In life, we get many chances to reinvent ourselves. Remember when you first arrived on campus for your freshman year of college? The most exciting thing about it was that no one knew what a (insert negative adjective of choice here) you were in high school. You taught yourself new habits and hobbies, and you bought yourself a new wardrobe. Maybe you even picked a new nickname. You had the chance to start over, as if your previous life had never been.
Your twenty and even thirty-something years present a similar opportunity, and, understandably, you probably want to spend them figuring out who you are and what you want out of life. Should you decide to pursue a career in business, however, developing a corporate persona will unquestionably serve you well. By corporate persona, I mean the mature, professional, and competent face you project to the work world. It doesn't matter what type of person you are in real life, just think of yourself as an actor playing a role while you are at work. So what if you still play drinking games on Friday nights or prefer a book to human company? You can still have a corporate persona.
How will this help you? Quite simply, a marketable persona positively influences people's perceptions of you so that you can ultimately succeed in the corporate world. I'm sure you've heard of big-time publicists who get paid megabucks to promote celebrities and make them look like the coolest people on earth. You can be just like those PR folks, only you have just one client to promote -- you. It's pretty easy, but there is a catch: You must first learn to toot your own horn. Although there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, learning to capitalize on your skills and assert your achievements is a must for career success. If you don't do it, no one else will, and you'll be out-promoted by people who know how to leverage their own contributions. Trust me on this. In the end it will pay off almost as handsomely for you as it does for the wealthiest of publicists.
Growing and maintaining a corporate persona is hard work because everything you say and do affects it one way or the other. The best way to make your persona stick is to clearly establish it at the beginning of your relationship with a company and consistently sustain it during the early phases of a new job.
You can start online. The first step is to do a Google search of your name - and alternate spellings of your name - and see what comes up. A lot of factors influence which pages appear first in a particular search engine, but you can help your cause by purchasing your name from a web domain company such as GoDaddy.com and housing a professional biography, other credentials, and current contact information on a simple and clean website. If you find yourself competing with other people who have the same name, you might also increase your share of online real estate by writing industry articles for third-party association websites or community blogs.
Your social media presence should enhance, rather than detract from your corporate persona. You are hopefully aware that social networks and blogs are not the private havens for friends that they used to be. You can pretty much count on the fact that your boss, senior managers, colleagues, and potential employers are looking at your online sites - privacy controls or no privacy controls. That's not to say that you can't have a little fun by including content that demonstrates you're a human being, but don't go too crazy with the applications (ala "Katie was just bitch-slapped by Jason), and beware of getting too personal.
If you'd like some more tips on developing an effective corporate persona, feel free to check out the new edition of my book, They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World, or e-mail me anytime.