We all have to take responsibility for our own career playbook.
The year is 1997. The magazine is Fast Company. The article is titled “The Brand Called You”. Written by legendary management consultant Tom Peters the gist of the article is that we are all Chairman, CEO and Marketing Director of our own company called “Me Inc.” In other words, we all have to take responsibility for our own career playbook and for creating a message and a strategy to promote the brand called ‘You’.
Everyone has the chance to learn, improve and build up their skills and be a brand worthy of remark. You are no longer an employee, staffer, worker or human resource and you don’t belong to a company for life. The ‘escalator’ model of a career is over. The traditional employer/employee relationship is broken. In this new normal everyone has the chance to stand out. To start it requires you to identify the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors. You have to ask yourself the question – what do I do that adds value to others? You also have to ask yourself a further question – what do I want to become known for?
This means being visible, building a reputation and getting known. Known not famous. Building your personal brand. Figuring out what is unique and distinctive about you and letting other people know, Peters, who was a bit of a legend in his day, did cop a fair amount of flak with this article. He was accused of encouraging a culture of relentless self-promotion and spawning an industry of self-help gurus and a message some say that hasn’t aged well. The naysayers argue that his approach was hard to apply and sometimes didn’t gel well with corporate cultures. They found it hard to swallow Peter’s view that ‘as of this moment, you’re going to have to think of yourself differently. You don’t belong to any company for life and your chief affiliation isn’t to any particular ‘function’. You’re not defined by your job title and you’re not confined by your job description. Starting today you are a ‘brand’.
But maybe, just maybe, recent events might require us to dust off Peters’ approach as we face a period of, dare I use the most overused adjective in recent history, ‘unprecedented’ disruption and turbulence. The harsh reality is that, globally, millions of people are going to lose their jobs and what could be politely called ‘career transition’ will be the order of the day. Whole layers of management will be eliminated – whole categories of employment evaporate. People who have never had to look for a job before are going to be out of work.
So what can you do when you’re suddenly put in a position, re-your career, which you have never had prior experience of? Well, first of all, take a deep breath and then start putting a plan in place. Don’t just hunker down and think that this will all pass. It won’t. Be proactive. Take action. You can’t learn to swim by reading a book.
Start thinking of your new company Me-Inc. and you are the boss.
Do the following.
- Ask yourself the following questions – what do I do that can add value to others – what am I best at and what can I build a story around? This story is about all the things that you have done in the past that have made a difference to others.
- Tap into your existing network and let them know what you are thinking of. Reach out to ‘weak’ connections. Your strong connections tend to look, sound and act like you. Your weak connections ‘bridge’ you into different networks of diverse people.
- Ask for introductions through referrals – asking is your most powerful marketing tool. Leverage word-of-mouth marketing.
- Don’t ask for a job – ask for advice.
- Look to do specific short-term projects which solve problems for other people. See companies as career docking stations.
- Spruce up your CV which needs constant updating. It’s your personal marketing brochure. Bring static titles and positions to life. Get help with interview techniques.
- Use this lockdown period to attain mastery in new areas. Work on the key area of Networking – changing attitude, altering behaviour and learning new skills. This is a key soft skill that is becoming increasingly important to companies. Really focus on becoming a great listener. Believe that you can create serendipity and make it work for you and see it as a gentle wind always at your back rather than a bolt of lightning out of the blue.
- Develop an online presence and identity and begin to build an online community and tribe of followers. Focus on LinkedIn and learn to be active and competent. LinkedIn is the first place people will go to check you out so put time and effort into your online profile.
- As societies and economies gingerly open up identify the people you want to connect with and meet. You can’t go it alone – you have to network your way to your next position.
- See yourself as a brand that wants to stand out in a crowded world – everything that you do or don’t do communicates the value of that brand. Try to become visible, write articles, blog, speak, develop a voice, volunteer, and work on substance and style ( business card, web design, clothes, personal packaging). You will be judged by what you say (substance) and how you say it (style).
Companies want to recruit connected people. We live in a world where it is not what you know or even who you know but who knows you. Companies want to hire and wire. That means they want to hire people with strong and diverse networks and wire into those networks. This now becomes an important and valuable asset when you are being interviewed. This means you need to be constantly building your social capital which is defined as the resources available to you in your personal and business networks.
To finish I leave the last words to Tom Peters-“It’s this simple. You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no simple path to success. And there is no right way to create a brand called You. Except this. Start today. Or else”.