Manage Your Own Brand

Companies spend millions of dollars a year trying to develop compelling employment brands by interviewing current employees, surveying external job-seekers, and validating the conclusions they draw from the data. But even after all that, there’s no guarantee that the brand statement will perfectly reflect what an organization offers potential employees.

If branding is that difficult for a company with money and resources, how in the world can you and I figure out what our own brand is, let alone try to publicize it to our customers, without consultants, ad agencies, or budgets?

Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think.

This morning I went to my “Rolodex” of business contacts (really a stack of business cards held together with a rubber band!) and randomly chose three. As I pulled them out of the stack, I wrote down the first word that came to mind:

  1. Sleazy. This is the agency contact who always calls me to demand placement fees for people we sourced through our own careers website. Even though we stopped working with this guy a long time ago, we can always count on him to weave some extraordinary “six degrees of separation” tale designed to convince me that he is ultimately responsible for the hire.
  2. Incredible. This is a woman who supervised another department at a company where I used to work. She was so smart and innovative I volunteered to take on any project of her choosing just for the privilege of working with her. I still marvel at how much I learned from her.
  3. Innovative. This is an IT consultant I worked with for several years who is always able to think of a clever solution to any problem, and consistently delivers it ahead of schedule.

Let’s face it: no one probably deserves to be reduced to a single word, and each of these people undoubtedly exhibits behaviors contrary to the labels I’ve given them. Nonetheless, over time, this is the label they’ve earned in my mind. What label have you earned in the minds of your customers?

A popular phrase among the self-help profession is “We teach others how to treat us.” Do you find your HR partners claiming credit for your best hires, yet find yourself saddled with blame for hires you were not even involved with? As an agency recruiter, do you have problems getting your resumes to the right people? How is it that the new hire in your department, who has very little prior recruiting experience, became so successful so quickly?

Perhaps the problem is your brand. Just like a company, everyone has a brand, whether they like it or not. The challenge is to learn what your brand is and then position yourself such that you emphasize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

Gather Data and Assess Your Current Situation

People, like companies, have both positive and negative qualities. As a first step in the branding process, most corporate initiatives start with an assessment of some sort. This is accomplished through the use of focus groups, surveys, or individual interviews.

Similarly, when you’re attempting to learn about your personal brand, it’s also a good idea to find out how your “customers” perceive you. You can certainly ask a trusted colleague to share their thoughts, but I recommend one of the widely available 360? assessment tools. In a pinch you can also use a free Web-based survey tool.

Regardless of how you do it, it’s important to learn what you do well, what you don’t do well, and what your customers’ overall impression of you is.

Determine What Makes You Unique

I remember being assigned to a business group as its new recruiter. Every person I talked with had the same thing to say: “I’m sure you’re a good recruiter, but, alas, no one will ever be as good as Darla was.”

Darla was this group’s recruiter several years before, and despite having worked with several competent recruiters since, the entire team was unable to get beyond the fact that their beloved Darla was now gone.

It would have been easy to start acting like Darla to try and get that client group to like me, and that’s in fact what they really wanted. However, as I probed a bit, I learned that Darla’s style was very different from mine. Darla hired nearly all her folks using agencies (not necessarily a bad thing, but not in alignment with our department’s strategy for that function).

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Also, she always asked the hiring managers what they thought about a particular candidate first, and would respond the same way each time: “Isn’t that amazing, that’s just what I thought!” No wonder everyone liked her! I realized quickly that such a style just wasn’t me.

My style is more analytical: “You have expertise and I have expertise. You define success this way, and I define it that way. You want this outcome, and I want that outcome. Let’s design a process up front that will get us both what we want, and allow us to measure how we’re doing along the way.”

They certainly never liked me as much as they liked Darla, but what was important is that we hired some great people into that business who were sourced internally, and I also earned the respect of the hiring managers.

Advertise and Embrace Your Idiosyncratic Differences

The best recruiters I know tend to unabashedly let people know what makes them unique in the way they approach their job. Adopting a professional style that’s not “on brand” for you can make you look insincere, unconfident, and unprofessional.

To hiring managers looking for an opportunity to challenge the “current recruiting model” for their own political gains, such a flicker of weakness is like blood in the water. I’ve seen it result in phone calls to supervisors, power plays by HR generalists, and frustration on the part of recruiters who begin to question their own abilities.

There are many different recruiter styles, and they all can be effective. For example, we all know the recruiters who are loud, brash, and direct a never-ending stream of resumes at their customers. Some of the resumes are worthless, but they just laugh that off and send over even more. Their customers adore them, and over time they start to focus that barrage of resumes and zero in on the correct skill set.

We also know the more cerebral type of recruiter, the one who thoughtfully goes back to their workspace for several days, triumphantly emerging with a single, perfect resume in hand. Can you articulate your own recruiting style?

Communicate and Reinforce Your Brand

Once you understand how your customers perceive you, and develop a style that plays to your strengths, let people know what to expect when they work with you:

  • “You’ll be hearing from me by phone several times a day. I like to keep you informed as we work together.”
  • “Let’s set up a face-to-face conversation each week to review the resumes I’ve sent you, and agree on next steps.”
  • “I’m only going to send you the resumes that meet your exact specifications; otherwise, we’ll just waste time. I need you to be very specific about what a candidate must have and must not have.”

Take time to point out the things that make your style unique as you develop working relationships with your customers. The confidence that you project will result in confidence on the part of your customers. That allows you to focus on your job, and get people hired, the ultimate victory.

He started his career as a research chemist in the laboratory. Now, Michael Kannisto has tried to apply a similarly disciplined and science-based approach to the fields of recruiting and talent management. His long-term interests include employment branding, multiple generations in the workforce, and using Six-Sigma methodology to improve recruitment outcomes.

His current passion is the development and use of mathematical models to predict future staffing and development needs (a remarkably more accurate form of “workforce planning” than what is traditionally employed). Call it predictive modeling, call it “big data” ... but the information sitting in your HRMS right now has the potential to change the way you think about talent forever.


4 Comments on “Manage Your Own Brand

  1. I use another piece of jargon when deciding if something fits into my brand – I have a saying that I heard from another a long time ago, ‘I’m sticking to my knitting.’ If it doesn’t fit in with that, I usually jettison the idea. Usually.


  2. Wonderfully segue between what we know we need to do on a corporate scale and what we live every day on an interpersonal scale.

    Handling both, the corporate and the interpersonal brand are critical to collaborative success.

    Keep writing!


  3. Michael you make some great points about personal branding – the core of understanding your unique strengths and attributes and then communicating them to your target audience is critical in building a strong personal brand.

    For those recruiters who see this approach as being the right way to go it will be even more refreshing when candidates are allowed to present themselves in the same way. Far too mmany times there are ‘cookie cutter’ approaches to presenting candidates – take the bold step and differentiate yourself in the market by allowing the candidates to reflect more of their own personal brand in their career marketing documents. Just because you like to see a resume a certain way does not mean that is the best portrayal of an individual.
    Just my toonies worth.
    Paul Copcutt, Square Peg Solution.

  4. Michael,

    Interesting article. Really enjoyed the theme.

    If I’m correct, the personal ‘brand’ one manages is stated after the name and preceeded by a comma, as part of a signature, yes?

    It is so important to live up to that brand. Professionals should take a second look at their brand and validate it or re-write it.

    Regarding Mr. Copcutt’s view. That was a good one too.

    When I forward a candidates’s personal information to a hiring manager, I summerize experiences/accomplishments in body of email….briefly.

    But now, the candidate’s ‘brand.’ How should I compose or rather help candidate compose his/her brand?

    What would that look like?

    Ken Salinas, Resultant

    International Biotech Resources

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