It is hard to convince a candidate who has not been in the job market for three or four years that the dynamics of finding a new position really have changed.
But change they have. The real challenge for someone who advises senior executives, notably CEOs who are between gigs, is getting them to embrace this change and to see that if they adapt they can actually have more control over their careers.
Twenty years ago the building of a career brand and a national reputation took time, money, and some amount of luck. There were a multiple of variables in achieving this goal, not to mention an industry resistance to embrace anyone who sought the spotlight. Then, taking control of one’s brand was interpreted as callous pursuit, a professional no-no by the old line powers that be.
Many years passed and then, in 2003, came LinkedIn and subsequent platforms that transported the concept of career brand management from the hallowed halls of PR firms to an executive’s laptop. The possibilities to advance one’s career brand without the cost of strategists and PR representatives touting a CEO’s accomplishments to traditional media channels —newspapers, TV outlets, trade publications and industry thought leaders – suddenly became a cost-effective means to an end.
Now here is today’s big idea: An executive who learns the basics of brand management can enhance his or her reputation without appearing to be what was once thought of as headline grabbing self promotion.
But it is not only the Baby Boomer executives who are reluctant to use this new power. Surprisingly, young executives from the Millennial cohort, also known as the Internet generation, are equally reluctant to use these tools, recruiters and career transition counselors say.
As the world of business communications pushes further into the digital age, these skills will migrate from being just helpful, nice-to-know kinds of things, to absolute essentials.
I frequently hear very competent executives bemoan the fact that other, less qualified, less accomplished executives are moving ahead to the bigger and better positions while they struggle to get and keep the attention of corporate or retained recruiters.
That is the beauty of today’s digital platforms that provide global connectivity. An accomplished executive in a secondary market can achieve equal footing with their big-city, higher profile colleagues because platforms like LinkedIn can connect an executive’s laptop computer to literally the world.
So what is the problem? Well, put it this way, if you hope to win the big lottery jackpot you first must buy a ticket. But unlike the lottery where lightning can strike with one daily play, building your brand as a go-to leader takes time and consistency.
Here is the message for Millennials, being from the socially media aware generation will not help you professionally if, for the present, you confine your activities to Instagram, Snapchat or other evolving cross communication platforms. Invest your time in advancing your reputation.
Here are the steps I believe executives should take to enhance their career brand and to differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace.
First, the basics: Build an online profile that reflects your true brand with a personality-oriented professional photo, and a career profile summary that emphasizes your accomplishments and career history. Note that I mentioned accomplishments first. Most executives still fall into the trap of producing summaries and resumes that emphasize their chronology, without touting their quantifiable achievements.
Second, you need a strategy. What are you trying to accomplish? It is not enough to win a new job, achieve great success and then move up to the next rung on the ladder. You have to communicate your success to achieve your next objective. Sitting back and hoping that the people who count will notice your success and your value is a fool’s errand in our digitally connected society.
Your strategy must be built around definable goals. As New York Yankees great Yogi Berra liked to say, “If you don’t know where you are going to you might end up someplace else.”
One of the subsets of your strategy should focus on the messaging you want to convey and the tactics you plan to deploy.
But here are some ideas:
Write mini case studies of your successes. You will need a catchy headline to attract attention and limit your narrative to 350 to 450 words.
Look for breaking news or articles that play to your strengths. Write a brief comment on the story and if you have successfully addressed the matter, say so.
When you see your fellow CEOs or former colleagues succeed, write a note of congratulations, including when you see their achievement on LinkedIn. Be generous but appropriate.
Become a mentor. There are always more young executives in search of an advisor. Be generous with your time. It will pay enormous dividends, especially if you encounter a hiccup in your own career. Think like an executive recruiter, you can never have enough friends. And, by the way, if your mentee exhibits qualities you think are good, you should tout her or him on LinkedIn.
Look for ways to inspire others. LinkedIn is a great platform. It is not an open door. You need to know how to use it. If you don’t, you can waste a lot of time. I can help you understand the ins and outs of the LinkedIn strategy but for now, remember this: People respond to positive affirmation. People are looking for leaders who are good people, who are uplifting. This does not mean you have to sacrifice performance in exchange for being a nice person. Nothing could be further from the truth. Results — performance counts.
Extraordinarily competent CEOs, especially those who successfully excel in resurrecting troubled assets, sometimes are reluctant to accept the fact that not everyone recognizes their legitimate talent and record of accomplishment, especially if they see you as a hard ass. So check you hard ass at the door. Do not abandon your commitment to excellent performance or accountability, but stop, take time to build your network and befriend those who may be able to help you advance your brand.
Remember, it is not just about performance. You can’t sit on the sidelines and expect everyone to respect you unless you help them frame your value.