How To Win The War For Talent: Building Your Personal Brand As An Executive

Competition in the workspace is high nowadays, so career development is no longer just about doing a great job, whatever your role. If you want to get access to the best opportunities, you need to show you are doing more than competently executing your responsibilities.

As a result, building a personal brand is becoming more prevalent. And there are all kinds of different programs and people who can help you, like Key Person of Influence workshops. Suzie Lightfootwho I have interviewed on the Arete Executive Podcast, also specialises in helping executive women create and grow their personal brand. 

How you come across in the marketplace can make all the difference to your professional development, so it may be time to start thinking about your brand.

Listen to us discuss this further on the podcast here or continue reading below. 

Should my personal brand be a priority?

It seems to be more on the minds of the younger generation. A few years ago, I was part of a panel discussion for the Australian Institute of Management aimed at helping young people accelerate their careers. We got a lot of questions about whether they should be on Instagram, or have their own blog or website, and so on.

I said, "Look, at your point in your career, your personal brand is about you doing good work. It's about showing up on time, it's about delivering to expectation. I think all of these other things are just a big distraction.”

As your career advances it’s important to shift your attention to how you brand yourself in the marketplace. It doesn't necessarily mean you need to start a podcast or a blog or turn to social media, but it could be something as simple as participating as a speaker at a conference. Or joining a board of an industry association, contributing an article to an industry magazine, et cetera. These are the kinds of things that start to separate you from 90% of people who don't pay any attention to that.

Remember, whatever your job title, your role has an element of sales. Whether it’s selling to your employer or a prospective employer as to why you're the best candidate, selling your team on why you want them to deliver your tactical expectations, or selling to suppliers or customers or prospective employees about why you're the employer of choice.

The power of LinkedIn

When it comes to personal branding, LinkedIn holds a lot of power so use it wisely. I know every time I meet with somebody, I look at their LinkedIn profile first. I can see if they’ve got endorsements, or have written blog posts or have participated at conferences or events. That’s only going to increase my receptivity to them because there’s tangible evidence that they are good at their job.

On the flip side, you don’t want to be the person blowing your own trumpet to the point that it seems insincere. There are certainly people out there that will post that they’ve been nominated as one of the 50 most influential women in business in Australia, or they've just won some kind of leadership award.

And yet, because I know them, I know in reality they're struggling and they're not successful. So sometimes building a personal brand which doesn’t align with where you are is going to be a disadvantage rather than an advantage for your career.

A lot of the time when I’m interviewing people or having general chats with senior executives, they’ll tell me they’ve worked hard for five years but paid no attention to networking or building their personal brand. When the time comes to look for a new job, they realise they don’t have those networks or mentors to support their job search and open up opportunities for them. So, it’s important to pay some attention to this at all times throughout your career.

Separate yourself from the corporate brand

Now, unless you’re self-employed, you need to be aware that as well as wearing your own hat, you also wear the company hat; you need to be aware of the corporate brand.

You need to clearly separate your personal brand from the organisation, so you wouldn’t go ahead and write Facebook or LinkedIn posts as if you were representing your organisation without approval to do that.

However, in saying that, the reality is that employers would prefer that the senior employees are doing it more than they do. For example, I have a good relationship with a CEO of a large engineering services company. His engineers head each of his divisions from roads and bridges to construction, but don’t invest in building their own personal brands. As a result, he ends up being the main contact for clients because his leaders do not brand themselves as the go-to person.

You'll probably find that if you told your employer you’d like to start growing your personal brand, as long as it is appropriate and in line with the company values, you’d get a lot of support.

The fact that you are taking action to be a thought leader within your space will only make you more attractive to future employers.

Attracting the best connections

It’s just as important for organisations to be proactive in encouraging and helping their senior executives to bolster their personal brand because current and future customers, suppliers and employees will be looking at their LinkedIn profiles. If the profiles of senior executives are not very strong and are inconsistent, it won’t attract the best quality connections.

At the board level, many directors don’t even have LinkedIn profiles because they tend to be later adopters of LinkedIn than executives. Likewise, it’s important that they are representing the organisation as well as themselves in the best way possible.

Employers want their executive leaders to deliver the best quality outcomes, and more often than not, that means being in the trenches doing the day-to-day tactical work. But at the same time, there’s a ‘war for talent’. It went away for a while during the global financial crisis when it was a candidate-rich market, but we’re definitely back to that space now, which means attracting the best quality people.

But there's got to be a commitment from the organisation in order to do that. A company’s leaders are the ones who will ‘sell’ it as a good employer and who will refer future employees, but they need support. A CFO is often not somebody who is naturally extroverted or is in any way focused on their brand. The head of marketing might be, but it’s not something that comes easily to most people.

Business owners however recognise that there is no alternative to doing this. It's not enough to do a good job anymore. Unless you're front of mind, the likelihood is that your business will not achieve its full potential, and that's certainly been true for me in the past.

I now work with Brett Jarman from Help Me Leverage to build my brand and output in the recruitment sector. Whilst some of the results of the work we've been doing together is intangible and unmeasurable, there is no doubt that it has significantly improved the number of inquiries and new work we've picked up; it's been invaluable.

Invest for success

Not all companies see the value in investing resources to help their executives build their brand. Some employers have a very jaded view and tend to be cynical thinking, "If we invested money it will attract headhunters, so why would we do that?"

But, think about the cost to hire a $200,000 executive through a recruiter that's charging you 15%, which is a low recruitment fee - that's $30,000. So, if you invest a few thousand dollars in helping your senior executives build a great LinkedIn profile and that results in them bringing one new employee into the business where you didn't have to pay a recruitment fee, it's paid itself back 10 times.

Or, they might then speak at a conference and win a new client or have a more successful negotiation, so it's actually a no brainer.

Personal brand = professional development

Interestingly, while a lot of senior executives might expect their employers to invest in them to boost their skills or build their brand, they wouldn’t actually invest in themselves; they don’t want to pay out of their own pocket. It’s crazy.

It’s a good idea to put a certain percentage of your income every year into your professional development, but not too many people are that forward thinking. But, if you start to associate brand with professional development, you might be more inclined to invest in yourself.

People spend 50, 60, $70,000 on an MBA, which as a qualification, is largely dismissed. For a fraction of that, if they invested that in doing a program like Key Person of Influence, the return on investment would be 10 times, if not more.

I’ve been recruiting as an executive level for 17 years now and I can count on one hand the number of times the employer has said, "We'd like somebody with an MBA." If anything though, Australian employers want practical, real world experience; they don’t care about qualifications.

There are a lot of resources out there and a lot of great people who can help you build your personal brand. Often people just don't know where to start, so start with a few simple things and focus on doing them really well before moving on to the bigger things.

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