Brand You: How to Market Yourself Up the Career Ladder

No matter what career stage you are in, creating a personal brand can be an important investment in forging your professional path.

Being a leader doesn’t have to start with a promotion or move into the C-suite.

“You can be a leader at any level in an organization,” said Kara Freeman, CIO and vice president, administration at the American Council on Education, during an interview for the August issue of Associations Now in which she discussed the IT career journey.

Although Freeman’s advice was geared toward IT professionals, it applies more broadly to anyone looking to advance their careers or land a leadership position, and much of it emphasized the importance of developing a personal brand.

“I was given the best piece of advice more than 30 years ago when I first started working. It came from my mother, who said, ‘Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want,’” Freeman said. “I tell folks on my own team, ‘Whether you think it’s fair or not, the way you present yourself and the way you look plays a role. I don’t mean looks in terms of facial looks; I mean in terms of if you have on grubby clothes, you’re probably not going to be considered for a leadership role.”

You can take cues from the people who are one or two levels above you, Freeman added. You don’t have to mimic them, but take note of how they behave, dress, and present themselves.

Beyond physical presentation, Freeman talked about the value of good communication skills, an area that is particularly important for new IT grads, according to recent research.

An empathetic approach to communication can go a long way in bridging interdepartmental knowledge gaps. For example, when explaining a technical project to a colleague in finance, and vice versa, avoid jargon. “Look at things from the perspective of the person to whom you’re speaking or the person to whom you are communicating with, whether it’s over email or in person or phone or text,” Freeman said. “Whatever form of communication, you must look at how that person is going to perceive what you are saying.”

If you communicate and present yourself well, and others in your organization rely on you as a trustworthy resource, you will be seen as a leader, Freeman said, and doors will begin to open for you.

Word-of-mouth marketing was the phrase business writer Tom Peters used to describe this idea in a Fast Company article written almost 16 years ago.

“Your network of friends, colleagues, clients, and customers is the most important marketing vehicle you’ve got,” Peters wrote. “What they say about you and your contributions is what the market will ultimately gauge as the value of your brand.”

Similar to companies with well-known brands, Peters advocated determining your strengths and the qualities that set you apart from your colleagues and promoting them in order to stick out from the crowd.

“When you’re promoting brand you, everything you do—and everything you choose not to do—communicates the value and character of the brand,” Peters wrote. “Everything from the way you handle phone conversations to the email messages you send to the way you conduct business in a meeting is part of the larger message you’re sending about your brand.”

And while it’s important to market yourself to others, it’s just as valuable that you believe in your own abilities; it will change your perspective and behavior, Freeman said.  “You begin to communicate or interact with others in a different way when you start to see yourself as a leader.”

How have you developed your own personal brand? Let us know in the comments.

(Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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