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There Is No Reality, Only Perception With Your Career Brand

As a career development and executive coach, I often work with people that brand products or services for an organization but have no real awareness of their unique professional brand and why it matters. It's time to take stock of your own brand and use it to achieve your career goals and tell your authentic professional story.
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As a career development and executive coach, I often work with people that brand products or services for an organization but have no real awareness of their unique professional brand and why it matters. It's time to take stock of your own brand and use it to achieve your career goals and tell your authentic professional story.

Your Story Matters. When was the last time you checked in with colleagues, or your boss to ask how they perceive you professionally? If their response does not match how you want to be seen in the workplace, then it's time to revamp your professional brand and create the story you want others to know about you. What do you want others to say about you when you aren't there?

I coached a working mom, a lawyer who recently returned from a maternity leave to find that her co-workers started to treat her differently. She felt minimized and was not sought after to work on complex cases because she had been "mommy tracked" by her firm. She was frustrated since she was very serious about her career and aspired to advance to a partner role in the firm.

Accurate and powerful branding was essential for this woman so she could be in charge of her own professional story and not succumb to the inaccurate perception of others that she was less focused on her career now that she was a mother. She took control and created the story she wanted others to hear and tapped the power of her professional brand.

By systematically telling her version of her story to the stakeholders in her professional world, and by exhibiting behavior that reflected her brand, she was able to redirect the misperception. She made it very clear that she was on the partner track - not the mommy track.

Ask Your Circle of Trust. In order to do a brand audit you should ask people whom you trust at work and beyond to give you candid input about how they perceive you in your professional setting. Can they articulate your strengths and why you bring value to your organization? If not, your lack of brand focus means you need to ramp up your visibility and professional presence now. Consider these factors when developing your brand story:

• Be memorable - focus on what distinguishes you in your career.
• Be consistent, reliable and trustworthy.
• Be clear with your brand so others can easily recognize your value-add.

Be Promotable and Recruit-able, Reflecting on your brand is great for personal transformation and growth, and gives you a heightened self-awareness but it also makes you visible. Being top of mind with the powers that be in your organization (and beyond) empowers you to be recruit-able and promotable. Do others know what you do really well? What do you want to be known for? These are great questions to reflect upon when developing your brand.

Perception is Everything. There is no reality -- only perception! It's not just what you say or do well -- but what you are NOT saying or doing that also drives your brand. Who do you aspire to be in your career and how do you want to be perceived? You need to clearly envision it first and then create a brand that showcases you at your best so others see you in this light. Here are some great ways to get you started on developing your brand story:

• I use my expertise at work to...
• My expertise adds value by...
• This helps colleagues or customers to...
• The result is...

Develop your brand with specificity so there is no doubt how others perceive you.

Brand Evangelist. I coach job and career growth seekers on how to tell their story and empower their network with sound bytes they create so well meaning people can spread the word and help make connections on their behalf. You need not be looking for a job to empower your brand evangelists. People you work with should be able to talk about what you do well in the organization and why you are a valuable employee. They should know what differentiates you from the pack, your area of expertise, and the results you drive to add to the success of your organization.

Manage Up. Don't assume your boss knows what a rock star you are at work. He or she is busy doing their job and unless you are causing a problem they may not notice all the great work you are doing the other 11 months of the year beyond your annual performance review. Send your boss a brief monthly email with a punch list of what you accomplished and your stretch goals. It's a great way to keep them informed regularly about your ROI. If you supervise others, be sure to teach them how to manage up to you!

Be a Thought Leader. The core of your brand is articulating what you do really well - and what you love in your job. Thesweet spot is what you do incredibly well that your company really needs. You must then position yourself as a thought leader and act like a publicist to get the word out about your expertise. Use social media, present at conferences in your industry, take media interviews as an expert in your field and become known as an influencer in your career field. Be searchable online with content you want others to find and become known as the go-to guru for something unique in your skill set.

LinkedIn provides easy ways for you to be seen and heard by millions. You can post a blog, video or rich media file -- or simply comment or share what others write. Get into the conversation and become known as a thought leader, subject matter expert or influencer in your career field.

Create A Culture of Advocacy. It's great to be recognized by others for a job well done. You can systematically create a culture of advocacy and support in your organization by sharing well-deserved kudos about your colleagues directly to them and to others with whom they work. Be a cheerleader for good work and watch how the culture shift of advocacy creates a positive work environment. We don't recognize others enough and if you start this trend, I promise you will begin to benefit from the reciprocity of others who recognize your efforts.

Take Your Power. Power is not given, it's taken so create your brand and project it out into the world loud and clearly. You need not go to the dark side and become an obnoxious bragger when tooting your own professional horn. Practice humble confidence and remember that you earned your successes, accolades, and well-honed competencies through a lot of hard work.

It's time to focus on you since nobody else will. Your professional brand is your responsibility. Enjoy the process and remember that self-promotion is essential since the career world is competitive and survival of the fittest still rings true. Create your story, be your own best self-advocate and put the professional brand you want others to recognize about you out into the world.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book, "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the second edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Ellevate Network, CNN Money, and the British online magazine - The Rouse. She hosts the online series,Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women and hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life- check it out on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook,LinkedIn, and Twitter.