I am a few years in, working on Wall Street. I am a financial analyst and am pretty good at my job.
At my recent performance review my boss told me that I need to “build my brand.”
What the heck? I tried to get some detail out of him but didn’t get much. He said to get ahead here, I need to find ways to stand out and get noticed. I was figuring if I aced my advanced finance exams and did great work, the rest would take care of itself.
Can you shed some light on this?
In the Dark
Dear In the Dark,
The first thing I can tell you is that nothing ever takes care of itself. There is no fairness, no justice, and no reward for working hard. Doing great work is the ante that keeps you in a job and gets you one thing: more work. It doesn’t get you noticed or promoted—especially in the shark tank that is Wall Street.
You’re going to want to be clear about your career goals, develop relationships with anyone who can help you achieve them, and be memorable to anyone who matters. If you’re committed enough to your own success to study for and ace those fiendish exams, then you might be able to devote a little brain space and energy toward thinking about your brand.
I first heard about the concept of personal branding from Tom Peters back in the 90s. What I thought at the time would be a fad has really stuck. Essentially, it means thinking of yourself as a product that you need to keep top of mind with potential consumers.
This means you have to apply fundamental marketing theory to yourself. What are the features and benefits of you? Who might be interested in them? How do you differentiate yourself from other people like you? What real or perceived value do you bring to anyone who might work with you?
I can see your face right now, all scrunched up with distaste. I get it. I do. But you are an analytical thinker and obviously smart enough, so you can do this.
The key is to start with what is true. Those who try to build a brand based on lies can’t keep it up long term. Think about:
- Who are you? I worked with one client who called himself a Hoosier—which essentially means being from the state of Indiana, but also stands for being straightforward and honest. Early in his career he hid it because he thought it made him seem unsophisticated, but eventually he built a very successful persona based on this and it always felt authentic because it was.
- What is important to you? These are your values—what matters to you. You can develop a reputation for being a stickler for accuracy, being a data junkie, or being able to synthesize numbers into a narrative that is interesting to non-numbers types. Maybe you’re a super sharp dresser? Always into the latest hair styles? Keep it up, be consistent, and make it a signature.
- What makes you unique? What odd combination of skills do you have that nobody else has?
- What are your signature strengths? (If you don’t know, you can take a free assessment here).
- What do people get from hanging out with you? If you really have no idea, ask your friends. They will tell you if you’re funny, or if you always ask the odd question that nobody else thinks of, or if you’re the person who knows every microbrewery in the tri-state area.
From the list of what is important to you, you can build standards for your own behavior and appearance that will always be consistent. You can make choices to reveal certain aspects of yourself, when, and to whom. This is what makes you special and memorable to people and this is what your boss is trying to tell you. Just doing good work and keeping your head down is not going to get you anywhere.
There is a whole social media aspect to this as well—you can use your self-discoveries to curate a compelling representation of yourself on social media. I personally would rather have dental work, and I suspect you feel the same way. But you are at the beginning of your career, so I don’t know that you will be able to avoid it. I found a recent article that may help you with more specifics on this. I like the way the author focuses on how you add value.
Finally, part of your brand is going to be defined by who you know and hang out with. Find people you like, are interested in, and can learn from based on what how you answer the questions above. Join committees at work that are focused on things that are important to you. Environmental issues? Saving Australian Shepherds? Whatever it is, find your tribe and hang out with them.
Identify the folks who have the job you want to be doing within the next three years and ask one of them to be your mentor. The first one may turn you down, but keep trying. You’re probably thinking “Oh no, I’m an introvert, I can’t do that!” Yes, you can—and if your career is important to you, you will. You can be as shy and introverted as you want in your personal life, but you’re going to have to move out of your comfort zone at work.
I know this is a lot of extra stuff to think about, so take it step by step. Slow and steady wins the race. Apply that work ethic and that considerable intelligence to this problem, and you will be just fine.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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