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!

SQL PASS Summit 2011, Day 1

I was very fortunate to get last-minute approval to attend the Summit. This is my third year attending, but the first time that I’ve represented my employer.PASS 2011 button

I arrived late on Tuesday evening, so I couldn’t go to the Welcome Reception. I heard it was a lot of fun, with everyone receiving a coloured sticker with a number on it. The goal was to find the other person with the same number.  In a room with a thousand people, that can be quite daunting! But apparently someone added an index to the crowd,which helped things along.

This year the keynotes of the Summit are being broadcast live so everyone who isn’t able to attend can join in on the fun. See the Summit home page.

First up in the morning was the keynote. There was a fair bit of derision on Twitter about the content of the keynote, as Microsoft seemed to be intent on wowing a customer with cute charts, instead of providing the technical meat wanted by their audience. Some of the demos were badly done, with fonts that were too small to read, but no zooming done by the demonstrator.

The highlight of the keynote was the official announcement of SQL Server 2012, formerly known as Denali. They also demoed Data Explorer and the link to Apache Hadoop. Microsoft will be contributing to the Hadoop project.

The wowser announcement of the morning was Redgate’s DBA in Space contest. They’re going to send a DBA into suborbit!

I attended the following sessions:

Karen Lopez (Twitter| website) – Five Physical Database Blunders and How to Avoid Them

Database design will always come down to cost, benefit and risk. Can you justify why you’re doing what you’re doing? There can be many ways to accomplish something, but each method has pros and cons that have to be taken into account when making design decisions.

Denise McInerney (Twitter) – “BEGIN… COMMIT” is not Enough: Understanding Transactions

This was a great demo-heavy session. I use transactions, but they always frustrate me. This explained some of the unexpected behaviours and how to use transactions correctly.

Andy Warren – (Twitter | blogBuilding a Professional Development Plan

Do you have a professional development plan? I should, but I don’t (yet). Goals need to be written down, along with milestones and tasks, just like a project plan. You should treat your employer like a client with a one-year contract – do you have the skills to renew that contract? You need a minimum of 100 hours just to learn one new skill well, so if you want to move into a new role, you need a serious investment in time to get up to speed in new skills.  Make a budget every year for how you will spend money to develop – conferences? books? courses? speaking engagements?

I must remind myself – networking is an investment, networking is an investment….

Brent Ozar (Twitter | website) – BLITZ! The SQL – More One Hour SQL Server Takeovers

Brent’s presentations are always a hoot to attend, with half the fun being on Twitter as friends tweet comments throughout. Brent has such an infectious enthusiasm for his topics that you can’t help but get excited along with him. I was aware of the script that he posted about how to investigate servers that have been tossed your way with no documentation, but he’s gone much further by bundling his code into a single stored procedure that generates a very readable report that’s easy to archive or point the boss to.

Every year at Summit my goal is to get a bit better at networking. I was pleasantly surprised that a few people do remember me from previous years, so it was good to chat and catch up. I also talked to a few new people, some of them first-timers, offering to answer questions for them, or recommended some sessions to attend.

An early night tonight, despite invitations to SQL Karaoke. Save that for Thursday night.