Your Job Search: How to Build Your Professional Brand and Narrative28 July 2020
Effectively communicating your brand to employers is tricky, but essential to your presentation as a candidate when networking or interviewing. Your brand shows employers that you have intentionally (and thoughtfully) assembled an impressive set of hard skills, soft skills, and competencies, and are able to communicate them in an effective and concise manner.
In addition to a set of required skills, employers seek a set of soft skills and a base of competencies that round out a productive hire to their team. From the first blog post in this career series, remember the 3 golden rules that govern each company’s evaluation of candidates?
- Can you do the job? Do you possess the hard skills and experience required to perform the function of the job? Have you also demonstrated aptitude to learn new skills on the job?
- Will you do the job? Are you intrinsically motivated to do the required work?
- Are you a fit? Do your own mission and values align with the company’s direction, and how they want to achieve success?
It is important to keep these 3 golden rules in mind as you think about how your candidacy aligns with each company's needs.
What Do Employers Seek When Hiring Employees?
Employers look for evidence of certain characteristics and soft skills when evaluating candidates. Let’s take a deeper look into what employers seek; this list is based upon my experience coaching candidates through the interview process over the past several years, as well as a formal survey of executives from Fortune 500 companies:
How you overcome adversity/challenges:
Employers will assume that no matter how much experience you have, and how many skills you have mastered, you will encounter problems and situations that will frustrate you. How do you respond when you get stuck? How do you overcome challenges and roadblocks? What is your process for re-evaluating/re-assessing your situation? Are you able to modify your approach toward a successful outcome? Each of us have examples to demonstrate how we have turned around adversity in our work and/or academic experience that employers would love to learn more about.
History of success and achievement:
Whether accurate or not, employers assume that if you have a history of success and achievement in your past work and/or academic history, that that experience will likely predict future success and achievement, should they hire you. Employers will seek out stories that demonstrate success through specific achievement.
Employers are aware that skills, especially in the tech industry, are evolving at a rapid pace. You are hired for your ability to do the job now, and also for your ability to learn new skills and grow as the company’s needs grow. Hiring Managers seek candidates that are not complacent and who always strive to improve. The best way to do this is to continually assess your abilities, so that you can target areas for the opportunity to improve. Self awareness is also a key ingredient for empathy -- your ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”. Empathy is identified as a critical part of being a good teammate, particularly in how to resolve conflict or disagreement.
What is your character? Do you have your own personal mission statement, and set of values that guide your decision-making? Do you do what you say you are going to do, consistently?
Chances are, you will not get to choose your teammates at your next job. You will also likely be involved in conflict with one or more of your teammates at some point during your employment. Each of us have varying levels of comfort with conflict. And while conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, not being able to resolve conflict is. Think of an example of a time you did not get along with a co-worker and how did you resolve that conflict? Have you demonstrated the ability to uplift other members of your team, and if so, how?
This is a big one. Employers hire you to solve problems. Complex problems require you to take in information, make sense of it, manipulate the data/information, analyze it, make an informed decision, set out a roadmap, and execute to completion/success. Employers will evaluate your experience and your critical thinking skills with pointed questions that will demonstrate that you possess this valuable skill.
Comfort with Ambiguity and Uncertainty:
Increasingly, the roadmap to success is not always obvious. What is your ability to produce results, even when the path is not clear? Perhaps the desired outcome is not entirely known. Do you need constant supervision, or are you able to work somewhat independently?
The cliche phrase is, are you able to “think outside the box?” Are you able to utilize creativity when solving problems? Employers are increasingly searching for people that have the ability to seek solutions that are different than their existing braintrust/frameworks have found. This is increasingly important to employers in the technology industry as each company seeks competitive advantages for their products in the marketplace.
Collect intelligence on what employers seek in their new hires before crafting your own branding strategy. Maintaining focus on these themes will help you keep your branding on point and relevant. Let’s move on to your own branding content.
Formulate Your Branding Themes
We know that first impressions with your audience are critical to your ability to persuade. Often candidates (either in networking or in interviews), when asked about themselves, launch into a re-hashed version of their resume, stating their years of experience and hitting their audience with a barrage of skills. Perhaps relevant, but the timing is off -- do not lead with this information. Rather, lead with a statement or a question that captures the attention of your audience. This statement or question captures the essence of your brand, and will serve as your North Star for the rest of your narrative.
Example: “Have you ever been curious about how things work? From an early age, I have taken things apart to see their inner workings, to see how all the parts fit together, and to learn how things operate. Initially the challenge was to put things back together so that the “thing” would still work. I’ve learned that I enjoy tinkering, discovering, and exploring how things work and building new things that are able to serve a function.”
This is where you connect your energy statement specifically to the role or job type. Your energy statement contains general information about what excites and motivates you, and the Tie-In explains how that energy motivates you to perform the work at your target job. It essentially explains why you are interested in doing that specific job.
Example: “I’ve found that this curiosity helps when I am coding, as I get to break down the project that I am building, and write code that helps put some of the pieces of the project into a working prototype and eventual production-ready thing.”
Now that you have the full attention of your audience, here is where you supply credibility. This statement reassures the listener that you are qualified to perform the responsibilities of the job. Typically, you might include details of your work experience, education, skills, and competencies.
Example: “As I look back at my career, I realize that curiosity and the ability to build things has been a common theme. Since earning my Bachelor’s Degree from University X, I have enjoyed helping Company X and Company Y build <insert widget built here>. My role was focused on developing the internal systems for two of their flagship products. My specific contributions helped the team achieve <insert goal> and deliver the product on time. My expertise includes <insert a brief list of relevant skills here>, which allows me to do/perform <insert competency here>.
Interest Statement/Tie-In To Company or Role:
This transition helps tie in your expertise to the specific job, company, and industry. You have branded yourself as a motivated problem solver that is driven by curiosity to build excellent products by writing clean code. You have also built credibility by outlining your relevant skills, competencies, and experience. Here is your chance to state how your skills and experience has led you to this specific job and company. Of course, if you are writing your summary for your resume or for LinkedIn, omit the company name and focus on the role and/or industry.
Example: “As I understand, it is important for your next hire to be able to do <insert task or project here>. I believe my unique mix of abilities and experience qualifies me for this role, performing these tasks for your organization. I am a fit for your company because you value employees that emphasize community, diversity, creativity, and hard work, roll-up-your-sleeves-let’s-get-the-job-done attitude.” (this last bit requires that you do a little research on the company to learn what they value).
Pro Tip: Find company’s mission statement on the company's website, typically part of the “About Us” section or tab. Find the company’s values on the company’s Jobs or Careers home page. Supplement this information by performing Google searches, and searching on sites such as Glassdoor.com.
Put It All Together:
Delivery of this message is just as important as the content. You must appear confident, friendly, and authentic. Practicing saying/delivering this message will help you become more confident in your message. Studies show that humans are generally drawn to those that exude warmth, and appear to be friendly. You can display this by well-timed smiles, and genuine excitement about your message.
After putting all the pieces together, practice delivering your message to multiple people through different mediums. Practice with a friend, a colleague, or a partner/spouse. Repetition helps in remembering the content, and making you more comfortable. Getting feedback from a couple different sources also helps you fine-tune and tweak your content and delivery. You can also practice in front of the mirror or record yourself with a phone or laptop. Watching yourself will be very educational, though perhaps difficult to watch. However, your takeaways from watching your own video and the improvements you will be able to make to your delivery will very likely outweigh any discomfort or embarrassment of watching yourself.
Your message must be authentic, true to who you are. Your audience also needs to believe it. For this reason, it is important to practice and “own” your message. You may find it useful to write a script, then take notes of that script in outline form, so that you can memorize the important points and thoughts. This allows you the freedom to insert different language and syntax depending on the audience. The delivery will appear less “scripted” and more natural this way, rather than if you memorize the entire script word-for-word.
Likeability and Friendliness:
The hiring process is subjective (no matter how objective we try to be, or how much we try to remove bias). Hiring managers generally tend to select candidates that they and the rest of the team generally “get along with” and feel would be a good addition to the team dynamics and chemistry. Especially when nervous, it is easy to forget to display likeability and friendliness to your audience. Practice will help with nerves. It also helps to practice your general warmth and friendliness. A well-placed or well-time smile can be very helpful in displaying friendliness.