If everything you publish about yourself as a professional–and that includes your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and more–makes you sound pretty much like hundreds or thousands of other people…your brand is not a brand. It will not make you stand out to prospective employers as a promising candidate for the job you want. Without finding a clear way to distinguish yourself and convey your desirable value to those employers, you will blend in with your competition the way trees blend into a forest–at least, they do if they are basically all the same kind of tree.
In a recent article called “Passionate, Creative Thinker Seeks Job: How to Fix a Personal Brand That’s A Total Cliche,” author Nacie Carson points out just some of the terms people use to describe themselves that have become meaningless cliches. “Everyone is a passionate, hard worker and creative thinker.” Carson then offers a bad news-good news take on the problem. “It’s hard to truly establish competitive differentiation when you share the same brand descriptors as a thousand of your closest competitors. But there’s hope for your generic professional brand. Those very same overused terms can be as a starting point for developing a deeper, more accurate, and more memorable brand differentiation.”
Carson’s solution for cliched brand descriptors that make your brand a cliche is to use a “why chain.” The solution is to “start with a statement about yourself as a professional using one of your current descriptors, like ‘I am an excellent communicator,’ and then ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why are you an excellent communicator?” Whatever your answer to that is, you need to drill deeper and ask why and keep asking why until you reach the essence of your competitive differentiation. Of course, as Carson makes clear, just defining your descriptors more clearly is only part of the battle. You need to make sure your actions match the brand and communicate it compellingly.
If you have a strong, well-defined brand in your head, you want to make sure it’s reflected appropriately in your job search tools (aka career marketing documents and the like). You can’t fall back on the lazy man’s (or woman’s) answer, which is to load up your resume, cover letter or LinkedIn profile with phrases that don’t present your brand in a way that will catch the attention of employers. Even an otherwise good resume can’t overcome a poorly defined brand or one that’s not well communicated–in other words, if you’ve done great things for employers that could reinforce your unique brand, those contributions need to be presented clearly and consistently in line with your brand.
I “preach” this to clients all the time–or so it seems. I don’t want them to have me manufacture good points about them in their materials. I do want them to think hard about what it is that makes them special…and especially valuable to employers. I believe everyone has at least some of this. Sometimes they just have to dig a little deeper to find it and bring it out.
If you have been shying away from the whole concept of branding, now might be a good time to accept that if you don’t consciously brand yourself, you will do it unconsciously or–worse yet–let others do it for you. The result is not likely to be a happy one. Acknowledge that you are special in a way that can benefit potential employers, and then work to communicate that to them. There aren’t any shortcuts to success in this or in just about anything else that’s worth having and doing.