Are you desperate to make your next step on the career ladder, but are finding yourself unsure of how to get there? Let Lesley Everett give you a helping hand.
We all have a brand image whether we’ve consciously cultivated it or not, but what does yours say about you? Is the perception that others have about you really what you think it is – what you want it to be – or is it miles off message?
Your personal brand is what people say about you behind your back; it’s the words they use to describe you to others and it’s how you make others feel about you – just like a corporate brand or a product brand. We don’t always think about how others see us, therefore our personal brand is often left to chance.
To stand out from the crowd in your organisation and maximise your career potential, you need to take control of your personal brand and manage the perceptions of others more consciously. To be considered for a new role within your company you need to work hard on your brand image because your skills and abilities are already well-known. Adding a great brand image to your tool kit makes a powerful impact, and this gets talked about.
Personal branding is not just about creating a great image, however. A superficial image that doesn’t reflect your true individuality and personality will always be transparent and will be deemed unauthentic by your peers. Creating a powerful personal brand reputation goes much deeper than that.
Bear with me on this… I want you to think of yourself as an iceberg for a moment. The huge portion beneath the surface is you, the individual – your strengths, your drivers, values, attitude:
the elements that are fundamentally you as a person. The small piece on the surface is the bit that people see every day: your dress, grooming, body indicators, facial expressions, voice, attitude and behaviour.
These attributes are displayed via various means several times a day by every telephone conversation, e-mail, meeting or presentation you make, and in your interaction with your customers. Personal branding is about ensuring that the tip of the iceberg accurately reflects the huge bit beneath the surface, and that it does so consistently.
So how do you start out on the process of ‘brand me’? To help you, I have developed a seven-point plan for personal branding – something I’ve called “The Seven Big Strides to Walking TALL”. These tips are based on over ten years of working in the corporate sector and looking at people who are serious about their careers.
Stride 1 – Who you really are
What are your personal brand values? These are your fundamental strengths, your individuality, your motivators and drivers, and your personality. Uncover what you’re outstandingly good at. Often we forget these personal values in a busy business world when we get swept up in projects and tasks. Really think about your personality, your principles, your style and your talents. Be honest – it’s no good making up a set of values that are miles away from who you really are. Be aspirational of course, but realistic too. Many people go in to work every day and try to be somebody they’re not. This is just not convincing, and being unauthentic will be seen through very quickly by your colleagues and managers.
Now it’s important to get feedback from others on how they see you. Ask them to answer the following questions:
- What kind of image do I project?
- What impression do I make on strangers upon meeting?
- How do clients and colleagues react towards me?
- What one behavioural trait might be worth changing?
How do these answers correlate to how you see yourself? Are you happy with them? The collection of perceptions from others is your brand, so make sure you manage the perceptions in a way that is authentic to you. Make sure people ‘get’ who you really are.
Stride 2 – The first seven seconds
It takes just seven seconds for people to judge us initially. We make an immediate impact on people from the moment we meet them, but just think about how often people get the wrong impression of us? In my opinion, there are three steps to a first impression: what you look like; what you sound like; and what you say.
If others like what they see, and how they’re hearing it, then they hook in to the words much more quickly. This is important to remember – particularly in interviews. Your first impression is critical.
Stride 3 – Dress like you mean it
Style and grooming are the packaging of your personal brand. Do you present yourself in a way that invites trust and credibility as an immediate perception of your brand? You dress should be an extension of your personality and personal brand – what does yours say about you? Think about those smart casual days. What may be acceptable in the role you’re currently in may not be appropriate for your next role. Dress for the next role you want, not for the one you’re in. This will get you noticed.
To be well-dressed, your clothes should:
- Complement you physically, in colour and style.
- Reflect your personality.
- Be appropriate for the audience, situation, environment and your objectives.
- Be current.
If your image is a little yesterday rather than today, then your thought processes will also be considered to be dated. Beware of bringing out that five-year old suit again for the interview. It may not do you any favours.
Your grooming will give clues to others about your inner values and your attention to detail, too. Make sure your teeth, hair, nails, fit of clothes and make-up, for women, don’t get in the way of a professional image impact. Rather, they should reflect your values and standards and your true qualities and abilities.
Stride 4 – Silent indicators
Your ‘body talk’ can speak volumes about you. A genuine smile, a good handshake and positive eye contact are essential when you meet people, and particularly in an interview. You will be judged on them. Avoid a weak handshake as this will get in the way of projecting your true professional qualities.
Distracting gestures can get in the way of your words too, so avoid them at all costs. Get feedback on this. It might not always be apparent to you when your gestures are irritating.
Stride 5 – Speak easy
What does your voice convey about your brand? Have you listened to your voicemail message to hear how professional you sound? Never underestimate the potential power of your voice.
Stride 6 – Be interested and visible
Being interested in others will make you a more interesting person, and is a great way to develop social skills.
Think about how visible you are within your organisation. Do people really know who you are, or do others have to describe you in great detail for people to know who you are? It is important to manage your visibility within your organisation or target market to project your brand. It’s not always about seeing people face-to-face – although that, of course, is important.
Just remember that you can be visible in other ways too. One example might be to be aware of other people’s interests and roles when reading articles in newspapers, magazines or on the Internet. Take a copy and send it to them with a small branded notelet and a message. If the right people don’t know who you are because you haven’t been visible enough, you are less likely to be on that list for promotion. It’s as simple as that. Build a visibility plan and find your own individual ways to become more visible.
Stride 7 – Each time, all the time
Consistency is crucial. For any brand to be 100% successful, it has to be 100% consistent. Think about those dress-down days once again. Consider what you have done for your brand at the end of every working week. Is it consistent? When you’re consistent with your brand image, the odd slip-up becomes a blip rather than a brand value.
Once you’re at this stage, you’ll be ready to seize the opportunities you want.
Lesley Everett is a personal branding consultant and author of “Walking TALL – Key Steps to Total Image Impact”
Tel: +44 1344 427977