Competition in the tech jobs industry is fierce, so how do you differentiate yourself from the pack? Whether you're a job seeker or just looking to grow professionally, creating an impressive and meaningful brand is the best place to start.
Personal branding isn't a new topic. In fact, it's been around since roughly 1997 when Tom Peters coined the phrase, but as we slowly recover from the economic downturn and with the rise of new technology and an increase IT consulting, personal branding is becoming more prevalent and more important.
Regardless of your role in IT--whether you are a CIO, a developer or a helpdesk technician-- developing and maintaining your personal brand should be a part of your long-term career strategy.
A personal brand is more than just maintaining your LinkedIn profile, according to the experts. "Good people put their head down and get caught up in their job and forget they have a whole career to manage," says Pamela Rucker, chairwoman of the CIO executive Council's Executive Women in IT.
So where should you start? CIO.com spoke with career strategists, authors and industry experts to lay out a nine-step plan to help you build your personal brand from the ground up.
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1. Figure out what you do best and what you are known for
"What are the top one or two selling points that make you unique? You have to know what value you bring to the table even if other people can't see that yet because you're trying to build a story for them," says Rucker.
Doing this allows you to be more honest in your brand promotion. The end-game is to get potential employers to say, "Ah, this person understands the industry, he understands the history, here's what he's done in the past and here is what he is doing now and why he is important."
Rucker offers this example: If you look at Starbucks as a standalone store it is known for its coffee. Even though it can be inside a Target or grocery store, you know what that brand is. You're going to get a great cup of coffee. "People need to find out what those one or two things are and then define themselves on that," says Rucker.
One quagmire Rucker says she commonly sees is senior IT folks who use the generic term industry leader. When asked how they are an industry leader, they have a difficult time explaining. That said, if you know what your capabilities are, you can create a personal brand statement with the very specific attributes and qualities you bring.
"Your brand has to be authentic while still being meaningful and compelling, says Stephen Van Vreede, career strategist and resume writer with ITTechExec.
"You need to be honest with yourself about what your strengths are. Once you figure out what you do best, put all your energy into it because your talents are what make you stand out," says Dan Schawbel, author of the upcoming book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.
2. Figure out how it's relevant to your industry
"People are looking for specialists not generalists when recruiting and promoting now. If you can become the best at what you do you will become sought after," says Schawbel.
Once you've got a handle on the one or two things that you do best you have to relate how that is important to potential employers. You have to think larger than your company and look at the industry as whole sometimes in order to do this. "What benefits to organizations can you consistently deliver?" says Van Vreede.
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Rucker concurs adding you have to know what your value is and try and build a story around that narrative that shows potential employers why they need you. "What makes what you important to the industry? You need to be able to explain the history around that. It's not so much about understanding the new tool that's hot, it's about understanding the evolution of what's happening in the industry and why what you are able to do helps make you more important than the next person who says they are an industry expert," says Rucker.
3. Build out your social profiles
Use different social networks like LinkedIn, BranchOut and Google+, for example, and create your online profile. "Careers are being developed online now. That's the big shift. I look at the Internet like a global talent pool, so if you don't have a website or profiles on these social networks then you aren't part of the global talent pool. Network with people who you can learn from and who can connect you to new opportunities," says Schawbel.
According to Schawbel's research having your own site is essential and with the advent of technologies like Wordpress that are free and relatively painless to set up there's no reason not to.
4. Create content and get it out there
There are a number of ways to create content. You could contribute to an open source project, create a webcast, write a whitepaper, create a group in your social network of choice and lead the discussion on relevant topics.
"You can quickly build and strengthen your brand using social media by blogging, commenting on online posts within relevant content communities, joining twitter chats and engaging others in LinkedIn groups and forums," says Van Vreede.
Don't expect anyone else to make this happen for you. "You are going to have to go out there and look for opportunities; they aren't going to come and find you," says Rucker. She does, however, offer some original places to reach out. Perhaps you're a developer and you are interested in creating a whitepaper on a new technology. Identify a nonprofit working with that technology and offer your services. The work will allow you to learn about the new technology, write a whitepaper and add valuable experience on your resume.
Another option to write a paper explaining how you solved a common problem within your CMS building a custom module to allow the integration of newsletters, saving the company money from the third- party newsletter service subscription as well as time and energy because people don't have to log in and out of disparate systems to complete their daily workflow. Regardless of how you do it, create compelling content that engages and informs and then put it out there and engage in conversation.
5. Keep updating your content and brand
Experts agree that Googling your name to see where you are is a good way to see how you're progressing. If you've been working your plan you should start to see some traction but this is only the beginning of the journey. "Once you do own that profile you have to manage it. It's not for a week it's for your whole life," says Schawbel.
The bottom-line is don't rest on your laurels. The best people never do. They are always educating themselves and growing their professional horizons and so should you. Consider this part of your routine and not something you do from time to time. Don't let your content or profiles get stale.
6. Help people understand why they need your services
"CIOs need to be able brand what their capabilities are, so companies can begin to see them in a different way," says Rucker. As a CIO or senior technology person, you have to regularly convey to others around you how what you do can help them do their jobs better.
"You have to learn how to listen and pull out of people the things that they want or do research to find out what companies want, then tie what you do well to what they want, so that you can directly link successes you've had in the past to a goal they are trying to achieve," says Rucker.
7. You can't be a brand alone
You need to surround yourself with the best people. When you are the boss, everyone who works for you is a representative of your department and your capabilities. You can be the most articulate CIO on the planet, but are your subordinates up to snuff?
Rucker says an important part of this is living your brand. If you can consistently demonstrate to your team that you are who you say you are, then they will follow suit. "Find people who love your brand and what you do. Create a community or contribute externally and surround yourself with these kinds of people," says Rucker.
8. Make sure every interaction leaves them feeling like you have lived up to your brand statement
Once your personal brand is in place, now the real work begins. Every interaction, according to the experts, needs to leave the affected individuals feeling like you did what you said you were going to do and you were true to your brand statement. One thing everyone hates, according to Rucker, is when someone is broadcasting that they are an expert at big data, only to find out after the fact that they are not.
9. Keep your personal brand and your personal life separate
"Once you get a voice, you have to realize that your voice has power," says Rucker. This seems like a no-brainer, but individuals regularly cut their own proverbial throats via social media, and senior IT execs are no exception.
Make sure that you don't make statements that you could be penalized for later. For example, bad-mouthing a competitor can come back to haunt you. In a year's time you may find yourself looking for employment from that company. Rucker cautions that whatever you put out there, could potentially be what you're known for, so keep that in mind the next time you're posting beach photos to your Facebook account.
A Win-Win Situation
What it really comes down to is discovering what your brand is. "This is the most critical step. Everything else already exists--all the job boards, all the people around the world connected by technology. The one thing that doesn't exist that you need to solidify is how you want to position yourself," says Schawbel. This is what he refers to as your personal brand statement.
According to Schawbel, there should be a new implied contract between branded employees and employers that goes something like this: Employees should be able to work where and when they want and have some freedom. They should be able to build a personal brand and use social networks to their advantage as well as to support the company. In exchange for that employees need to be accountable for their work. They have to make sure they are delivering above and beyond on their work. Both parties have to win for it to work.
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This story, "9 Steps to Build Your Personal Brand (and Your Career)" was originally published by CIO.