Personal Branding: A Creator’s Journey

On May 9, 2017, James Comey, director of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and one of the most powerful men in the US, was about to give an address to his employees in Los Angeles when TV screens behind him started to flash breaking news. Apparently he had been fired by President Donald Trump. Comey laughed it off as a somewhat funny prank, according to a New York Times report. It was only later, when Trump’s letter was delivered to FBI headquarters in Washington that reality started to sink in.

Regardless of the political motivations behind his dismissal, James Comey is a powerful example of how fragile our careers are and how vulnerable we can be to the wind of change. The economic recovery, which started in 2014 in the Czech Republic, was viewed as great news by many managers. Little did they know that numerous companies would use this new window of opportunity to significantly restructure. In the process, many bright managerial heads fell between the cracks, often told with short notice that they were no longer needed. To make matters worse, few companies cared enough to put together comprehensive outplacement programs for their departing staff. At the end of the day, they were busy restructuring. Due to this, over the last three years, many accomplished gifted spirits found themselves in limbo, seeking new career opportunities.

What’s left of you when your vCard is taken away?

When dealing with managers who find themselves unexpectedly on the labor market, the first question I ask is what they did to cultivate their name and personal reputation during their previous job. What proof of their expertise – beyond meeting their quarterly KPIs – do they have? Did they perhaps publish some articles on a LinkedIn blog? Or were they in the media with a couple of expert interviews or articles? Do they have some good videos or SlideShare presentations from giving a speech at an industry conference? Almost anything would be a good place to start when putting together a personal brand kit to take with them to introduce themselves to new potential employers.

But guess what. Up to 99% of managers have none of the above. Why? Because they didn’t think about it when they were still on the job. So they either had a few good materials that they left behind with their previous company, or they never had them in the first place. My next question for such people is usually quite sharp: what’s left of you when your vCard has been taken away?

On Victims and Creators

Personal branding is a discipline of its own. Usually people start thinking about it when they want to leave the corporate world and start their own business. But this is too late. Whether you know it or not, you’ve already built a personal brand. Except your creation might not have the connotations you want and it most probably won’t help you in achieving your new goals. Being passive about your personal reputation at the workplace is also saying something about you: it says that you gladly go along with the flow, happy to be taken care of by your company for as long as possible. Then you can’t be too surprised when, at a certain moment, your company might not want to take care of you anymore. Yes, you may feel like a Victim; this is because you’ve been behaving like a Victim by constantly empowering others to make decisions about what is important for you. As opposed to Victims, Creators are constantly on their toes. In personal branding they aren’t building their image to impress. Not at all. Creators use their own image to convey a message, to tell a story, to share their expertise, to inspire and to leave something behind. As opposed to Victims, Creators find deep meaning in building their personal brand beyond the immediate ego satisfactions. They know that a personal brand is a tool that will serve them long-term. They also know that a strong, visible personal brand, same as a corporate brand, cannot be built over night. It takes time and commitment to build one. But Creators aren’t afraid. They dare to show up and share what’s best of them with the world. When companies must choose between a Creator and a Victim during a hiring interview, guess who they will prefer.

Never too late to start building your personal brand

It is never too late to start building your personal brand. In this column, I will be addressing practical insights on how to start seeing yourself as a brand as well as acting like one. For starters, you need to have a crystal clear vision. What are you trying to achieve? What kind of world do you want to live in and how exactly do you want to contribute to it? How can you use the position you are in right now to get yourself just a bit closer to your vision? Start with that, and all the other tools and mechanisms of personal branding will fall into place. If you don’t start – because you still think you don’t need to or you fear that it’s going to take too much time or because you simply don’t believe you have something to say – you shouldn’t be surprised when next time the wind of change will blow in your company, there will be little for you to take with you. Of all your possible investments, seeing yourself as I, the Brand is one of the most lucrative, for it will bring you new opportunities in all areas of your life. In a market where colossi like James Comey are taken down in prime time, conscious personal branding is quite a solid investment into your career and life.

By Cristina Muntean