What’s in a brand?

What comes to mind when thinking about branding? Maybe a worldwide-recognized commercial product like Coca-Cola? or a successful commercial operation like McDonald’s? Did you think of yourself?

Steve Jones presented ‘Branding Yourself for Your Dream Job: The Modern Résumé’ at SQL PASS on Thursday, October 13. As SQL professionals, we are selling a product – our skills. The demand for that product will determine the desire of employers to hire us. Consider the “long tail,” popularized by Chris Anderson in Wired; very well-known people in the industry like Paul Randal and Brent Ozar are on the head of the long tail because they are recognized widely for their talent, experience, breadth of knowledge, and popularity. The rest of us are somewhere on the same curve, depending on skill level and how well that skill level is marketed.

The more you market yourself, the further along and up the “desire” curve you move, and the more likely someone will want to interview and hire you. This is new and different from the traditional job market. It’s important to be able to stand out from the 100+ resumes received for the job you applied for.

Steve quoted a survey done by CareerBuilder.com that one third of hiring managers reject job candidates based on information found on online. Whether it’s your employer-critical tweets, political Facebook public wall posts, or party pictures on Instagram, it’s out there and available to be found by someone looking for decision-forming details about a potential new employee. It’s important to stay aware of how your online persona reflects on you personally.

An employer may prefer someone with an established internet presence that demonstrates their professional skills and willingness to be part of a knowledge community over someone who does not do more than tweet once or twice a month. A readiness to learn and share on your own time may be enough to set you apart from other applicants and increase an employer’s desire to interview or hire you.  What you put out there becomes part of your brand.

Steve: “Image is not everything, but it does matter, and it’s very important. Your brand is your image, it’s your reputation. It’s very important that you pay attention to what it is. You can have any brand you want, but just be aware of what it is. For better or for worse.”

So how to stand out from the crowd? There are numerous avenues, both within and outside of your organization. For example:

  • Volunteer at user group functions or conferences
  • Speak at a user group event or conference
  • Publish a blog
  • Contribute articles to print or online magazines
  • Write a book
  • Keep your online profiles (e.g. LinkedIn) up to date with current projects and as a historical repository

When applying for a job, always include a cover letter, and customize for each organization. It can contribute to a positive first impression, especially when applying via a referral. Include links to your online branding in your résumé but keep the content professional and appropriate.

When it comes to social media profiles, try to keep your personal interests separate from your professional persona. Anything posted online reflect on you, whether you posted it or not. Use what Steve calls “the test”: if it (whether memo, email, picture) appears on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, can you defend it to your boss? If in doubt, run it by your mom or other second opinion.

You should also monitor what is being posted about you via a tool like Google Alerts. Avoid being blindsided in an interview by something posted by a friend as a joke or a malicious former co-worker.

Keep your résumé up-to-date. Set a reminder every three months to update it. If you don’t have anything to add to it, reflect on whether or not you need to change-up something to move forward in your career.

Networking online can lead to networking offline. Quite often, people have communicated online for years before meeting in person at a business conference. The wider your network, the greater reach you have when looking for a new job or even seeking help with an issue. Stick with handing out contact information when networking online, not identity information. Use an email address that you monitor; you never know when someone you chatted with over coffee at last year’s conference decides to look you up and invite you for a job interview.

When volunteering, do what you like and want to do, not simply something that would look good on your résumé. It has to be sincere. It’s a good idea to get permission from or advise your employer of your volunteer activities to avoid any conflicts. When volunteering at work, make sure it’s highlighted in the corporate newsletter or intranet, and keep a record of it for yourself. It can be used at annual reviews to demonstrate your willingness to learn and contribute to organizational success, or as a response to an interview question.

Steve polled the audience to see who wrote and read technical blogs. In his experience, only 10% of professionals have technical blogs, and 80% read blogs. Having a professional blog is an excellent way to showcase your skills. Don’t compare yourself to others when looking for topic inspiration. It’s your voice, and you don’t have to be a Microsoft Certified Master. Write about what you learn, know, solve, do, and think. It’s a long-term record of your career, and should be kept separate from personal topics and hobbies. It’s a good idea to advise your employer of your blog, and use proper discretion when discussing work-related information. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE other peoples’ work!

Keep a history of your professional development. You never know when you’ll need to pull out an example for an interview or annual review. Use appropriate development to customize your résumé for each job.

Watch the video for yourself.

This was an enjoyable session, and a good reminder of how a little bit of effort can pay off huge in the future. It gave me lots of ideas of things that I should be doing to improve my opportunities and skills. My biggest problem is being a strong introvert! All that networking stuff is very stressful. But I am proud of the connections that I’ve made at this and previous PASS conferences. And, I’ve got a start on a blog!

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