Today, we continue our conversation with Walter Akana. Walter is a career and life strategist who works primarily with mid-career individuals who want to achieve more self direction in their careers and lives. He has more than 25 years of diverse experience, and is a Reach Certified Personal Branding and Online Identity Strategist; as well, he is an RPS trained retirement coach and has a Master’s degree from Columbia University.
Mohammed: In today’s tight economy, people are making career transition and that could be in different profession. How do you advise mid-career individuals to project their past experience into consistent marketing document for new industry positions?
Walter: Frankly, when you’re contemplating a transition to a new position, it may require a return to some form of formal education or training. Having said that, we career professionals have long advised leveraging “transferable skills” and relevant accomplishments as a way of starting a new career. Ideally, by identifying your core skills and demonstrating their relevance to desired roles or projects in new industries, you can position yourself for successful transition.
Of course, this is more of a challenge in today’s tight job market. Today, you truly need to step back and create a comprehensive marketing plan which highlights not only your transferable skills, but also attributes you have that uniquely combine with your skills. As well, clarity about the value you offer, i.e., your personal brand, will help you better differentiate yourself from others. Beyond that, it’s critical to identify ways to overcome deficits in your specific industry knowledge. Therefore, a comprehensive marketing plan needs to include strategies for networking with, and getting to know, industry insiders. This will allow you to gain industry knowledge while becoming visible to insiders. The more knowledge you gain the more credible you can become, increasing your attractiveness to decision makers. So, focus on forging connections with people in communities of shared interest. It’s even better if you can find opportunities to work on relevant projects, whether paid or volunteer, to demonstrate your value.
Mohammed: Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell said in CNN interview “By about 2020, our entire life histories will be online and searchable”. Does that mean we will not have the right of our own biography and everything we did online? And how can we keep online reputation that works for us not against it in the future?
Walter: Clearly, increasing numbers of people are living much of their lives on line, especially on a wide variety of social media sites. In fact, conscious life streaming is becoming the new wave in the virtual lives of many people. Ultimately, this may be setting us up for some legal challenges; for example, Terms of Service often give social networking sites ownership of the digital content that we place there – forever. As Facebook learned last February, people object to this – but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it.
Putting aside legal issues, there are practical advantages and disadvantages to having a searchable online identity. In terms of personal brand, having a substantial number of Google results reflect your differentiation as well as the value you bring to clients. It’s a great way to stand out, and can lead to new opportunities. Indeed, with more recruiters sourcing people using online search tools, we’re in a time when opportunity increasingly finds us – whether or not we’re actively looking. Online presence works best when it reflects a clear and consistent identity over time.
Of course, the major disadvantage of having searchable online content is the risk that there is information that casts a negative light – whether it’s the ill-advised rant at a political blog, or the unfavorable party picture that shows up on a social media site like MySpace, Facebook, or Flickr. Making matters worse, is the fact that, while we may be disciplined in what we share, the information posted by others can be found and can be damaging.
The reality is that having an online identity requires a fair degree of diligence. For starters, everyone should do an online identity assessment by running a Google search for their name, including variations that may appear on some sites. In fact, to have better control, it’s actually best to determine the exact name you want to be known by professionally. Secondly, it’s advisable to set up a Google alert for your name so that you will know when someone references you.
While we can request removal of objectionable content, it is very difficult to get it done. Remember that in most instances, online content about us will remain there – and yes, forever. Of course, even if it’s not possible to get unfavorable content removed, it can be covered up. So, another good practice is to keep generating solid content that is favorable to and consistent with your brand. consistent
Mohammed: With the social media revolution, we are preparing for jobs that don’t formally exist. So, many of us will have a daily job plus part-time social media presence that could be more personal. This means we need to think in terms or our personal & corporate brands. As a Personal Branding Strategist, do you recommend that we work on them separately, especially if the job title is different or not closely related — OR should we work to merge them and try to have one unique brand (if possible)?
Walter: Wow, there is a lot to that question!
We used to say that change was the only constant. While that may be true, the reality, in the world of careers, is that the only constant is your personal brand. And your personal brand is really a unique promise of value that is comprised of:
(1) What makes you unique relative to peers or competitors.
(2) What your vision, purpose, values, and passions are.
(3) What value you deliver to a specific brand community.
Personal brands are also driven by motivated skills – those things that we love to do, and often do extremely well. Since skills are transferable, it’s likely that we can adjust our career direction over time to capitalize on the mix of skills and attributes that we uniquely bring.
Regarding the issue of personal and corporate brands, there’s a trend today for companies to encourage employees to use their own personal brands in service of the broader corporate brand. In some cases, this means that companies will look for key attributes in the people they hire; of course, this is not really new, though it’s probably more focused than ever. In other cases, companies will provide training and coaching to support key people in uncovering and leveraging their brands in service of the corporate brand – in other words, delivering the corporate promise of value in their own unique ways.
While this certainly seems like a win-win situation, it can become complicated in the online world. Companies are tolerant, today, of online social networks, particularly when it comes to professionally-oriented sites like LinkedIn, Edcadey. Xing, or Viadeo. Yet, it becomes a little trickier in the case of sites that are perceived as more social; for example, Facebook can be acceptable, given the increasing number of business people who use it, but MySpace may be frowned upon. When the business case is unclear, there is potential for problems, especially in the case of blogging or use of sites like Twitter. As the full-time employee of a corporation, you need to be sure you’re not acting in conflict with established corporate communications policies. So, check.
Even if corporate policy doesn’t prohibit engaging in online conversations, via blogs or Twitter, you would do well to keep focused on professional content. Your participation should demonstrate your thought leadership and add to a base of knowledge in your community of interest in much the same way as participating in meetings of professional societies. You should not, however, provide proprietary content or offer services in competition with your company. As a “branded” employee you need to serve your employer’s brand while serving your own.
As a consultant or contractor, you may have a little more flexibility. However, in this case, your bigger concern will be with the integrity of your brand. So, it’s critical to keep your community in mind and develop your online presence in a way that demonstrates your relevance and brand value to the people you serve.
Before wrapping up my answer, I think it’s important to address another important dimension to your question. In 1994, William Bridges predicted the end of the job as a way of organizing work. More recently, Wharton management professor Stewart Friedman, pointed out that we’re seeing structural changes in the way people get work. He points out, “It’s about switching from an organization-based economy to a network-based one” which he describes as “the movement to employment that can be done on a contract basis where you are part of a labor pool that is organized, not by [a] firm, but by networks.” Essentially, networking feeds talent pools where one’s visibility and credibility become key factors in securing work. So, once again, personal brand is paramount.
Bottom line, I think career management is already personal brand management. Yet, there’s more. As well, each of us needs to become, as Chris Brogan and Julien Smith have pointed out, “Trust Agents.” Success in the future will not be based on one-way communications about one’s resume or brand, but two-way conversations inside communities of shared interest.
Brand Word: “One by-product of establishing yourself as a trust agent is that opportunities often arise for those who are the trusted One of Us voices within a community.” ~ Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, in Trust Agents.
If you miss part 1 of the conversation, Click Here!
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