprises of 24 separate seminars, and the value of the content and the expertise of the speakers rivals any world class professional development conference.

With bestselling authors and personal branding experts as speakers and panelists, this unprecedented event is important for people who want to increase their career and business success and companies who are interested in attracting and retaining top talent.

Confirmed presenters include Jason Alba, William Arruda, Dick Bolles, Anita Bruzzese, Silvia Cambié, Krishna De, Tim Demello, Kirsten Dixson, Stewart Emery, Phil Gerbyshak, T Scott Gross, Neville Hobson, Thebe Ikalafeng, John Jantsch, Catherine Kaputa, Guy Kawasaki, Andrea Kay, Liz Ryan, David Meerman Scott, Andy Sernovitz, Debbie Weil, Susan Whitcomb, Carol Wilson, and Martin Yate.