I had the opportunity to speak to an enthusiastic batch of students from Bangalore Management Academy on February 21, 2009 on the changing business landscape, its impact on career planning, the heightened need for personal branding and how social media can help one succeed in this quest. The topic was ‘If you can’t be found, you won’t be found – personal branding in a downturn and later’.
I believe that these suggestions are not only relevant for students but also for communicators who want to make a niche for themselves.
I set the context on the slowdown, expectations from the industry (press clips), why the corporate world needs MBAs (The Week, February 22, 2009) and shifting mindsets of students (recent news). Power has clearly shifted back to the employers.
There was consensus on the crisis and the need to personally reinvent their mindsets. At this point I posed 3 questions:
a) How much of what we learn is valid in the corporate world?
b) How sure are we of retaining any job which comes our way?
c) Therefore, what is the only element which is sustainable and long-term?
No points for guessing the first two! With layoffs and slowdown in hiring, none were sure of what the future had in store – which also may be the case with most of us.
Therefore, the only consistent element (the answer to the 3rd question) in this crisis and later is our own personal brand. What we stand for – our values, our goals, our strengths…..and who knows it better!
Interestingly, companies also look for prospective employees who have unique behaviors, values, and personal talents. The point is – how many of us have invested in building that personal brand?
The students worked on a ‘One Strength’ exercise which helped them identify what they think about themselves and how others perceive them. At the end of the exercise, they understood that unless we define what we are good at and articulate it, it is difficult for others to relate to us.
The world’s best brands (be it IBM, Coca Cola, GE, Intel, Microsoft or McDonalds) have spent years standing for something unique, believable, superior, consistent, trustworthy, adaptable and time-tested. What if we leveraged those key elements into our personal lives? Easier said than done!
1. To begin, you must know yourself
Very often, we chase what the industry needs and end up feeling let down when our expectations don’t match with what was offered. If you begin from your area of strength and interest, the chances of you continuing the momentum is higher. An exercise ‘Reflections’ enabled them to think more about their core values and how it related to the corporate world.
A few relevant questions to ask:
n What have I done lately— this week— to make myself stand out?
n What would my batch-mates or friends say is my greatest and clearest strength? My most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?
n What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value?
n What do I do that I am most proud of?
n What have I accomplished that I can unabashedly brag about?
n What do I want to be famous for?
2. Map your focus
Once you have answers to some of these questions, the next step is to map your unique expertise vis-à-vis your imagery and your performance areas. How will you build on what you stand for? How will you target your domain specialization?
3. Leverage Social Media
While it may sound simple to leverage any of the available tools in the market, one must be cautious in understanding what works and what can backfire. For example, starting a blog of your own may be a good idea but without a personal voice, regular posts and an audience it defeats the purpose. So also with social networking. While there are over 125 sites which allow networking, knowing which ones to be on and which to skip is vital to building your brand. My advise to students is to skip Orkut (this usually gets me those ‘but why!’ looks) and to be on sites like Linkedin. My rationale is based on ‘image’ and ‘contacts’. If you need to be taken seriously, I think it makes sense to be answering questions on Linkedin, participating on relevant forums and connecting with experts in your domain. Not something easily available on ‘friends’ kind of sites. That apart, you also have opportunities to improve your visibility using Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Elance and others.
I recommend using the 3A Social Media Strategy for Personal Brand building.
Absorb – invest in understanding trends and how they impact you (Google Alerts etc)
Adapt – pick suitable sites and tools to use (blogs, podcasts, YouTube, Flickr, Answers, etc)
Apply – implement and monitor your progress (profile and group audits, BlogPulse, Technorati, BuzzMetrics etc)
4. Have a Feedback Mechanism
It is important to enlist support of your friends, family and peers if you want to make successful progress. One of the critical elements of this strategy is feedback – like feedback is vital for any of us in our daily lives. We may not receive it all the way we want but at least we must be glad we get it!
5. Action Planning – means start Now!
While all good plans either stay in our heads or never see it beyond the notepad where you scribbled it, I insist that students work towards an actionable, concrete worksheet which also includes reviewers (who gives you feedback), when do you complete a task, how do you measure progress.
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