Monday, April 27, 2009

Using Stories to Demonstrate Your Personal Brand

If you want to see a group of children get quiet very quickly, just let the teacher pull out a book and proclaim it's time for story hour. Nothing seems to hold the attention of a bunch of wiggling little bodies more than the magic of a good story.

Several months ago, I blogged about the power of telling a story in your career. That prompted some great responses, including a book from Katharine Hansen called "Tell Me About Yourself."

I interviewed Hansen, curious about how job seekers and current employees in this tough and very competitive job market could learn how to be better storytellers.

While it is tough to tell a story in a resume, there are many more opportunities, Hansen told me, such as a cover letter than tells a story of your career interest and determination or stories about solving a problem.

Or, there are the opportunities to tell stories at networking events, or when you've got some time with a boss. He or she will be much more interested -- and you will be more memorable -- if you can tell a story about your ability to work with a difficult customer or why you are interested in a big project. (Remember no story should be more than a couple of minutes long.)

In her book, Hansen also advises people to use stories to communicate their personal brand. "Take a minute to write down what you are most known for," Hansen says. "In what area(s) can you offer yourself as an expert?"

She adds that while you may consider yourself an expert in a certain professional arena, "hobbies and interests can be fair game."

Once you've written your branding statement, then you can consider what stories would support it. Some examples Hansen gives:

* A story demonstrating your passion about your field.
* A story that shows your understanding and experience with your audience's needs.
* A story that demonstrates a pioneering idea you've developed.
* A story that shows how you fit in with the history of your field.
* A story that illustrates alliances and partnerships that support you.

The key, I believe, is knowing the difference between telling a story that makes sense to your audience, and holding them "hostage" while you ramble on about something they don't understand or care about. Practice your delivery and work on telling your stories to trusted colleagues until you believe you've developed your skills enough to use it in other professional contexts.

One final note: Be truthful with your stories. These are not fables for you to spin in front of a campfire. These stories are to be a testament to your abilities, to strengthen your career and make you memorable.

What are some other ways to use stories to help your career?

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Monday, March 30, 2009

How to Protect Your Personal Brand When Your Company's Reputation Sucks

Just imagine, for a moment, what it must be like to be an AIG employee. Armed guards at the door. Your top executives threatened in horrific ways, even if they had nothing to do with the executive bonus debacle. Even AIG families have been threatened.

Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert, says there’s no doubt that current AIG employees are going to be “tainted” by the “bad corporate reputation” of AIG.

“Corporate brands and personal brands can build or destroy each other because they are both associated with each other. When a reputation management crisis occurs, the individual, regardless if he or she is an executive or a new-hire, is tainted in the same regard,” Schawbel says. “Even if you quit your job and interview at another company, that corporate brand will stick to you like glue.”

One group of employees who may be commiserating with AIG workers right now are former Enron Corp. employees, who saw their own company go through a similar reputation nightmare in 2001 when the company filed for bankruptcy and some executives ended up in jail for financial misdeeds.

Franny Oxford remembers interviewing former Enron employees in her role as a human resource manager for a large Houston manufacturing and distribution company in 2002.

“Maybe they received some coaching on what to say, but every one of the people I interviewed who had worked for Enron immediately told me what their role was at the company, how they were not involved in what happened, and how they had learned from their experience,” Oxford says. “For the most part, I bought it.”

Oxford says she hired a number of former Enron employees, and “they did very, very well.”

“Enron was one of those companies that was very focused on the bottom line. The people were held very accountable for their performance, and they focused on excellence. They were independent, good leaders,” she says. “And they were grateful to get a job.”

Oxford, now a human resources manager at an air quality control company in Houston, recommends AIG employees looking for a new job should also use the same tactic as Enron workers: Outline your job, explain how you were not involved in the problems, how you learned from the mistakes made and what remarkable skills you can bring to a new employer.

Schawbel agrees. “There is no question that if employees interview for a new job right now and have AIG stamped on their resume, the discussion will come up. You shouldn’t avoid it and you can’t get away from it,” he says. “Instead, you need to be honest and open about it.”

Schawbel, author of “Me 2.0” (Kaplan, $16.95) also recommends that current AIG employees understand that they have the opportunity to remain authentic, transparent and ethical, despite their company’s wrongdoings. “They can admit their company is wrong, even if politically it’s not acceptable. These employees can escape AIG altogether – or work to build the image of the company back up,” he says.

At the same time, working for a company evoking such public hostility right now will take some fortitude, he says.

“Whenever you meet someone new, they will ask ‘What do you do?’ and you’ll start talking about your company. If your audience doesn’t know you and is disturbed by the bad press your company just garnered, then they may dismiss you altogether,” he says. “Personal brands can go through rebranding to shake the corporate brand, but it might take a while to reposition yourself in a new role, in a new company.”

And AIG employees may face even more issues as they try and adjust to a new role within the working world. Oxford says that she noticed some former Enron employees “almost had PTSD” (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

“They actually seemed to have problems working in a non-stress environment, especially those who stayed the longest at Enron, the ones who worked right until the very end,” she says.

In the end, Schawbel says AIG provides an important lesson for all workers and their careers.

“It tells us that the companies we work for have influence on how we’re perceived. We need to make good decisions on who we work for, not just because of money or benefits, but because they are a great place to work with a positive reputation,” he says. “We have to consider everything we’re affiliated with, from our college to our company to our club or organization and even the people who surround us. We’re constantly being judged, and to shape positive perceptions we have to surround ourselves with exceptional brands.”

What are some other steps you would recommend for AIG employees or anyone who has been hit with a company scandal?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Does Your Career Tell The Right Story?

Let's say someone held a taser to your chest right this minute and said: "Tell me the story of your career." Could you do it? I'm not sure I could -- being zapped by a taser is bound to make me a bit nervous and the most I might be able to do is give my name and e-mail address.

But more and more, people want you to tell them career stories. They want to know of a time when you handled a problem at work, when you dealt with a difficult customer or when you led an important project. Oh, yeah, and this story has got to be quick, concise, compelling, riveting and memorable.

I found it interesting that one of the commenters on this blog noted that when I wrote about the "Seven Random (and Sorta Weird) Facts About Me," he said he "can never think of the simple things who make us who we are."

That got me to thinking about how difficult it sometimes is to come up with stories that illustrate our career. I think part of the problem is that we're so busy with our jobs and everything that goes along with it (answering e-mails, phone calls, Twittering, checking Facebook) that we just don't get the time we need to think about what makes us "who we are" on the job.

So, as this year winds down, I think it's a good time to stop and reflect on what we know about ourselves and our career. What really makes us unique? What is something we have brought to a job that makes us valuable? What stories can we tell to others that will make us memorable?

At a time when everyone fears for their job, when we may be facing an important job interview or performance evaluation, let's look at some ways to shape our career stories.

1. Keep if professional. Try to avoid a lot of references to your family and friends. Those are certainly great stories, but you want the listener to see you in the primary role, to have a vision of how you impacted a particular situation.

2. Showcase your ingenuity. I've interviewed many management experts over the last several months, and the one thing they all agree on is that the companies that will survive are the ones who will come up with new and innovative ideas. Think of times you showed you could roll with the punches and still come up with a creative or innovative solution. This not only shows you can handle adversity, but are adaptable as well.

3. Be truthful. I love Aesop's Fables as much as the next person, but anytime you tell a career story, make sure it is true. And believable -- try not to embellish too much.

4. Don't be offensive. Your story loses its power when you use profanities, racial or gender stereotypes or otherwise show you need diversity training. Never tell a story that would embarrass someone else.

5. Keep is short. A story should never be more than a couple of minutes long. If it's a great story, look for ways to shorten it and just highlight the key points.

6. Be interesting. While you should know your stories well enough that you could tell them even if you're nervous (envision that taser), you don't want to sound like you're reciting the Gettysburg Address for a fifth-grade teacher. Tape record yourself, or ask someone else to listen to you tell your story. Does your voice have good inflection? Do you pause for effect? Do you sound and look confident?

7. Do you sound sane? I've heard career stories before that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. While the tellers of these tales thought the stories made them sound tough, or forceful or innovative, I just thought it made them sound a bit deranged. You want to make sure that your stories are logical. They should show that you understood a problem or issue, thought of an appropriate response and then acted professionally.

What are some other tips for telling career stories?

Lijit Search

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Does Your Personal Brand Taste Like Burned Toast?

A lot of people are promoting their personal or career brand these days as a way to make themselves more memorable and more successful. There's one problem, however. Some of these personal branding strategies make us a) want to run and hide or b) smack the person across the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

More than a decade ago Tom Peters' call for "You, Inc.," resonated with many people. Articles and books were written about it and businesses sprung up to help others develop career or personal brands. It's become one of the hottest things going, and a lot of people have made money off the whole idea of "me."

Now, don't get me wrong -- I think career and personal branding is a smart move, especially in this tough economy. Anything you can do to get others positively talking about you and your brand, the better.

You'll note, please, the emphasis on positive.

The problem is that some personal brands are starting to put a foul taste in people's mouths. Sort of like burned toast.

I mean, I can eat burned toast if I have to. If I have time, I'll scrape off the really brown parts. But as I become busier and more stressed, I'm not really inclined to put up with burned toast. I'd rather pitch it in the trash (I know, I know, at $12 a loaf this is a terrible thing to do) and get new, better toast. Something I'll enjoy and not have to put up with that lingering bad taste in my mouth.

That's what you've got to remember: Your personal brand has got to be palatable. Too much self promotion, too little focus on bringing something valuable to the table, and you could find yourself getting discarded.

So, in an effort to get things back on track, here are some tips:

* Don't always hit "send." Seriously, folks, I don't need to know about every burp in your life. Just because you attended the National Association of Acid Refluxers, I don't need to know you met some other folks and ate the all-you-can-barf buffet. Please stop sending me so many "branding" updates that I now send you straight to the spam file.

* Think of your momma. If you're hanging out with some real questionable characters either at work or online, you need to reconsider. You know who these people are: they spend most of their day doing things they're not paid to do and are probably illegal in 12 states; they don't have anything good to say about anyone or anything; and they get nervous when "America's Most Wanted" comes on the air. Think of it this way: Would your mother be pleased that you're associating with these people?

* Look in a mirror. Have a heart-to-heart talk with "Me, Inc." Have you become "Idiot, Inc.?" Have you become so focused on establishing a brand that you've lost sight of who you are? Starbuck's founder Howard Schultz is being portrayed as more intense, more anxious, than in the past. While this may be a natural evolution for him as he struggles to bring the company back to its head honcho position, it might be time for him to do a gut check and ask himself if this is really true to his personal brand.

And speaking of looking in the mirror: Your personal appearance is one of the first things that mark your personal brand. If you've been nominated for "What Not to Wear" by several people and have been featured in the "What was he/she thinking?" category for any publication, then you need a makeover, pronto. Remember: If you can wear it to sleep in, to mow the back 40 in or to go clubbing in, it's never appropriate for making business contacts.

If you've got some more personal or career branding insights, please share!

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Becoming Who You Were Meant to Be

If you’re a woman with children, you are probably used to being called “Bobby’s mom” or "Chloe's mom." Or if you’re working for someone else, you might be known as “Susan’s assistant” or "the HR gal." There are monikers that could be worse, of course, but maybe you’re getting a little tired of being known by such titles.

Branding, for many women, is something that begins in college. You declare a major and that’s the first time you say who you are. Or, you get your first job, and the boss pigeonholes you.

But over the years I’ve spoken with many happy and successful women, and they all say that more women need to take steps to develop their own reality, not function according to someone else’s perception. More females in the workplace, in other words, need to take off their masks of who they think they should be and became the real person they are – and find much greater professional satisfaction and personal happiness as a result.

Where to start? You may need to:
· Dig deep. There’s only one you — you are special and unique. That means you need words to express your personal beliefs, values, how you want to live and what you consider most important to your well being. The challenge is creating interest and enthusiasm for what you have to offer, and using it to enhance your image in the business world.
· Define dreams and put them into action. Create a mission statement for yourself and write it down. You are very likely to get what you ask for, because when you finally get serious about what you really desire deep in your soul, others start paying attention. Someone once suggested to me you should be able to rattle off your personal mission statement in 12 words or less if someone held a gun to your head (yikes!), while someone else said your statement should feel like a drum roll should proceed it.
· Go after the target audience with a vengeance. No matter what your mission or goal, identifying and earning the devotion of your target audience is critical to your success. Just don’t be fake, because people will sense it and immediately tune you out.
· Crush inner fears. It’s important to overcome insecurities that can stop you in your tracks. In many cases the thing you are afraid to do is the one thing you must do to solidify your brand.
· Recruit supporters. Get friends, family members and colleagues to help you create an atmosphere of success. Listen to their advice, since it comes from a place of genuine caring about you.
· Look good. You must not only make your exterior appealing to your target audience, but also make it a genuine reflection of who you are.
· Get comfortable in your own skin. Guess what? You’re not perfect. No one is. But you can develop your personal style and make it part of your brand. How do you show others that you’re creative, or dependable or funny? We’re all born with charisma --whether or not we all use it is another question.
· Devise a plan and get on with it. If you’re not going to do it, who will? Keep your eye on the prize and work towards it.

Finally, one last note: tune in Tuesday at 10 a.m. CST for a lively and provocative discussion with Christopher Flett on my podcast, “Smashing the Ladder With Anita and Diane,” where we’ll talk about all the things women do right – and wrong – in their careers. And, there will be plenty of good information for the guys, as well.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Six Things You Don't Know About Me

I had not planned on posting again today, but when I got tagged by The Career Encourager, I couldn't resist.

Seems there's a fun little game going on among the bloggers, where you are "tagged," by a fellow blogger and asked to tag three more. Since this may be the most exercise I get all day, and I have a little bit of a competitive streak, I thought I'd join right in.

So I'm going to tag:
*Slacker Manager because I think these guys really try to get everyone to really think about what they're doing, instead of just going through the motions of trying to get ahead. The postings are well researched, interesting and informative.
* An involved and responsive community at Personal Branding blog makes this a really cool blog to read. This is a subject that everyone -- no matter what they do for living -- should be aware of if they want to have the career they desire.
*When the "W" list of top women business bloggers was begun (before it morphed into a cast of hundreds for all kinds of subjects), Little Red Suit's Tiffany Monhollan was nice enough to post me to the list. Now, Tiffany has morphed her great blog into something new:Personal PR, and it's still great. It takes a leap of faith and lots of hard work to start a new blog, and my hat is off to Tiffany for the effort.

Now, as to the rules of this game: You must:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4. Tag at least three people at the end of your post and link to their blogs.
5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

The six non-important things about me....

1. I have terrible aim. I once attended a police SWAT training camp, and I had some of the toughest, most badass police officers diving for cover. Armed with a big mutha of a gun that was something out of Dirty Harry, I literally could not hit a HILL 20 feet in front of me.
2. I am unbelievably clumsy. Like hit-in-the-head-with-a-ceiling-fan clumsy, fall-in-the-driveway-while-taking-out-the-trash clumsy. When I was young, my mother made me take dance lessons, hoping it would improve my dufus ways. Nope. I still tripped -- I just learned to do it in a pink tutu.
3. I live on Diet Dr. Pepper. I might as well attach an IV drip full of the stuff directly into my vein every morning and save myself the constant trips to the fridge to get another one.
4. I hate to buy anything full price. I get mad if I have to pay retail.
5. I won't watch scary movies. No matter how dumb they may be, they still scare me and give me nightmares for weeks.
6. I love naps. It should be a federal law that everyone takes a nap every day. The world would be a better place.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Messing With Your Tired Head

Here's some breaking news: This Tidbit Tuesday post has absolutely nothing to do with Britney Spears. There's no footage of her visiting Starbucks, Taco Bell or a gas station. But there is a little Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock today, but I swear it has to do with the workplace.

* Romancing Romo: There's been some discussion about whether celebrity/pop star/hair extension mogul Jessica Simpson had anything to do with the loss of the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday's game against the New York Giants. The contention was that Simpson somehow adversely affected boyfriend/Dallas quarterback Tony Romo's work performance in the past. Supposedly a "fake" Jessica Simpson was planted at the game, all in an effort to jinx the Cowboys.

Career expert Nicole Williams notes: "Jessica Simpson officially has the weight of the Cowboys' lost chance at the Super Bowl on her shoulders, but is she really to blame? The truth is, a new romance can go either way on the career-performance scale. On the one hand, there's nothing like the shot of adrenaline that comes with the first flush of wanting to impress your new
love (along with those other 70,000 fans in the stands). And on the other, those late nights of crush-talk and one too many drinks inevitably mess with your tired head. In this case, with all eyes watching, heading to a fiesta-filled long weekend with Romo wasn't the smartest idea in the world -- unless of course, you're looking to give a your own career a boost after your latest
flicks went straight to DVD."

* Early life forms: If you've ever wondered why the guy in the cubicle next to yours is so shy you've never spoken more than five words to him on any given day, or why your boss is such a perfectionist, you may find the answer in their preschool days. According to new research, personalities are pretty well established by preschool years.

"The wallflowers will stay shy and reticent, though they will learn in time to be a little more sociable and assertive. And the average kids, the more resilient ones, will remain so.

But there is an interesting exception: The study found that as the most noisy and rambunctious kids hit their 20s, they still were more aggressive than the others yet they had become considerably more withdrawn than they were earlier in life. The researchers suspect that negative feedback from peers over the years makes these kids more self-conscious and quiet."

* Still more celebrity news: More experts are urging employees to make themselves into a brand (I've spoken about it on a personal brand summit), and even the celebrities are paying attention. Jennifer Aniston is dubbed one of the savviest celebrity business people, along with Sandra Bullock.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brand You: A Free Telesummit for Those Seeking to Help Their Careers

I cannot believe it is the last Tuesday of October. When I was a kid, it seemed like time moved so slowly. I waited forever for summer break to arrive, I waited forever to get my driver’s license and I waited forever to get my ears pierced. Now that I’m older, it seems time flies much too quickly – didn’t we just celebrate the Fourth of July?

Ah, well, what better way to send off the month than with these parting tidbits….

Mark your calendars: On Nov. 8 you will have a unique opportunity to listen and learn from people who make it their business to help you with your career. The event, “A Brand You World Global Telesummit” will bring together speakers from 24 separate seminars that will focus on helping you manage your own career. The day-long seminar, in celebration of Tom Peters’ article on personal branding published in Fast Company 10 years ago, will be free and feature experts from the United States, France, Italy and Portugal. All you have to do is register for the event, and recordings will be available for those who can’t make it that day.
I’ll be part of the group discussing why employers appreciate those employees who understand and promote their personal brand, and how a personal brand can help you achieve success on the job. I’m scheduled to be the lead-off person at 10 a.m. EST, so I hope you find time to listen.
Check out the other speakers and remember that you’re basically being offered a chance to help your career and learn a thing or two from some well-regarded and highly-successful people that are willing to share what they know with you. I know that I still have a lot left to learn and after my session is done I plan to sit back and be a part of the audience.

In case you were wondering: Nobody likes conflict at work, but a new study shows that Americans are a lot more optimistic than East Asians about the chances of successfully resolving disputes on the job. And they're a lot more willing to join work teams that have a high potential for inter-personal conflict.
“Americans were more likely to join a talented team with a high potential for relationship conflicts," said Jeffrey Sanchez-Burke, a University of Michigan researcher. "East Asians avoid joining these kinds of groups – for them, the potential for turmoil trumps technical talent.”
The findings strengthen previous research showing that Americans tend to view the personal dimension as less important in work settings than East Asians do, the researchers said. This attitude is part of what Sanchez-Burks has termed “Protestant Relationship Ideology,” a tendency among Americans to approach getting the job done by playing down the social-emotional and relationship aspects of the work process.

Eddie Munster, anyone? “While some people can't resist the prospect of wearing a costume on Halloween while performing daily work tasks, others would rather dress for business as usual,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “And even though the young-at-heart employee might see it as the perfect time to express creativity through an elaborate get-up, it's best to fully consider whether the witty garb is innocuous enough to make every co-worker smile or if some might deem it offensive.
According to the National Retail Federation, 33.8% of adults plan to dress in costume for Halloween this year. And there's a good chance many of them will be dressing up in the office: A survey in 2005 found that almost one-third of workers planned to wear a costume to work that year.
This year's popular choices for adult costumes include traditional Halloween favorites such as witches, pirates, vampires, cats and princesses, according to the federation. Also high on the list: characters from ‘Star Wars,’ doctors and athletes.”


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