The Brand Called 'You'

Learn how to define, enhance and market the brand of 'you'.

November 17, 2011
from Robert Half International

What’s the difference between generic and brand name? Like beauty, the distinction often lies in the eye of the beholder.

When you say “jeans,” you probably envision a functional, basic pair of pants made out of blue denim. Pretty bland, isn’t it? But say “Levi’s” and you probably get a montage of exciting, compelling images. You’re no longer thinking about the jeans themselves, but about all the qualities you associate with that particular brand.

The wonder of branding also applies when managing your career. The key is to stop thinking of yourself as a generic “financial professional” and to start promoting the brand called You.

Marketers often talk about a product or company’s “unique selling proposition,” the key feature that makes a particular item or business stand out. In managing your career — especially when looking for a new job or seeking to move up at your current firm — you need to think in similar terms. What makes you stand out from other candidates or employees? Why should your manager promote you or Company X hire you?

Defining Your ‘Brand’

Step one is to identify and define your professional image in very clear, vivid terms. It’s helpful to start by answering these questions:

  • What unusual professional skills do you possess? Perhaps it’s an exceptionally keen eye for irregularities on balance sheets. Or it may be unerring accuracy in cost-benefit analyses.
  • How are you different and distinctive? Maybe you worked in a wide variety of settings and can draw on your experiences in both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds. Or perhaps you worked for a prestigious, well-known firm.
  • What’s your greatest strength? Do you consistently beat deadlines?Are you known and admired as an effective manager?
  • What’s your greatest accomplishment? It may not necessarily be a high-profile assignment. If you consistently find ways to save your clients significant amounts in taxes, that’s noteworthy.
  • What ‘benefits’ can you bring to a company? Think in terms of combinations of skills, characteristics and areas of expertise. For example, are you a bilingual MBA/CPA with 16 years of internal auditing experience at Fortune 500 companies? You can bet there aren’t many of those around!

Steps in Marketing ‘Brand You’

Even the greatest products would be doomed to obscurity if it weren’t for skillful, consistent marketing. Coke and Nike are leading brands, but the companies still market their products as if they were trying to get a foothold in the market.

Marketing yourself is a similar, never-ending process. Other people need to know about you and what you offer. Here are the key steps to include in your marketing plan:

  • Increase your visibility. Join professional associations such as the AICPA, as well as business/professional organizations in your area (e.g., the Rotary Club or the American Business Women’s Association).
  • Showcase your skills. Create a professional website or blog. As an alternative, write articles for professional journals, trade publications or association newsletters and post comments on blogs written by other financial professionals.
  • Increase your connections.Engage in consistent, active networking — both traditional and virtual. Join LinkedIn and professional groups on Facebook. Attend industry organization-sponsored conferences, conventions and social events. Set monthly goals for expanding your professional network.
  • Build Your ‘Fan’ Base. Ask current and previous employers and clients to write testimonials about your work, and include these on your website and LinkedIn profile or as a supplement to your résumé. Begin to collect e-mails from people praising your work or complimenting your achievements. All these materials serve to document and support the excellence of your brand.

Enhance your brand by pursuing activities that will increase your professional connections and skill-set, provide valuable experience and add to your distinctiveness. Doing pro bono work or taking on continuing education activities that will earn you an advanced degree or special certification are good strategies. By building and improving your brand, you’ll find it easier to “sell” current and potential employers on your unique skills, expertise and experience.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is one of the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firms to place accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf.