Maybe you’re one of the millions of currently employed men and women who are getting ready to “test the waters” by exploring new, better career opportunities. Or, perhaps you’re among the other millions trying to get back into the job market after a job loss. Regardless of which group you might be among, one thing is crystal clear in today’s job market: If you are seeking a professional position, you had better make sure you establish, maintain, and then consistently project, a professional brand.
(For purposes of this blog I am using the term “professional position” to indicate a position that normally requires a college degree in an appropriate discipline, e.g., engineering, marketing, business administration, accounting, etc., although arguably, the information contained herein could, and perhaps should, apply to virtually any position being sought.)
Make no mistake about it, the term “brand” is not just the latest buzz term in employment circles. It is a very real phenomenon, and it is consistently and routinely used by hiring managers, Human Resources professionals and “headhunters” as a meaningful “yardstick” against which to measure the quality (or lack thereof) of potential job candidates. Suffice it to say, then, that paying strict attention to your professional brand is of paramount importance in today’s job market.
What, specifically, goes into creating—and then maintaining and projecting!—a professional brand? Let me briefly examine just a few of the more important elements.
Your Résumé: The First Glimpse of Your Professional Brand
Usually, though certainly not always, the first “communication,” the “first impression,” if you will, that a prospective employer (or “headhunter”) receives from a candidate is his or her résumé. If yours has a “clean,” “uncluttered” look and feel, is free of misspellings and/or poor grammar, specifically and succinctly outlines your job history, significant accomplishments and achievements (using “dollars” and “percentages”) and generally gives the person reading it “cause for pause,” then you will project a professional brand. You’ll also be far more likely to clear the first “hurdle” in your new job search. If, however, these characteristics do not define your résumé, your professional brand will be perceived as anything but professional and you will be quickly and permanently eliminated from further consideration.
Some helpful suggestions to make sure your résumé projects a professional brand:
If you can afford it (and perhaps the question you should be asking yourself is, how can you not afford it?!), seek professional help in preparing your résumé. (No, my executive recruiting firm is not in the résumé-writing business, so I am not soliciting your business! I can, however, recommend some excellent professionals who can help you with your résumé. If interested, simply email me.)
- Have a qualified person proofread your résumé. As every professional writer knows, the absolute worst person to proofread his/her own writing is himself/herself! Don’t you proofread your own résumé either.
- Consult some bestselling résumé books on Amazon.com. (Yes, you will find my book, “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!, among the bestsellers when you do your search, but mine is hardly the only excellent reference source for preparing job-winning résumés.)
The Telephone Contact: Watch Your Language, Demeanor!
If you clear the first job-search “hurdle” with your résumé, and if you have indeed given a hiring manager, Human Resources professional and/or a “headhunter” “cause for pause, then the next contact with you will likely be a telephone call. No, this call is not going to be a job-offer call! You merely did something to tweak the caller’s attention and he or she wants to further “feel you out.” This is your chance to shine, to project a truly professional brand—or, to fall flat on your face and be eliminated at this stage of the process.
Here are the things you should keep in mind, in order to project a professional brand during this all-important, initial telephone contact:
- Be prepared. Nothing—and I do mean nothing!—is more distracting (and irritating!) than calling up a potential candidate to discuss a career opportunity for which he or she has expressed interest and getting a response that goes something like this: “Now, who is this again?” “What job are you calling about?” “How did you get my name and number?” Know where you have applied and which positions you have applied for, by keeping a written record! Responses such as the ones just mentioned hardly make you look like a professional; rather, they make you look about as unprofessional as is possible! (Best advice: screen all calls using voice mail. That way you will be prepared to discuss the career opportunity when you return the call. And oh, make sure you have a professional voice mail greeting too!)
- Use proper grammar and eliminate conversational “noise.” There is no clearer “window” into a potential candidate’s degree of professionalism (or the lack of it) than that exhibited by his/her use of the spoken (and written) language. Say something like, “He (or she) don’t . . .” or “I ain’t . . .” and the call will be terminated as quickly as possible and you will be eliminated from any further consideration. Think this kind of thing doesn’t happen? Think again! Happens all the time, unfortunately. Or, how about this: The potential candidate inserts a phrase such as, “Ya know?” or “Know what I mean?” about every other word during a conversation. This is what I call conversational “noise.” If you want to be perceived as a true professional, make sure you don’t use such “noise” in your conversations. (Want to know if you have this annoying conversational habit? Ask your spouse or a trusted friend who will tell you the truth!)
‘Clean Up’ Your Online Presence
More and more, we live in an “online” world, 24/7, and the nature or your presence in this world speaks volumes about your professional brand. Chances are, you have a Facebook® page. What overall image does your page reflect?
- Would you want a prospective employer to see the pictures of you that are featured on your Facebook® page?
- Are the comments that you (or others!) have posted to your Facebook® page ones you would want prospective employers reading?
If the answer to these questions (and many, many more, of course!) is “no,” then you need to make sure that even your Facebook® page projects the type of professional image, your professional brand, that you need to project if you want to land one of the really good jobs in today’s job market.
I know, I know, prospective employers really have no business whatsoever going on your Facebook® page and “checking you out.” Doesn’t matter, though, because they do check out the Facebook® pages of potential candidates! (Most employers also “Google” potential candidates! What information would come up if they “Googled” you?!)
Then there is your LinkedIn® account. Again, chances are, that you, like virtually every other professional today, have a LinkedIn® account and have posted your professional profile there.
- Is your profile complete and comprehensive, or is it still “a work in progress”?
- Do you have a professional picture posted with your profile?
- Have you incorporated key words and phrases into your profile that you know (or should know) potential employers or “headhunters” will utilize in their search for potential candidates?
- Have you made it easy for a potential hiring manager, Human Resources professional and/or “headhunter” to contact you via LinkedIn®?
- Is ALL of your contact information up to date?
Obviously, there is much, much more to consider when it comes to establishing, maintaining and then consistently projecting your professional brand, your professional “image,” and I have only touched on what I feel are the most immediate, most general considerations in this regard. If you haven’t already done so, I strongly encourage you to pick up the latest edition of branding guru Dan Schawbel’s Me. Dan teaches you anything and everything you need to know about developing—and maintaining!—your personal and professional brands. (Also, be sure to follow the branding blogs featured on his website: http://www.personalbrandingblog.com)
I’ve already said it at least a million times, and I will probably say it another million times: You only get ONE chance to make a FIRST impression. If it is a good first impression, a truly professional impression, you will have crossed the threshold to the possibility of continued professional success. If it is a bad first impression, though, an unmistakably unprofessional impression, well . . . don’t expect to be seriously considered for a professional position in today’s job market!
Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.