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Can a strong personal brand help you land a job?

I’ve recently posted about the importance of cultivating your personal brand. ICYMI, your personal brand is the image or impression that you can establish about yourself in the minds of others so that they can easily identify what makes you unique, and what you’re considered the go-to expert or resource on. This group includes colleagues, contacts in your network, your employer or potential employers.

While I know that personal brands are important, I’m always on the lookout for new research and information. I recently came across a CBC Radio Spark episode that revealed that personal brands aren’t the ultimate predictor of career success.

The episode featured an interview with anthropologist Ilana Gershon of the University of Chicago. Gershon wrote a new book called Down and Out in the New Economy. In the interview, she explained that a shift in the relationship between employer and employee has resulted in the way that we present ourselves as “businesses” in the job search.

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Image via CBC.ca / Ilana Gershon

“We are imagining ourselves as a bundle of skills, of assets… that we’re constantly having to manage, and we’re also supposed to be continually enhancing them.”

Ilana Gershon

Gershon studied how people find work in today’s job market. I was surprised to hear that although job searchers are routinely told to work on their personal brands, Gershon found no evidence this was effective with hiring managers.

What made a difference? Sixty-one per cent of people got jobs through workplace ties and references.

Note that this study was conducted across many different industries. In certain industries (for example, PR and communications), personal brands may hold more clout and be a worthwhile investment of your time. Further, your personal brand may make an impact with others in an organization, beyond only the hiring manager.

What can we take away from this finding? Your personal brand is important. But it’s not necessarily going to be the deciding factor that gets you hired.

This confirms that there are other items to consider. For example, your connections, years of experience, skillset, understanding of the industry, education and designations play a role. Your portfolio, resume, references and interview skills are critical as well.

So, it’s beneficial to be well-balanced. Spend time thinking about and cultivating your personal brand in a way that works for you. But, also invest in the other elements of your professional and job search skills.

How do you stand out in the crowd of job seekers?

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If you have nothing nice to say…

Have you ever been asked by a former co-worker to speak about them to a potential employer? I think it’s an honour to be asked to be a reference because I feel it demonstrates they think highly of me and our work together. In fact, I was recently asked by an old co-worker to be a reference, which makes this topic quite timely for me.

In the past, it was commonly thought that a reference can either say positive things about a co-worker, or speak in neutral terms and confirm the person worked at an organization, in a certain position and completed specific tasks. A reference wouldn’t speak negatively, even it if was the truth. This avoided the risk of the job applicant claiming the reference cut their chances of getting a job.

A recent court case turns that belief on its head.

The National Post reported on the verdict of Ontario defamation lawsuit in which a man accused his former boss of badmouthing him to a potential employer, costing the man the job. The candidate’s interpersonal skills were his downfall when the former boss was asked about them. The reference reported that the candidate insulted his team and acted like an “intellectual snob” in his former role. However, since the reference spoke truthfully and verified the report with other staff so that it was not grounded in opinion alone, the judge in this case found that the old boss was justified in his actions.

This finding brings a few things to light…

  • For job candidates: If you’re looking for a new job and thinking of who you will put forward as a reference, make sure you had a positive experience working with them. Ask their permission and take the time to share the attributes of the new job to prepare them for the call with the hiring manager. Glassdoor provides a good summary of all the tips to consider.
  • For references: It’s possible to speak negatively when asked about a potential candidate as long as you’re being honest. It’s important to be self-aware, objective and unbiased when giving a negative report. A hiring manager can most likely see through a biased report, tarnishing their opinion of your feedback.
  • For everyone: This is a keen reminder to always try your best. Treat others with respect, whether it’s your manager or anyone else you work with.

Thankfully, I’ve never been in the position of needing to give a negative report when a hiring manager has called regarding a reference. And, if you’re curious, the old co-worker who I recently provided a reference for landed the new job. (Congrats!)

What do you think? Could you give negative feedback if required when being a reference?

When searching for a job, what’s in a name?

I recently heard about a new process in Canada’s federal government that will help reduce bias around who is contacted following a job application in an interview on Toronto’s Metro Morning.

Six federal departments are piloting a blind recruitment strategy with the goal of increasing equity and diversity in its workforce. This process will remove any identifying information like names and educational institutions from resumes and job applications.

Research on bias in the hiring process reveals the reason behind this project. A research report compiled by Ryerson University and the University of Toronto,  by Dr. Rupa Banerjee, an associate professor at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, uncovered the extent to which these biases impact hiring decisions.

Dr. Banerjee reported that the study found that people with Asian-sounding names (such as Lei Xi or Hina Chaudhry) and Canadian education and work experience receive 42 per cent less call backs than people with Anglo-sounding names (like Greg Johnson or Emily Brown) and the same Canadian education and work experience.

While I was listening to the interview, I was curious about if researchers had pinpointed why some of the reasons why such biases exist. Dr. Banerjee explained that implicit bias enables people to make quick decisions (it’s important to note that she mentioned that biases don’t necessarily make someone racist). For example, in the study, bias might have impacted hiring managers’ assumptions around a candidate with an Asian-sounding name’s mastery of the English language and ability to assimilate with a workplace’s culture. In reality, we know these things aren’t necessarily linked.

The results of the Government of Canada’s pilot project will provide a recent, Canadian case study on a blind hiring strategy works. Ideally, the makeup of the staff in the six departments will become more diverse as the project goes on. Roles will be filled with the best possible candidates, no matter their names or backgrounds.

If this pilot is successful, I would hope that the practice of blind hiring will spill over to other federal government departments, levels of government, and even the private sector. This would result in the job application process being more fair and equitable for everyone.

What are your thoughts on this blind hiring pilot project?

Why I admire this student’s “dating resume”

Your resume is a critical tool for a job search. It’s usually one of the first impressions of you that a potential employer gets, so it’s appearance, and each word, is important. No surprise here!

Based on resumes that I’ve seen – including my own – I assume that many professional resumes are in a traditional format. Resumes are traditionally documents that are text-heavy and black and white. Often, this style is the convention, and is expected by both job seekers and employers.

That’s why I was impressed when I saw this fun dating resume on Buzzfeed, which was created by Joey Adams, a 21-year-old student at Michigan State University.

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Here are a few reasons why:

He thought differently. Joey Adams applied his resume writing and design skills in a new and unique way – to get a date for formal.

The design is great! It is colourful, provides visual representations of information, and uses impactful headlines. If this were a professional resume, this creative, eye-catching layout would make this resume stand out amongst the resumes of competitors. Depending on the industry you’re in, for example, if you’re in a design or communications-focused industry, taking this type of approach to your resume would also showcase your skills in graphic design and layout.

He knows his target audience. The information in this “dating resume” is tailored to what a potential date might want to know about him. For example, he reports that he’s good at making small talk with parents, he’s skilled at replying to long texts, and he spends time on FaceTime with his mom. I would suspect that he thought critically about the sections and information that dates are interested in before embarking on designing the resume.

Try dipping your toe. You might not want to revamp your entire resume to look like Joey Adams’ “dating resume”. You may not have the design skills (learn more about boosting your skills here), this style may not be appropriate for your industry, or the necessary information in your resume might take up too much space to weave your information into visuals. That’s okay! But, why not try incorporating a few small visual elements into your resume? For example, in the “dating resume”, a small calendar icon and location pin are used under his job title (think emojis), descriptive icons are used in the list of things that make him “Moderately Interesting”, and he uses colour throughout. These simple concepts could be incorporated into a traditional resume to help differentiate it from others.

What do you think about this style of resume? Would you incorporate visual elements into your own professional resume?

Managing career challenges: Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg

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Photo via CBC.ca (Matt Albiani/Penguin Random House)

I was inspired by an interview on CBC Radio’s The Current with Sheryl Sandberg, author of the bestselling book Lean In. As a seasoned strategic business person, Sandberg is well-suited to provide career advice, so I was interested to hear her professional advice.

But this interview addressed a different issue. Sandberg talked about her new book, Option B, which discusses how she dealt with the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. She talked about how she and her children faced the loss and how she learned to turn grief into joy. She was candid and provided personal anecdotes.

I thought about how the lessons she shared can apply when facing professional challenges. The research and advice that went into her book has far-reaching applications, beyond the type of personal loss that Sandberg faced.

You might find that you’re faced with a professional “option B” if a project has failed, you’ve been laid off or lost your job, or you’re struggling to adjust to a new job. Since work is the biggest stressor for Canadians, it’s likely that any of these work-related situations were to occur, the effects would be far-reaching into one’s life.

The three take-aways that apply to these types of professional situations include:

  1. Build your resilience – The ability to endure tough times is an attribute that can help one both professionally and personally, as with Sandberg’s experience. Sandberg describes a key step in building her resilience as when she and her children set out to play and enjoy a favourite board game, despite their feelings of grief four months after he passed away. Continuing to perform and be productive when faced with a professional challenge, no matter how small, is important for building your ability to be resilient. Making a resiliency a habit will be beneficial in case you face adversity in your career.
  2. Your feelings are impacted by your actions – By changing your actions and your circumstances, your feelings often follow suit. For Sandberg, her feelings of grief changed over time after actively learning how to manage her grief. Facing a professional challenge may evoke feelings of anger, frustration, stress or anxiety. However, taking actions to find solutions can alleviate these feelings. Seeking advice from a mentor, dedicating your time to managing a poorly-performing project, or making (and abiding by) a job search action plan are all positive actions to take.
  3. Rebuild your confidence – After facing a challenge, you might lose confidence in doing things that you once excelled at. For example, after returning to work after bereavement leave, Sandberg lost confidence in her work. She confided in her boss, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s founder), that she felt she wasn’t performing as she once did in meetings. She reported that told her, “you said two really important things today and here’s what they were. He built me up.” This example demonstrates how small steps (such as speaking up in meetings), getting feedback, and engaging a trusted support network are important for building confidence.

Have you read Option B?

Are there any other lessons from this book that apply to a professional setting?

 

 

How I planned my wedding: Tools and tips

Weddings are a magical and exciting time. You get to mark a significant milestone with your partner, and celebrate your relationship with your friends and family. I got married to my husband Chris on a beautiful day in June 2016 at a restaurant in downtown Toronto. Our ceremony and the reception were quite informal, and it was more of a cocktail party than a traditional wedding.

It all worked out perfectly, but not without some serious preparations in advance.

Working in PR has allowed me to hone my event planning and project management skills over the years. I planned my wedding myself given my background of planning and executing events, and the knowledge that came from working with amazing team members who mentored me as I learned the ropes.

Although doing the planning myself was time consuming (which I mentioned in a previous post), I enjoyed the process overall and it made my wedding even more special.

So, if you’re recently engaged, congratulations! I encourage you to think about planning your wedding yourself. But don’t be discouraged by the claims that you should worry about your sanity while doing it. If don’t have a background in planning events or managing projects, I wanted to share the tools that came in handy as I planned my wedding. They included:

A detailed budget – The first thing I did was start a budget. The budget broke down the total amount we wanted to spend into every different category and item we’d need to spend on. This included our stationary, stamps, venue (which included food and drinks), flowers, the officiant, décor… it seemed endless. However, the result of this exercise was eye-opening because it made me understand how much everything would cost altogether, and it allowed us to direct our planning to things that fit within the total amount. Without doing the budget first, I could have wasted time and energy considering things that eventually wouldn’t fit into it.

I treated the budget spreadsheet as a living document throughout the planning process. I updated my estimates with the actual amounts I spent on everything on a regular basis. It was tedious, but extremely helpful because I always had a clear picture of how much was spent as compared to my original forecast.

Critical path – A critical path lists the key milestones and dates in the planning process, and outlines the steps to get there. There are many things to do in advance of a wedding so this tool was very important.

We got married in the summer in Toronto. Venues and vendors book very early due to high demand. Also, working with some vendors is very involved (such as an officiant or venue), and some require some paperwork or meetings (such as a florist or DJ), which takes time. Therefore, I started engaging the venue and vendors in the fall of the previous year to book them and then fully understood the steps required to work with them. I also wanted to plan and complete DIY projects far in advance of the wedding. So, I built the critical path to with these timelines in mind, and laid out the requirements, steps and payments and when I needed to have them done. I used an Excel spreadsheet, but a Word document also works.

The completed critical path allowed me to see everything we needed to do in one glance. The anxiety of missing a deadline was pretty much erased. Like the budget, I updated the critical path regularly, marking off when things are complete, changing deadlines, or adding in new steps as I learned them.

As a result, in the two weeks before the wedding, all the major things were done. I was almost stress-free (I said almost!) knowing everything important had already been taken care of.

Weekly action items – The critical path provides all of the actions and deadlines, which is a lot of information. So, each weekend I reviewed the critical path and then jotted down the things I needed to do during the week in note in my phone. This provided an easy-access to-do list. I found that doing short tasks on a weekly basis was easier than overwhelming myself with a lot of tasks all at once to meet a deadline.

Run of show document – This explained the who, what, where and when of the entire wedding day. It was in the form of a spreadsheet that listed times in half-hour increments along the left side of the page. Separate columns were dedicated to the important players. They included, me, my husband, our dog, the photographer, the DJ and the venue. Each column was colour-coded and blocked off the times for different activities throughout the day, as well as where they took place – kind of like a timetable in high school.

For example, it listed when family photos would take place and where, when the dog walker would take our dog home, when the food would be served, when the speeches would start, and when the dessert buffet would be set up. I also included contact information, so for example, the venue could contact the florist or DJ to see if there was a problem if they didn’t arrive when they were supposed to.

I shared this one-page spreadsheet with everyone – including the venue, vendors, family and friends –  to cut down on potential questions or confusion in both before and on the day of the wedding.

Lastly, a clear vision of what you want – Trust me, you want to avoid the falling into the wedding wormhole when researching online, shopping, or talking to your friends, family and others about your upcoming nuptials. My husband and I aligned on having a simple, non-traditional wedding that focused on food, drinks and having a good time. Without this clear vision in mind, it could have been tempting to incorporate other things, distorting what we both wanted.

In summary, remember that your wedding day is about the marriage of you and your partner, so your opinions and happiness are what matters – both on the big day and once it passes!

I hope my tools and tips are helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments!

Also, you may have noticed that it’s a year since we got married. I’m fully aware that post is a dorky way to celebrate our anniversary month!

Cultivating your personal brand

Have you ever thought about creating a personal brand for yourself? If not, you’re in the right place! I’m going to explore what a personal brand is, and provide some tools and tips to get you started on building yours.

Taking a step back, the concept of a brand is something that you’re probably familiar with. The shoes you’re wearing, the store that you bought your latte from this morning, and the smartphone or computer that you’re reading this post on probably all have brands associated with them.

Some examples of products with well-known brands.

Although brands themselves are unique, the overarching concept of a brand means they all have something in common. A brand makes a product greater than its tangible attributes. Brands stand for something. By standing for different things, brands differentiate one product from another in the minds of consumers.

So, what is a personal brand? Your personal brand is the image or impression that you can establish about yourself in the minds of others. Usually, in the professional domain, this includes colleagues, contacts in your network, your employer or potential employers.

By positioning your work or career as a brand, you can help others to easily identify what makes you stand out, and what you are considered the go-to expert or resource on.

How do you determine your personal brand? Is this all new to you? If so, I got you fam. I’ve found a few tools and tips to get you started.

  • PwC has a built robust workbook that you can use to determine your strengths, understand your values, highlight your passions and define what drives you. Doing this legwork will ensure that your personal brand will reflect who you truly are – both inside and outside of the workplace. Think of the time spent on this as an investment in your future self!
  • Entrepreneur provides some timely tips on personal branding as well. They suggest that being authentic and visible, knowing your industry and giving back are among the essentials for sustaining a healthy personal brand.

Live your brand. Once you define and refine your brand, bring your vision to reality. Fast Company provides some tips for walking the walk (rather than just talking the talk) so that you can leverage the power of “word of mouth marketing”. Increasing the visibility of your brand can boost its validity, making you more marketable as a professional.

The article suggests trying the following activities to increase your expertise and thought leadership:

  • Teach a course at a community college
  • Join a panel discussion or conduct a presentation at a conference
  • Highlight your expertise using a consistent voice through your social media profiles, like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn

What tips to you have for building your personal brand?